Wednesday, March 16, 2011


The Grahames are a middle-class couple trying to hang on to their status which is beginning to slip: even though they have a nanny for their young son, and have just hired a live-in handyman (John Mills), the mother (Valerie Hobson) has been spending beyond her means and the father (Hugh Sinclair) has been losing at gambling. Hobson's brother (Ronald Squire) covers a bad check written by Sinclair, but soon Sinclair loses his job and the couple are in danger of losing their home. Their ignored son (John Howard Davies) bonds with Mills, who likes to place an occasional bet at the horse races. Davies is aware of the family's money troubles--he is haunted by the house itself when he keeps hearing echoes of his mother’s cry, "There must be more money!"--and soon discovers that, if he rides his nursery-room rocking horse hard and fast enough, the names of race horses come to him, and the next day, they always win. He and Mills start betting and winning, with Davies saving up his take to give to his mother, thinking that will win back her loving attentions. Soon, Squire gets in on the plan and Hobson is rolling in dough again, having been told that it's money from an inheritance. But of course, her spendthrift ways don't stop, Davies doesn't get the love he craves, and the horse names stop coming, despite the fact that the boy takes to riding the horse so often and so single-mindedly that he becomes haggard and weak. One last prediction finally comes through, but at a high cost for the family.

This is based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence, and though it's very well done, it does sometimes feel like it would have worked better as a shorter Twilight Zone episode. Davies, who was 11 years old at the time, does a good job carrying the movie, looking appropriately obsessed and drained during his riding bouts. Hobson is fine, though I think she underplays her part when perhaps a bit more melodrama might be called for. Best of all is John Mills as the handyman--he's really the only fleshed-out sympathetic character and he pulls off his part in a strong but not flashy way; he's become one of my favorite character actors. Much has been made of the Oedipal undertones here; really, "undertones" isn't quite the right word, what with the almost shockingly clear masturbatory qualities of the boy’s sweaty, intense, almost half-naked riding scenes. The atmospheric cinematography adds greatly to the mood of growing unease. BTW, Davies went on to produce and direct episodes of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. [TCM; available on DVD]

No comments: