Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “National Velvet”

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor: “National Velvet” (photo)

Posted by on

IFC.com film writer Matt Singer is embarrassingly unfamiliar with the filmography of the late Elizabeth Taylor. This week he’s catching up with as many of her movies as he can.

At approximately 2:14 AM on March 24, an unexplained rise in pollen localized entirely in my bedroom sparked an outbreak of watery eyes while I was watching the film “National Velvet.” Though I could find no record of any kind of mass pollen migration with the National Weather Service or American Allergenic Council of America, I know it happened. It’s the only explanation for my uncontrollable tears that makes any sense. Surely it couldn’t have been the movie. Surely, I, a 30 year old man with no daughters who hates horses, wasn’t crying at “National Velvet.”

I surely was. “National Velvet” is a beautiful, charming movie and it jerked the hell out of my tears. What affected me wasn’t how sad the movie is, but how sweet and inspirational it is. Now I understand why “National Velvet” has been a cultural touchstone for decades. This isn’t just a cutesy story about a girl and a horse: it’s the empowering tale of a young woman who accomplishes her dreams; dreams, I should add, that aren’t of the “find a guy and marry him” variety. Released in 1945 and set some twenty years before, its strong feminist message is less dated today than many of the iconic girl-centric movies I grew up with in the 1980s. It features an empowering mother-daughter relationship of a kind I’m unaccustomed to seeing in movies. That’s what caught me off-guard, the shot at the end of the movie when mother and daughter embrace in silent acknowledgement of their bond and mutual love. Suddenly you’d have thought I was chopping onions in my bedroom at two in the morning.

The mother, Mrs. Brown, is played by Anne Revere; the daughter, Velvet, by Elizabeth Taylor, who became a full-fledged movie star at the age of thirteen with “National Velvet.” It is easy to see why. She has an infectious smile and a rabid enthusiasm for life. The Elizabeth Taylor I know — and the point of this ongoing exercise is I don’t know her all that well — is a lusty bombshell of a woman. So it was a bit surprising to see how Taylor built her stardom on pure, uncontaminated innocence. Velvet is so unequivocally good she’s practically a saint; the patron saint of pre-teen girls everywhere who love horses more than life itself.

Oh how Velvet loves her horse. She calls him The Pie and, truth be told, the horse playing The Pie always looks a little perturbed to be acting alongside her. Velvet doesn’t notice. She’s the one with blinders on; she loves The Pie with a passion so intense it could melt steel. Velvet acquires him in an auction. The Pie is a troublemaker and his former owner decides to rid himself of the damage and liabilities he causes by selling him for one pound to a random lucky winner in the small English village where he lives. That lucky winner, of course, turns out to be Velvet. Part of The Pie’s problem is no pen can hold him. But Velvet sees his fence jumping as a skill, and a chance to prove to the world both his merit and hers.

That’s where Mrs. Brown comes in. As we slowly learn over the course of the film, Velvet’s stern, reserved mother had a bit of a wild streak in her youth. As a 20-year-old, she swam the English Channel for no other reason than to prove she could. At the time, everyone said she was mad. When Velvet comes to her with her own mad idea — enter The Pie into the Grand National, the biggest horserace in the country — she supports her 100%. Clearly Mrs. Brown sees some of her younger self in Velvet, and also The Pie, who also has trouble finding a productive outlet for his athletic inclinations. Cue the eyeball faucets.

“National Velvet” has a terrific cast that also includes top-billed Mickey Rooney as a drifter who wanders into Velvet’s town and becomes The Pie’s trainer and Donald Crisp as Velvet’s father, a great big Tootsie Pop of a man: a hard exterior surrounding a gooey heart. Angela Lansbury also appears, almost unrecognizably, in one of her earliest roles — the first I’ve ever seen that conclusively proves she wasn’t born a middle aged mystery novelist — as one of Velvet’s sisters. The film’s stakes are never very heavy or large, though there is one scary scene where The Pie falls ill. Mostly “National Velvet” is a simple story about what’s possible for anyone, boy or girl, when they follow their dreams. But it’s never less than totally charming.

That goes for Taylor too. Velvet is so unabashedly sweet, and the film is so completely free of irony, that she borders on self-parody (released in another time period, “National Velvet” would have made great material for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, with Belushi as Liz, of course). But there is something irresistible about Taylor in this part. An actor needs to commit to what she does, and she is fully committed. I believe she would step in front of a bullet for that damn horse. When she refuses to let Mr. Brown exploit The Pie’s newfound fame, her eyes welling with tears as she pleads to leave him home with her…

…I’m sorry, does anyone have a tissue?

Watch More

Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

Posted by on

She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

Watch More

Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

Watch More

Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet