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Home Vision Entertainment presents
The Rocking Horse Winner (1950)

"We must have more money, that's all there is to it. There must be more money."
- Hester Grahame (Valerie Hobson)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: June 12, 2003

Stars: Valerie Hobson, John Howard Davies, Ronald Squire, John Mills
Other Stars: Hugh Sinclair, Charles Goldmer, Susan Richards, Cyril Smith
Director: Anthony Pélissier

Manufacturer: Stream
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing imagery, gambling)
Run Time: 01h:31m:28s
Release Date: September 24, 2002
UPC: 037429169728
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB-C- B-

DVD Review

D.H. Lawrence is probably best known for his naturalistic novels written early in the 20th century, such as Lady Chatterly's Lover, Women in Love and Sons and Lovers. But Lawrence also was a master of short fiction, and one of the most well-known of his works is the chilling fable, The Rocking-Horse Winner. This classic adaptation from the Rank studios does the story fine justice.

The Grahame family is plagued by financial problems; Hester (Valerie Hobson, the Bride of Frankenstein herself) is a spendthrift accumulator of clothing, art and knickknacks, while her husband Richard (Hugh Sinclair) has a serious gambling problem: he loses incessantly. Sensitive young Paul Grahame (John Howard Davies) hears the house whispering to him, "There must be more money". After getting a large rocking horse as a Christmas present, Paul finds an unusual solution. By riding the horse until he is in a frenzy, he reaches a "lucky place" where he learns the name of a horse that will win an upcoming race. With the aid of his uncle Oscar (Ronald Squire) and gardener Bassett (producer John Mills), Paul places a series of winning bets and conspires to channel the money to his mother. But the newly-found money just encourages her to spend even faster, causing Paul to have to risk all for the name of the Derby winner.

Although not really a horror film, there are certainly horrific elements present here. The leering, wide-eyed visage of the horse itself is a disturbing vision that will induce nightmares in the moderately sensitive. The frenzed rides of the horse, while not overemphasized, are nerve-wracking, between the wild abandon of Davies (who is clearly too old for such a horse) and the wild swinging POV shots. The result is highly memorable and effective. The thematic element of luck is given strong emphasis here, particularly in Hester's disinction between being lucky and rich, since the rich can lose their money, but the lucky will always get more. Her blindness and grasping character are graphically presented, although the script unwisely undercuts this aspect of her character by suddenly having a twinge of intuition while at a party that something is wrong. Even though the incident is contained in the original story, it's rather overplayed here and makes the mother far too sympathetic; the added denouement would have a greater impact had this episode been omitted or minimized.

The cast is impeccable. Davies really stands out, demonstrating a nonchalant assurance in the difficult role of Paul. Hobson is excellent as is Sinclair. John Mills presents the faithful Bassett as slightly resentful, giving him a bit more depth than Lawrence envisioned. The comic elements of the story are well supported by Ronald Squire as the uncle and Cyril Smith as a bailiff planting himself in the Grahame drawing room until a judgment is paid.

Occasionally the racing vignettes are a shade overlong, but in all the film is solidly made from beginning to end. The use of the camera is highly expressive with an exceptional amount of movement. In addition to the POV shots previously mentioned, there is a very long and memorable tracking shot following Paul as he inspects the tree and presents on Christmas morning; the camera's longing gaze echoes young Paul's dazzled view of the sight. The lighting is suitably dramatic and adds greatly to the impact of the whole.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture has both good and bad aspects. In the good column, the source print is in excellent condition, with deep blacks and adequate shadow details. On the other hand, the ubiquitous grain is not handled well and much of the film has a sparkly quality. Textures tend to shimmer and aliasing is frequently obvious. The bit rate is quite high (averaging about 7 Mbps, and spiking up to 9), so that doesn't appear to be the source of the problem. Given the good print condition, though, it's certainly watchable so long as one doesn't cast too critical an eye upon it.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The sole audio track is a 1.0 English mono. This suffers from substantial hiss, noise and crackle, as is so often the case with older British films. This certainly could have done with some cleaning up, if possible. At least extraneous buzzes and hums are not present. Music is shrill and tinny sounding, and dialogue is frequently difficult to make out. I'm not sure how much better this could sound, but I'm hoping this isn't as good as prints of this film get.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:08m:01s

Extra Extras:
  1. Lawrence's original short story
  2. Short film version of the story
  3. Radio program reading Lawrence's story
  4. Excerpts from a 1996 chamber opera version
Extras Review: As a bonus that should be more common in literary adaptations, this disc includes Lawrence's original short story, both in text in the accompanying booklet, and as a reading on NPR by John Shea. Also included is a 1997 short film that reinterprets the story, directed by Michael Almereyda (22m:27s). Intriguingly, it was shot with a toy camera, the Fisher-Price PXL-2000, also known as Pixelvision. Despite the name and pixelated appearance, this is a relatively faithful adaptation (though Americanized and modernized). The horse is not as ghastly as in the 1950 version, which lessens its impact considerably, but the cast is effective, most notably Eric Stoltz in the role of the uncle. Almereyda adds to the story the element of a Magic 8-BallŪ toy, which emphasizes the theme of luck and provides a sardonic commentary on the visionary proceedings of Paul. The sound is good, while the visuals are marginal, as intended.

Finally, three excerpts from a chamber opera adaptation of the story round out the extras. The piece, composed by Andrew McBirnie, is a rather difficult bit of atonal work (button that top button!), and I'm just as glad that only excerpts were included. It is not helped any by a persistent electronic buzz and a poor recording. The libretto for the excerpts is also included in the accompanying booklet. It's interesting but not something that will be frequently revisited by most. One would rather wish that at least some extras were devoted to the feature itself, but there's not even a trailer here.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

The classic adaptation gets a nice presentation from Home Vision, though the transfer could be a bit better and the audio is rather noisy. Nonetheless worth seeking out.


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