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The Rocking Horse Winner

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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(Sep 24, 2002)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Based on one of D.H. Lawrence’s most enduring short works, this haunting tale of a boy driven to the limits of his own life by his mother’s wanton materialism is finally available on DVD for the first time. Plagued by his mother’s obsession with money a young, introverted boy discovers that by riding his toy rocking horse he can predict the outcome of future horse races. With the aid of his uncle and the family gardener, the boy finds an unlikely answer to the financial problems that are turning his parents into strangers. But the more he wins, the more his mother spends and the stakes get higher and higher.

Like the classic D.H. Lawrence story it's based upon, The Rocking Horse Winner is timeless and disturbingly effective. One of only seven films directed by Anthony Pelissier, this beautifully atmospheric British production ranks as the definitive filming of Lawrence's oft-adapted story, made shortly after David Lean's Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and featuring some of the same actors. John Howard Davies--excellent as Oliver in Lean's film--is equally fine as the young boy who obsessively rides his new rocking horse, mysteriously gaining the ability to predict winners of actual horse races. This rescues his profligate mother (Valerie Hobson) from financial ruin, but her reckless materialism is inevitably marred by tragedy. Although British censors slightly softened the tragic blow that ends Lawrence's story (included in its entirety in the DVD booklet), its impact is not diminished. With John Mills in a pivotal role as producer and costar, this is a masterful film not to be missed. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • New digital transfer
  • Michael Almeryda's (HAMLET, NADJA) 20 min. short film staring Eric Stoltz based on 'Rocking Horse Winner'
  • Audio track of actor John Shea reading the story 'Rocking Horse Winner' (20 min.)
  • 3 audio excerpts from a chamber opera based on 'Rocking Horse Winner' (15 min.)
  • 24 page booklet including the entire text of 'Rocking' story and libretto excerpts from the chamber opera

Product Details

  • Actors: Valerie Hobson, John Howard Davies, Ronald Squire, John Mills, Hugh Sinclair
  • Directors: Anthony Pelissier
  • Writers: Anthony Pelissier, D.H. Lawrence
  • Producers: John Mills, Earl St. John
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Homevision
  • DVD Release Date: September 24, 2002
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00006G8H2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #119,268 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Rocking Horse Winner" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
I agree with the other reviews here. This is an unusual but very effective little fantasy based on DH Lawrence's most famous short story. Apparently, this was a pet project of John Mills, who produced the film and appeared in a key supporting role. The child actor is suprisingly good, and the cinematography is creative and appropriately creepy.

This DVD has some of the most unique extras I've ever seen. Basically, Home Vision Entertainment has packaged it as a collection of different interpretations of Lawrence's story, and the entries are very interesting. Best of all are the Almereyda short film and a full copy of the original story in place of liner notes. HVM have teamed up with Criterion in the past, and they do not disappoint here. The transfer is fine.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this a full 5-star rating is that, unlike Criterion, HVM hasn't provided any substantial info on the feature film. This is an oversight in my opinion because this 1949 movie became a particularly strong influence on the next generation of British filmmakers who openly embraced fantasy (like Lindsay Anderson's "If..."). American audiences might not make that connection.
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Format: DVD
"The Rocking Horse Winner" is adapted from the out-of-print short story by D. H. Lawrence. An upper-middle class family in post-war Britain is strapped for cash and continually spending beyond their means. The mother is played by Valerie Hobson, who starred as Estella a few years earlier in the extraordinary adaptation of David Lean's "Great Expectations." She is impatient with her husband's relatively low wages and wishes continually for more funds, seemingly not caring about the source of the money. Her young son (John Howard Davies, who later produced "Fawlty Towers") hears her pleas and soon is betting on horse racing with the help of their gardener, Bassett (played by the peerless Sir John Mills). Surprisingly, the boy seems to be rather lucky and begins to win, but complications soon arise.
The "Rocking Horse Winner" is not particularly well-known, and it definitely deserves a larger audience. The film is highly enjoyable and unpredictable, with some unexpected eerie and sinister elements. The acting is generally good and somewhat larger than life, although Valerie Hobson portrays the mother in perhaps too unsympathetic a light. A highlight of the film is the demonic rocking horse that the boy receives for Christmas; the scenes with the boy riding it into a frenzy are frighteningly unforgettable, and perhaps more than a bit oedipal in nature. The DVD transfer is quite good, although no subtitles have been recorded - a shame considering the sometimes thick accents of some of the actors. Overall, the "Rocking Horse Winner" is a champion - an unusual, small British film that should be much better known.
Extras: Three different versions of "Rocking Horse Winner" are included.
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By A Customer on October 4, 2002
Format: DVD
This film drips atmosphere. A creepy, gothic, moral tale of sorts, given a classic British treatment. Not only is the presentation of the film above par - it looks great - the entire package is stellar. Between the original story reprinted in its entirety, a reading by John Shea, and another film interpretation by Michael Almeryda, shot in Pixilvision, this has to be the be-all, end-all examination of a written piece and its various adaptations. Really cool. Enough said.
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Format: DVD
This 1949 British film adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence story of the same name is a great piece of filmmaking. The writer-director, Anthony Pelissier, has the tone and flavor of the story down pat and knows a thing or two about pacing and editing. The actor playing the lead character, Paul, a boy of about 10 or 11, is occasionally too stilted in his performance, but that's a minor quibble. Because this is primarily a thriller, what counts is momentum, and the subtlety employed in delivering the goods here is impressive.
Paul gets a hobby horse for a Christmas present and with some encouragement from the family handyman/gardener, rides it with force and passion. Bassett, the handyman, also shows Paul his strong interest in horse racing. And so it happens that whenever Paul rides the hobby horse, something eerie happens; he "knows" the name of the winner at the next race.
Paul's mother is so materialistic that she drives the family almost to the point of bankruptcy. The stakes are raised with expert timing here; the more she spends, the more somebody has to win at the races. But Paul's obsession with the riding the hobby horse has a dangerous side effect....
In addition to the full length feature film, the DVD also includes a superb 1997 20 minute short film directed by Michael Almereyda (Nadja, Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke) based on the same story. Shot in Pixelvision, it is just as effective as the 1949 film with a radically different style and feeling. Yet the same sense of dread and creepiness is present.
The DVD also includes, in the booklet, the entire short story by D.H. Lawrence, and a reading of the story (audio only) by actor John Shea--AND excerpts from a chamber opera based on the story as well.
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