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  • bkoganbing3 December 2008
    This particular D.H. Lawrence story has been done three additional times since this version came out in 1950. They would have to go some to compete with this film for drama and suspense.

    I had never seen this film before tonight and the title is so incredibly deceptive. I expected a charming children's fantasy, but got something quite a bit different. One thing I would never do is allow small kids to see The Rocking Horse Winner. They will have nightmare's for years and will NEVER want to get on a rocking horse if you have one.

    Hugh Sinclair and Valerie Hobson play a pair of post World War II self indulgent parents who are living way beyond their means, like a lot of folks are today on both sides of the pond. He gambles and she spends money on luxury items like there's no tomorrow. Her brother Ronald Squire bails her out a lot, but he's having no more of it.

    All this is having an effect on the United Kingdom's best known child star of the time John Howard Davies. He's the oldest of the three kids and a withdrawn, but sensitive kid who knows there's something wrong.

    Davies makes friends with the new handyman John Mills who is a wounded war veteran and before the war used to work as jockey in his youth. When Davies gets among other things a rocking horse for Christmas, Mills shows him how to ride ace-deuce, jockey style. Davies becomes obsessed with the horse and after a while he starts imagining the horse telling him about winning tips at the local track. When he's "really sure" these ponies have a habit of coming in.

    Given these plot premises it sounds like you're setting up a comedy, but actually what we get is tragedy here, a stark a bitter tragedy.

    Anthony Pellisier wrote and directed and John Mills produced this film for J. Arthur Rank. Pellisier used some unique and terrifying camera angles and makes the rocking horse an incredibly sinister figure. And he doesn't do too bad with his human players either.

    The Rocking Horse Winner after almost 60 years still holds up well as one of the most sinister films I've ever seen. Don't be fooled by the title, definitely NOT one to have the kids view.
  • Suspenseful, intriguing, disturbing, heartbreaking, atmospherically crafted by director and photographer, this is a gem of a movie that was too out of the rut to be appreciated by audiences in its day. The characters are not only totally believable but so convincingly acted that few viewers will have any difficulty accepting the plot's key supernatural premise. Because they are so credibly realistic, however, some of the people in this movie (the lad's mother and father, for instance) are far from sympathetic. This trait doubtless alienated contemporary audiences even further, particularly those looking for escape into an idealistic world of smilingly duty-bound, hardworking mothers and bumbling yet well-intentioned dads.

    As stated, all the players are excellent—including producer John Mills who cast himself in a small but key role—but three are so outstanding it would churlish not to mention them individually: Valerie Hobson is perfect as the selfish, socially aspiring mum; John Howard Davies is likewise brilliant as the driven, psychotic boy of the title; and it's great to see Ronald Squire utilizing his talents to the full in a major role.

    The pace never slackens and the movie incorporates so many unforgettably powerful scenes, it would be impossible to single just three or four for special praise.

    In short: a masterpiece from screenwriter/director Anthony Pelissier (who handled only a handful of movies), photographer Desmond Dickinson and a fine array of artists and craftspeople under the control of actor/producer John Mills.
  • john-bach29 January 2005
    I first saw this film as a pare-teen many years ago and it stuck in my memory all these years; I suppose I identified, at the time, with the idea that events could be somehow manipulated and controlled by sheer intensity. When I recently saw this film on DVD, it still struck a nerve and, as an adult, realized what a strong film it is and why it had been in my memory all these years. Because the file is so old, many of the mannerisms in the movie appear quaint now, but the themes are timeless; sensitive kids sensing parental dysfunction and taking it upon themselves to try and "fix" things. It's interesting to note that John Mills, then a staple in English films, produced the film. I would recommend this film to anyone with a penchant for psychological drama of the old school.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    What is a pound worth to you? Or a dollar? What is too much and what is not enough? An addict will grossly deflate the value of a buck when he needs twenty to buy a hit, while the next man will feel rich if he has a couple of bucks to buy a coffee - and get change. How much money, or how little, would it take to have peace of mind? And if you have enough and want more, how much more is enough? I don't ask these questions to be frivolous. I ask them because they are part of the dark heart of Anthony Pelissier's strange, disturbing thriller called "The Rocking Horse Winner". In this movie everyone - perpetrators and innocents - become tainted and sick with the obsession with money. Nobody walks away unscathed.

    This film does not conveniently assert that money is the root of all evil - it would be a lesser film if it did. Instead it takes the thornier path and suggests that it is our own fallibility and lack of values that is the problem when money enters the picture. So we have the Grahame family, living way beyond its means, drowning in a vortex of anxiety and debt. The father is a gambler, and the mother a spendthrift. When the father expresses hope that he's about to land a higher-paying job the mother quickly starts listing the things they will buy and, oh yes, one of their two little girls' teeth will need to be fixed - as an afterthought. Their other child, an older boy named Paul, has been given a rocking horse as a gift. Sometimes, when he rides it with enough hell-bound fury, he can accurately predict the winning horse at the races. Soon he's taken on the terrible burden of providing for everyone. He's formed a secret partnership with a servant, Bassett, and his uncle Oscar, two good men who become tainted and contribute to the lad's destruction. A dysfunctional family, wouldn't you say? Yet the parents are not monsters. They are presented as sympathetic characters. The mother loves her children, as much as her quest for social standing and an appropriate lifestyle permits her to. But the house still whispers to the boy: "MORE MONEY!" The scenes with the boy on the rocking horse, with the nightmarish lighting and camera-work, and the pervasive atmosphere of unwholesomeness and "dis-ease", are absolutely frightening. In this respect, and in the film's suggestion that adults, unwittingly, can suffocate their children with their own dreads and anxieties "The Rocking Horse Winner" reminds me of Jack Clayton's 1961 horror masterpiece "The Innocents".

    I won't divulge any more of the plot details, but look for a dizzying succession of scenes, especially the scenes in the pawnshop and in the taxi, late in the second act, which illustrate the ways in which money is valued - or not - as the mother navigates her way through fiscal hell (her misadventures verge on being comical). Even at the very end of the film, after all the tragedy, there is one last twist regarding the boy's ill-gotten gains. It is instructive. "The Rocking Horse Winner" was released in 1949. Its relevance to the world in 2010 is absolutely staggering.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I saw this movie for the first time in 2008 and found it very intriguing. Indeed it is psychological, but also very thought provoking. It seemed to focus and reveal the evils of greed. The parents' greed for material things cause the destruction and eventually the demise of their son who is merely trying to help fulfill their insatiable desires. They are so consumed with their own wants they do not realize the devastating affect it is having on their son until it is too late. The rocking horse seemed to be a physical representation of greed while the parents were the embodiment of greed. Greed, or the rocking horse, was the root cause of the horrid tragedy. It trapped its victim, the little boy, and ruined him. At the end of the movie, the rocking horse it as much hated as a real murderer. It is sinister and unrepentant. The movie really makes you think about the consequences of our actions. At least, that's what I got out of it. No matter how you view the movie, though, it is definitely well worth the watch. The music, cinematography, plot line, everything, is fantastic and mesmerizing. I hope you get the privilege to see it.
  • I've seen a few rocking horses in my time, but none that looked like this one. With its predatory teeth, gaping mouth, and flaring eyes, it looks more like Halloween than X-mas. No wonder it's got supposedly demonic powers. But then the social-climbing parents need help of the monetary kind. Mom (Hobson) isn't happy with just a big house and servants. She wants top status among the British upper-class, and by golly she'll spend whatever it takes, affordable or not. Meanwhile, Dad (Sinclair) tries to keep up by losing at gambling, while Uncle Oscar (Squire) is finally fed up with doling out money from the family trust. That leaves the kids (Davies, to make out as best they can with neglectful parents. So where will the money come from, and how will the kids connect with Mom. Enter an infernal toy.

    I can see the premise being done on the Twilight Zone, but certainly not to better effect. With his rather narrow eyes, little Paul (Davies) is positively scary when demonically whipping both himself and the wooden horse into a sweaty frenzy. A thousand gory films could not register more strongly than these inspired scenes. It's a unnerving spectre that moves the entire film into a special category of its own.

    Surprisingly, the suspense of the rocking horse is not built up in the movie's main part. Instead, the film's majority deals with more ordinary matters: placing bets, pawning dresses, Uncle Oscar, Bassett (Mills) and Paul. Thus a natural contrast is laid for the demonic scenes. Nonetheless, the acting is first-rate, though Sinclair pretty much fades into the background as Dad, while Hobson's mom takes center stage in sleekly determined fashion. Then again, Mills is especially winning as the humane handy man. Happily, he furnishes needed companionship for the lonely boy. And, given the parent's upper-class pretensions, I detect a comment on the effects of Britain's traditional class system.

    To me, however, it's never clear whether the whispering comes from the house or from Paul's internalizing of the family's money troubles. But, either way, the never-ending need for picking race-horse winners drives poor Paul into continuing his rocking horse frenzy. The tragedy lies in the personal toll this takes on him for the sake of his generally oblivious mother. Still, it is possible, unless I missed something, that Paul is just lucky picking winners rather than rocking horse possessed. After all, he wants to think he's lucky and maybe he is. In that case, no supernatural would be involved. Instead the upshot would be how an imaginative boy internalizes overriding family greed. In that case, I think the ending would be even more tragic. I may be mistaken, but I don't think the screenplay forecloses this second possibility. Either way, however, those final scenes are genuinely memorable.

    Speaking of endings, it's certainly not one Hollywood's Motion Picture Code would have permitted. Good for the British. Because what we're left with is a truly remarkable one-of-a- kind, whose moral is as timely now as 6 decades ago. Don't miss it.
  • The Rocking Horse Winner is directed by Anthony Pelissier, who also adapts the screenplay from the D. H. Lawrence short story of the same name. It stars Valerie Hobson, John Howard Davies, Ronald Squire, John Mills, Hugh Sinclair and Susan Richards. Music is by William Alwyn and cinematography by Desmond Dickinson.

    Dreadful, Evil Money.

    There's a handful of British films from the 1940s that deserve to be far better known, films that blended haunted themes with film noir traits and visual smarts. The Night Has Eyes, Uncle Silas, Corridor Of Mirrors and the magnificent Queen Of Spades readily come to mind. Now it has an official DVD release, we can add Anthony Pelissier's brilliant The Rocking Horse Winner to the obscure gem list.

    Story has young Paul Grahame (Davies) receiving a weird looking Rocking Horse for Christmas. He's an introverted and sensitive lad, seemingly reaching out for some sort of guidance from his parents. Unfortunately his mother, Hester (Hobson), is a spendthrift badly hung up on money as some sort of status symbol, while his father, Richard (Sinclair), is a gambler, and not a good one at that. With Uncle Oscar Creswell (Squire) bailing them out of financial trouble for the last time, the Grahame family are heading for bankruptcy unless income can be found. Befriending the new handyman, Bassett (Mills), Paul is delighted to find that Bassett is an ex-jockey and regales him with tails of horse racing, he even learns from Bassett how to ride his Rocking Horse like a real jockey. Then something magical happens, Paul seems to be able to predict the winners of real horse races, and the money starts to roll in…

    D. H. Lawrence's story gets a faithful adaptation and transfers quite excellently to the screen. It's a haunting fantasy at heart, but one tinged with utter sadness, and being Lawrence it has a sex metaphor sitting right in the middle of the greed and exploitation thematics. As story progresses, it soon becomes evident that Paul has to ride his Rocking Horse to a frenzied climax, if he doesn't get there then he will not see the name of the next race winner. Initially he is thrilled to be able to win lots of money, the house seems to be telling him that his parents must have more money, so aided by Bassett, he is saving the cash to help his frantic mother, who by now has resorted to pawning possessions for cash. But the more he wins, and the more Bassett and Uncle Oscar also profit, the further away from his parents Paul gets. Soon enough it's going to come to a head and it will prove to be devastating for the Grahame family.

    Pelissier, Alwyn and Dickinson each work respective wonders to smoother the picture with a sense of the unearthly, not so much supernatural, but like a blurry discord, a purgatory where ignorant parenting dwells and childhood innocence is corrupted. Pic is crammed with sinister imagery. The Rocking Horse itself is up in the attic, which gives the makers perfect opportunities for shadows to enhance the "unhealthy" scenes of Paul riding away like a boy possessed, while for the key scene Pelissier uses a depth perception technique that is gloriously disorientating. An ascent by Paul up to the attic is moody magnificence, Hester's visit to the back room Pawnbroker (Charles Goldner) drips with unease, while the finale features a near demonic last shot that literally will be burned into your soul.

    With top performances from the cast to seal the deal, this tale of a boy and his Rocking Horse gnaws away at the senses as the fallibility of the human condition is frighteningly laid bare. 9/10
  • This is about a British family. The mother (Valerie Hobson) spends beyond her means. The father gambles...badly and loses his job. The family is close to bankruptcy when their young son Paul (John Howard Davies) develops this uncanny ability to predict winners in horse races. How does he do it? By riding his rocking horse.

    I read the D.H. Lawrence short story back in college in the 1980s and never forgot it. I heard about this film but was afraid to see it...I didn't think there was any way to film the story without it looking stupid. Also this movie is hard to find. I finally did catch it and I was impressed. They managed to take a very dark and strange short story and make an excellent movie out of it. It moves quickly (it's only 90 minutes) and I was never bored for one second. The acting really helps to carry this one. Hobson is just OK as the mother but Davies as the little boy, John Mills as Bassett and Ronald Squire as Uncle Oscar are just great. Ultimately the movie is sad and depressing but just incredible. This was way too ahead of its time to connect with audiences of 1950 and it (sadly) remains unknown to this day. Well worth seeing.
  • In London, the teenager Paul Grahame (John Howard Davies) lives with his upper class but financially broken family. His wasteful mother Hester Grahame (Valerie Hobson) is a compulsive buyer, spending all the family money in new expensive dresses, jewels and objects for their home. His father Richard Grahame (Hugh Sinclair) is a gambler, losing money in the horse races. His uncle Oscar Cresswell (Ronald Squire) is permanently covering the Grahame family debts. When the servant Bassett (John Mills) is hired, Paul finds that he can predict the winner of the horses' races rocking his wooden horse. Paul asks Bassett to become his partner, betting their money in the races, trying to prove that he is lucky and silencing the permanent whisper of the house needing more money. But the prize is high and fatal.

    "The Rocking Horse Winner" is a dark tale of compulsion of D. H. Lawrence. I have never read his short story, and I did not feel any sexual connotation as mentioned in some reviews that I have glanced. The story is very disturbing and quite unpleasant, with great direction and performances, especially of Valerie Hobson in the role of a compulsive shallow woman. My vote is seven.

    Title (Brazil): "O Cavalo Campeão" ("The Horse Winner")
  • It seems that this was the first time anyone had tried putting D.H. Lawrence on film; its also wonderfully well done, a great deal better than Ken Russell's overblown excess.

    A large part of the credit goes to William Alwyn's creepy score, similar to the work he had done for Odd Man Out a few years before. Odd Man Out is reckoned to be one of the best British films, but this is about equal in quality.

    I don't want to spoil the story for those who aren't familiar with it; but when you read that it's about a boy and his magic rocking horse, you might not be prepared for the darkness involved. The undertones of the story make it closer to Pasolini or Fassbinder than to anything we have come to expect from British cinema.

    Some scenes of exposition are typical of the era, with a lot of scintillating conversation; these help to understand the story, but you can probably go to the fridge without missing too much. The essential scenes are - a) those with the rocking horse; b) those between the boy and the mother; c) all those with Alwyn's music. (Alwyn deserves a better reputation than he now enjoys).

    Near the end is one shot you really should check out, where the boy sees the storm-clouds form into horses' heads.This must surely have been an influence on later movies like The Haunting (1963).
  • One day, a fine young lad, played by John Howard Davies, gets a wooden rocking horse for a Christmas gift by his favorite uncle, a rich uncle. His father is a butterfingers with money, as he bets and loses it, while his wife, played by Valerie Hobson, is constantly at him, saying they need more money, we simply must have it. She, by the way, is used to having her way and used to living beyond their means. The uncle is her brother who has gotten them out of more than one financial scrape, who now refuses to do it anymore. He's done. The boy discovers by getting on the horse and rocking, that the horse not only talks to him, but gives him tips on the winners at the horse track. By way of betting through the groundskeeper, played by John Mills, the young boy amasses gads of money. And yet, what starts as a fantasy and a somewhat whimsical little film takes a dramatic and scary turn. This film has a little bit of everything for everyone: fantasy, humor, drama, and even a bit of the Gothic touch. The lesson to be learned from this film is simple: do not argue, or discuss money issues, in front of your children. One feels that maybe writer D. H. Lawrence, who wrote the short story from which this was based, may have lived a similar type of childhood but to a degree obviously. If it's draining for an adult, how do you think it makes children feel? This climax is made for a point for all adults - to learn from and change. A very dramatic and memorable film is "The Rocking Horse Winner." All the actors were exceptional, including the young lad, but the real star of the story is author D. H. Lawrence's imagination that tries to teach people the only way he can.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As we live day to day, barely making ends meet, there is often a wish for a new source of income, a raise perhaps, an unexpected inheritance, a forlorn wish to win something, anything! in the current lottery. Except how often do we really get ahead if any of these actually happen? More often than not, it just encourages one to spend more extravagantly.

    And how often do children search out unconditional love from their parents, only to never get it? This movie, and the story it's based on, brings those two concepts chillingly together.

    People have written both here and in other synopses about the major plot points reciting them fairly accurately, but what I found so unsettling, was the concept of the house itself constantly whispering - there must be more money. Who hasn't ever thought that at one time - and wondered where that cry was coming from? There must be more money. And when more money does come in, how long is that demand actually quiet, until once again it starts - there must be more money. There MUST be more money! Thankfully, there was very little religious overtones - no pact with the devil, no souls being visually taken. That would have spoiled it. The boy went to the greatest lengths to win the love of his mother. And we'll never really know if it was enough.

    The phrase isn't 'Money is the root of all evil', it's actually 'The love of money is the root of all evil' and this movie strongly suggests that as the mother appeared to love money far more than her children. As well as belying a more modern phrase, 'Greed, for lack of a better term, is good.' This little movie asserts quite frighteningly just the opposite.
  • This is a very intriguing British film, quite unlike most others from the period; it's a pretty dark Freudian tale, from a D H Lawrence short story, whose overt depiction of a schoolboy and his magic toy gets away with a strictly taboo subtext. The focus is on a well-to-do household of the period, in which the hierarchy of adults and children is strictly defined; the parents try to keep their son Paul, wearing short trousers even in the depths of winter, innocent of their adult concerns – in particular, their problems with money. After discovering that his rocking horse gives him secret powers when he rides it hard enough, with giddy camera-work showing how it feels when he 'gets there', the boy tries to usurp his father's role to provide his mother with what she needs. John Mills produced the film, and his interest was no doubt linked to his typecast image: he normally plays rather piously unimpeachable characters, so it's quite a shock to see him here directing the lad's first experience of 'riding'. The only slight difficulty is that the boy actor needed to be nearer his early teens to carry the weight of the story's darker implications.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    For subtle, TURN-OF-THE-SCREWISH type horror, THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER must rank among the top 10 such films of all time. Though opening with a young child meeting a male stranger for the first time in a furnace room, this is no NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. But how Scorpio mom Heather Grahame (born Nov. 12) stings her young son Paul in the "whispering house" is far more realistically frightening than anything Freddy Kruger thought of doing. A sampling: Paul--"Is luck money, mother?" Heather: "No Paul, it's what causes you to have money." Paul: "Aren't you lucky, mother?" Heather: "I guess I was once, before I was married." But whether Paul is offering would-be London socialite "mom" 22 & 7 pence, or 80,000 pounds, it can never be enough to satisfy Heather's insatiable greed. Heather has sold her soul--if she ever had one--to Vogue, marriage and children be damned (literally).

    As a diminutive would-be savior to his blind-with-envy mother, John Howard Davies portrays Paul Grahame perfectly. When he's rocking on his high horse in a desperate, crazed trance--pajama top wildly unbuttoned--his small stature packs more emotional punch than the headless horseman ever threw at Ichabod Crane. Writer/director Anthony Pelisier has pulled off a nearly perfect adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novella serving as source material, possibly improving upon the original (just as SIMON BIRCH cut John Irving's over-stuffed and under-climaxed A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY down to an emotionally-strengthened punch). You don't have to be tutored about greed by WALL STREET's Gordon Gekko; it is much more moving to see it through the eyes of a child in THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER.
  • kijii31 October 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    There have been at least four different film versions this D.H. Lawrence short story, but I think this one would be hard to beat. The story is simple but memorable and effective.

    Paul Grahame (John Howard Davis), best know for playing Oliver Twist in Lean's classic 1948 version) is a shy and lonely boy living in a dysfunctional family. The cause of the family's dysfunctionality is MONEY, or more properly, the lack of it.

    Though the family lives very comfortably in an upscale English suburb (contemporarily set in 1950), Paul's mother (Valerie Hobson) lives WAY above her means and his father (Hugh Sinclair) is an unemployed dreamer who is prone to gambling as a way to get rich quickly. The family's upscale lifestyle is only a thinly-veneered facade that hides the fact that they are broke. Paul's Uncle Oscar (Ronald Squire) helps maintain and enable Paul's parents' true financial situation by using the family trust to support them. But, Paul knows, and feels, the family's embarrassment. Soon he hallucinates that he hears the house whisper to him about the never-ending need for money, money, and more money.

    The family's handyman, Bassett (John Mills), a lame former jockey, befriends Paul and teaches him about horses and horseback ridding as he reminisces about HIS youth. When Paul gets a large rocking horse for Christmas, Bassett encouraging him to ride it as if it was a real racing house. With Bassett's constant talk to Paul about betting on horses and his family's hidden embarrassment about money matters, Paul asks Bassett to bet a small amount on a horse for him. Although his first bet is a failure, Paul learns that while riding the rocking horse, he can pick winners. He and Bassett form an 'honor bright' pack never to tell anyone else about their betting, as they save their winnings. But, his Uncle soon learns about Paul's secret talent, and Paul has to make another 'honor bright' agreement with him. Uncle Oscar has to lie to his sister (Paul's mother) in order to funnel Paul's winnings to her: Oscar tells her that she is receiving money from another distant family member's pension.

    The irony of this movie is that Paul ends up virtually saving his family from financial ruin—without them knowing it. The stress and strain of 'saving the family' soon becomes too great for Paul to bare. This is truly a bizarre story about how the burdens of a dysfunctional family are often placed on an innocent child who wants to fill a void that the adults aren't able, or willing, to do on their own.

    This is my particular takeaway from the movie since I have seen cases in which a child tries to fill the void of a weak parent. This may be true of children trying to "be especially good" to "make things all right" when a parent is an alcoholic, a spousal abuser, or has some other weakness that needs to be taken care of. That is about all a child can do in such families.
  • vizfam22 July 2006
    I saw this movie when it first came out in the early 50's, when I was about the same age as the little boy who is portrayed in the story, and I must say it has stuck in my mind ever since. It is the story of a boy who discovers that he can predict the outcome of horse races by rocking on his own wooden horse, while his Father reads off the names of the horses. The family has fallen on hard times and this would be a way for them to get out of the financial hole that they find themselves in. It is like a twilight zone episode, before the show was created. I haven't seen it since it first came out, mostly because I'm afraid that maybe time and maturity will have made it seem quaint and silly today. I would recommend this movie for children 8-12, but maybe this was a movie made for a simpler time, and less sophisticated movie audience, but, give it a try I think that adults will like it also, especially if you are a fan of movies from the 50's
  • JOHN HOWARD DAVIES is the boy with the sinister rocking horse that enables him to predict winners of the forthcoming races. JOHN MILLS is the man who teaches him how to ride the horse, unintentionally setting up the tragic circumstances that unfold.

    But it's VALERIE HOBSON as the selfish, compulsive spender living in middle-class luxury with hubby HUGH SINCLAIR, a man who can't keep up with her spending habits, who makes the most of a juicy role.Lucky for her, she has a well-to-do brother, played by RONALD SQUIRE, who becomes her private bank until his funds run out.

    Then comes the heart of the story as we get to the boy and his magic rocking horse. It's this aspect of the dark fantasy that provides the most gripping moments of the film. However, even more could have been done to provide the suspense and conflict involved in the boy's desire to win money so that he could keep his mother and father from being bankrupt. In this respect, William Alwyn's background score is a great asset.

    Hobson, Ronald Squire and John Mills give the best performances in the film. Hugh Sinclair is wasted as the weak husband. Davies benefits from good direction but seems to be playing his role according to detailed direction rather than living it.

    Highly recommended as an unusual exercise in fantasy/suspense with a noir quality.
  • The most surprising thing about this very British film is it's effectiveness in serving up the sexual subtext of the story. The unsubtle visuals of the little boy thrusting himself upon his hobby horse for the sake of motherly love are sensational and really deliver on the story's chilling essence. The direction and performances are all first rate. A jolly good film!
  • writers_reign12 April 2018
    Warning: Spoilers
    One of a handful - Oliver Twist, Tom Brown's Schooldays - made by the child actor in the late forties/early fifties. Talking Pictures have either located an excellent print or else had one struck from the negative and are doing their best to recoup the cost by screening it regularly. It stands up well and provides an interesting glimpse of England at the mid point of the twentieth century. If you're able to get past the improbable plot - couple living beyond their means, wife self-absorbed to the extent that even impending bankruptcy exacerbated by husband's compulsive gambling fails to stem her profligate spending, mother-fixated son with subconscious incestuous desires and supernatural gift for picking winners to win mother's love - then it's a half-decent effort well acted and directed despite Valerie Hobsons' overblown performance.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Imagine the pitch : a family is unhappy, partially as a result of the financial hole the parents have dug for themselves. The young son gets an expensive wooden rocking horse, as a present. He discovers that, by rocking the horse very hard, he becomes capable of predicting the winner of important races. Sounds like a nice premise for a family fantasy film, doesn't it ?

    Here you've got something entirely else, to wit a deeply unsettling horror movie fit only for a fully adult audience. It is also a dark, many-layered satire about the ways parents can destroy their offspring : for instance, as is the case in this movie, by creating completely avoidable problems and then by burdening the children with the enormous weight of these problems.

    "The Rocking Horse Winner" can also be seen as an examination (and condemnation) of the way in which addiction moves down the family tree. Here you've got a father who is addicted to gambling, presumably in order to make up for a lack of love ; a mother who is addicted to money for beautiful fripperies, presumably in order to make up for a lack of love ; plus a sadly neglected son. These unseen but powerful forces gradually hammer the son out of shape, with the result that he becomes addicted to winning money by participating in gambling, hoping that the money will bring him the maternal love he so craves. There are two or three other adults around who could try to intervene, but they don't do so : perhaps because the problem is above their pay grade, perhaps because they benefit from part of the dysfunction. It's as gruesome as all hell - and predictable to the point of inevitability.

    Yet other interpretations are possible - Freudian, for instance - but this is a remarkably sombre and disquieting movie, whatever the viewpoint. And if you thought a rocking horse couldn't look uncanny : think again...
  • The dialogue is expectedly very British and good. Though a perfunctory performance was all the needlessly limited role of the father required, all other players did wonderfully.

    Interestingly, the story concerns a good, but sybaritic mother's avarice and her loving son's obsessive desire to satisfy it. It also plays into the idea of money as an inherent evil while earning my high praise by not taking this too far. It is also another one of many films I have enjoyed on the fascinating subject of gambling.
  • This film deals with subjects such as the value of money, greed and despair for money, selfishness, obsession, compulsion and ruin. It's not the easiest film to rate due to its complex nature in many ways. It's not Hitchcock but its level of suspense (frightening for its time and still surprising even today) has a hitchcockian feel to it. It doesn't have that much of suspense, but when it has it convinces. And all of that coming from a simple and apparently harmless rocking horse!

    I guess the film has good morals and lessons to teach us. Learn from it or not is entirely up to us. This film is creepy and often unpleasant. It's a strange combination of things which result in... an awkward combination, to say the least. One thing that bothers me about it is the constant talk about money.

    John Howard Davies is superb in this role, just like he was in 'Oliver Twist' previously. His eyes are so expressive, even almost creepy, such is the intensity in them. The character he portrays is very nice, polite, loving and cute, but also strange and obsessed by money and the rocking horse.

    This boy wasn't plagued with the curses that took so many child actors to disgrace and grew up to be a successful producer of British sitcoms such as 'Mr. Bean'.
  • Unsatisfying film which does have a great premise: a young boy finds he can predict winning racehorses by riding (and meditating upon) the toy rocking horse in his bedroom. Handsome British production adapted from a D.H. Lawrence story unfortunately never quite lifts off. The cast (including John Mills and Valerie Hobson) is first-rate, but the results are dour and glum. Of course the plot doesn't necessitate the proceedings to be either scary or haunting, but it does require some intrigue in the principal set-up, and even this is handled without intensity or particular insight. It's just another melodrama, and one with a dispiriting conclusion. ** from ****
  • I remember having a rocking horse as a young boy. Actually it wasn't really a horse, more of a rocking donkey, but I had grown out of it by the age of about 4. Like most normal people. So, for 10 year old John Howard Davies (Paul) to get excited by this gift one Christmas morning shows that he has mental retardation problems. Still, thank goodness for this rocking horse for the film has nothing interesting going for it other than the all too few scenes in which it appears.

    The story involves a ghastly family headed by the ineffectual and terribly wooden Hugh Sinclair (Richard) and his socially aspiring wife Valerie Hobson (Hester). They rely on Hobson's brother Ronald Squire (Oscar) to bail them out of all financial difficulty but he has had enough. The infatuation that Hobson's character has with getting more money seems to possess the house and the boy Davies seems to pick up her vibes and channels them by riding his rocking horse in order to see into the future and realize the outcome of horse races. He does this for the love of his mother and it is true that there can be a very strong bond between mother and first son. I've experienced some crazy stuff like this myself.

    An ex-jockey kindly servant played by John Mills (Bassett) helps Davis bet on the horses and build up a cash nest-egg. Ronald Squire later joins with them as they keep a secret pact with each other and their winnings get more and more and they focus on the Epsom race for a big payout. However, it all proves too much for the boy Davis.

    The best acting comes from Ronald Squire. I'm afraid that Sinclair and Hobson misfire - Sinclair through acting inability and Hobson from over-cranking the melodrama. As for Howard Davis, he is an annoying kid, and his speech delivery is irritating throughout the film. There is no-one to relate to really, and the film, given the storyline, should have been so much better. There are some nice scenes and the film is shot well but it is only ever interesting when we see the rocking horse, which is not enough. A powerful last shot ends the film effectively, but I'm afraid that we just don't really care. I laughed quite a lot at the scenes of the boy riding the horse so I wouldn't classify this film as scary - it does provide some good images, though. Overall, I thought the film would be better.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A worthwhile adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence short story, this dated but appealing human drama-cum-psychological horror story has a handful of strong performances, a great and original story, and solid direction from Anthony Pelissier to recommend it. Although the supernatural aspects of the story are kept to a minimum (as they should be), THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER has some great frights in it – in particular the disturbing nightmare of the house whispering "money, money" and the scenes with the rocking horse itself, a carved piece of wood that actually becomes quite an imposing object. Although the film has lots and lots of slow spots, there are some great scenes in it – especially the moralising finale where the leading characters realise their parts in the horror.

    The recognisable John Howard Davies is sometimes irritating when he overacts as the lead, but for the most part he puts in a convincing performance and his acting grows better as the film progresses. Valerie Hobson is saddled with an unlikable character, the mother, for whom money is everything in life and who indirectly causes the events which occur to her son. However, Hobson has at least one great scene (the anguish at the back street pawn broker's) which at least makes us feel for her character's plight a little. Alongside Ronald Squire as the money-hungry uncle, the best performance in the film comes from the ever-great John Mills as Bassett, the gardener, who inadvertently sets the boy off on his gambling ways. Although THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER is far too long and would have been far more suited to the short story format, there are some great scenes and the overall result is a good if not fantastic film.
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