Film: National Velvet
Director: Clarence Brown
Performers: Liz Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Donald Crisp, Ann Revere, King Charles (The Pie), Jacob the dog (unknown)
Breed featured: Terrier mix
Production information: MGM, 1944 (USA)
Yes, yes, National Velvet is known as a classic girls-meets-horse story… but let us not forget about Jacob, the scene-stealing dog. Described as a fox terrier in the book, Jacob is some kind of terrier medley in the film, sporting a shaggy coat and what appears to be a slightly misaligned bite.
This minor detail does not prevent him from being a very successful mooch at the dinner table.
Not only is Jacob the dog a central member of the Brown family, there really wouldn’t have been a story without his presence. Though The Pie, the horse, was known to escape at will, it took a confrontation between Jacob and the horse to set things in motion. Jacob acted on his animal instinct and charged after the horse, causing him to leap over his walled pasture and wreak havoc in town — the last straw for his previous owner. If Jacob hadn’t chased the Pie that day, Velvet Brown may never have had the opportunity to obtain the horse for herself.
Mostly, I liked how Jacob was as much a part of the family as any of the children — faults and rowdy impulses and all.
Indeed, National Velvet is as much about discipline (or lack thereof) as it is about raw instinct. Nobody ever actually gets punished in the story, especially not when acting in accordance with their inner nature. Even when there seems reason to correct flagrant “misbehavior,” all actions eventually serve a noble purpose — even if just to reveal something more about a character’s integrity.
It’s wholesomeness that even a dog can possess.