Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry

Gasser

Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937)

     Some movies are more important for their meaning in cinema history than for their actual stories or performances. I would say Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry falls into that category as it was the first pairing of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, a couple who would do 10 pictures total together. MGM spotted as soon as filming started the great appeal of the two together, and all of their follow-up roles together would be for that studio.

     The Garland-Rooney headliner films include most of the Andy Hardy movies in which, much as in real life, Judy would play the girl next door who cannot seem to draw the romantic attention of Mickey who was the real focus of those movies. Rooney and Garland knew each other before doing Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, however. They attended the same acting school for kids in Hollywood. Garland was 15 in this film, Rooney 17, and she was still in an awkward phase of adolescence that presented problems for Louis B. Mayer who had hired her to an MGM contract. She was stuck in between cute kid and sexy young adult, which resulted in her sitting on the shelf for a while before the studio could figure out how to use her. Mayer also had the MGM commissary on strict rules to only feed her chicken broth because her favor for sweets had her figure anything but curvy, as one can see in this film. Mayer would also put Garland on diet pills, which combined with her mother’s regiment of uppers to make her shine in auditions (started at age 9, I believe) and downers to get her to sleep, could be blamed as the groundwork for her lifelong pill addiction.

     Returning to the movie, Rooney plays jockey Timmy Donovan who can win any race on any horse. Garland is Cricket West, daughter of the owner of the boardinghouse where Donovan and a slew of other jockeys live. Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry does not start out about them, however. We first follow Roger (Ronald Sinclair) and Sir Peter Calverton (C. Aubrey Smith) as they voyage from England with their horse Pookah that they plan to run in a big race in America. Early on they spy Donovan as the jockey they want, but the boy is so arrogant it takes some trickery to get him in the saddle. Donovan becomes pretty loyal to the foreigners and teaches Roger to ride as a jockey.

     When Donovan’s estranged father calls for him claiming to be sick and asking his boy to throw a race riding Pookah so he can win the money for an iron lung, the jockey follows through. The shock of the loss, however, kills Sir Peter with a heart attack leaving Roger and his stable-hand sort of stranded in the U.S. with no money. Roger plans to sell Poohah because he does not have the entrance fee for the big race. Figuring out his father’s scam, Donovan demands some of the winnings to put Pookah in that race, but further interference by the low-down father reveals the jockey’s dishonest loss in the last race and he is barred from riding. Luckily, Roger learned enough about jockeying to make a go of it.

     Garland’s role in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry is pretty negligible. She sings one song, “Got a Pair of New Shoes”, and just acts as a side character to the drama between the boys. Rooney is his usual, great self, but Sinclair, in a role intended for Freddie Bartholomew, is kind of dreadful. I found him very annoying and easily saw how Bartholomew would have been a better fit.

     There are also a couple scenes with Rooney and Sinclair that if taken out of context would suggest a sexual relationship between the characters. I’m sure audiences thought nothing of it at the time, but images of the two of them riding a horse together combined with a follow-up scene when Rooney continually pulls Sinclair’s pants down so he can rub his thighs is suggestive by today’s standards. Just a funny note.

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