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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA (1940)

Hollywood dogma holds quill pens & men in powdered wigs as sure drags on the box-office. Ergo, avoid all stories on the American Revolutionary War. But maybe the old canard is more a symptom of cause & effect, reflecting duds like this misfire. Producer/director Frank Lloyd, in fast fade mode less than a decade after prestige items CAVALCADE/’33 and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY/’35, can’t find a rhythm for his story about Cary Grant’s hot-headed backwoods boy courting society gal Martha Scott against the wishes of her distinguished brother Cedric Hardwicke. The two marry anyway, raise a brood, build a mansion in the wilderness, then fight the Revolutionary War! It’s a lousy story with one good angle (Cary can’t love his eldest, born lame like brother-in-law Hardwicke) and one good perf (Hardwicke, who given half a chance almost brings the thing to life). But the camera never favored Martha Scott, she makes a matronly glam gal, and Grant seems nearly unhinged whooping things up as a heehaw patriot. We’re plop in the middle of his early peak period, yet Grant gins up the boisterous enthusiasm as if he were still gagging things up on GUNGA DIN/’39. There’s a slight improvement in the more serious last act, but it comes far too late to make much of a difference. If forced, have a gander at Richard Carlson’s improbable Thomas Jefferson and note that Grant’s youngest is, of all people, Tom Drake (Judy Garland’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS/’44 ‘Boy Next Door’) playing his first credited role.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Try John Ford’s DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK/’39, with Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert and the great Edna May Oliver, a fine antidote to nobler-than-thou Revolutionary War pics.

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