Major Barbara (1941) B+
George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 satirical and amusing comedy, dealing with wealth, poverty, and social responsibility, is wonderfully acted by the young Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller.
An important play, which is being done on stage all the time, the 1941 movie version may be too talky and sophisticated for the big screen, but the talk is witty and the ideas still relevant.
Wendy Hiller plays Major Barbara Undershaft, an idealistic officer in the Salvation Army. An unabashed socialist, she confronts and attacks capitalists, including her father Andrew (Robert Morley), the head of a munitions plant.
Enter the young scholar Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), a specialist of Greek literature who falls for Barbara but his interest goes unreturned since Barbara spends all her time on her crusade against wealth; she is too busy saving souls.
To prove his daughter his worth Andrew donates 50,000 pounds to the Salvation Army which, to Barbara’s horror, the Army’s general (Sybil Thorndike) all too willingly accepts.
In protest, Barbara quits her post. Undeterred, Adolphus then takes her on a tour of her father’s munitions plant, aiming to show that capitalism is not so bad.
There are heady arguments about which is the better strategy to help the poor classes: Barbara’s father believes that industrial management, not charity and moral uplift, are more efficient ways.
To that extent, he sets out to show that the lofty and intellectual Cusins and the moral and spiritual Barbara can both be bought—under the right circumstances and with a charismatic leadership.
Director Gabriel Pascal had earlier staged Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” with Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard, for the screen in an Oscar-nominated movie. While Pascal doesn’t show particular understanding for the needs of a uniquelt filmic feature, he services well the material and the actors.
Unlike “Pgymalion,” “Major Barbara” was not a commercial success.
Running time: 121 Minutes.
Directed by Gabriel Pascal.
Screenplay by George Bernard Shaw and Anatole de Grunwald
DVD: February 23, 2010
Wendy Hiller as Major Barbara Undershaft
Rex Harrison as Adolphus Cusins
Robert Morley as Andrew Undershaft
Robert Newton as Bill Walker
Emlyn Williams as Snobby Price
Deborah Kerr as Jenny Hi
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