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"The Howards of Virginia"

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Character's Name: Matt Howard
Release Date:  September 19, 1940
Director: Frank Lloyd
Studio:  Columbia
Running Time: 115 minutes

Cast: Cary Grant (Matt Howard), Martha Scott (Jane Peyton Howard), Cedric Hardwicke (Fleetwood Peyton), Alan Marshal (Roger Peyton), Richard Carlson (Thomas Jefferson), Paul Kelly (Captain Jabez Allen), Irving Bacon (Tom Norton), Elizabeth Risdon (Aunt Clarissa), Ann Revere (Mrs. Norton), Richard Alden (James Howard at 16), Phil Taylor (Peyton Howard at 18), Rita Quigley (Mary Howard at 17), Libby Taylor (Dicey), Richard Gaines (Patrick Henry), George Houston (George Washington), Ralph Byrd (James Howard), Dickie Jones (Matt Howard at 12), Buster Phelps (Tom Jefferson at 11)

- by ZoŽ Shaw
Matt Howard, who is friends with Thomas Jefferson, goes to work for Fleetwood Peyton. Matt falls in love with Jane Peyton. Matt and Jane marry and return to the Howard's home district. Then, encouraged by Jefferson, Matt enters politics. Then war breaks out......

- by ZoŽ Shaw
Cary Grant plays Matt Howard, a friend of Thomas Jefferson, who is a down-to-earth surveyor working for aristocrat Fleetwood Peyton. He falls in love with Peyton's daughter, Jane (Martha Scott). They move back to Matt's home district and start to raise their family. However, differences emerge when Matt's democratic beliefs clash with Jane's conservative beliefs and upbringing. Matt joins the colonial forces in the fight for freedom against England, and Jane and Matt are forced to choose between their love for each other and their political beliefs.

This film takes us through a very important part of American history. I have to admit that I do not know much about American history. But somehow this film did not strike me as being a very good insight into colonial and revolutionary America. Cary plays his part well, but the period costume and ponytail do nothing for him. Don't get me wrong........ as a piece of entertainment, it passes 2 hours very comfortably. However, one of the most redeeming features of this film is the Bathtub scene. Look out for it near the beginning of the film - but don't blink or you might miss it!!!

VARIETY Film Review - September 4, 1940
- by "Flin"
- submitted by Barry Martin
As his contribution to the group of higher cost and potentially higher grossing films for the new fall season, Frank Lloyd has produced 'The Howards of Virginia,' a Colonial period melodrama dealing with events leading up to and through the Revolutionary War, starring the reliable Cary Grant and the newcomer, Martha Scott.  It is an elaborate, expensive picture, replete with the production niceties and human-interest touches which distinguish the Lloyd output.

Its principal concern, however, is about British oppression of the early American colonies, and the consequent uprising against tyranny.  Coming to the public at the moment when current world events are drawing England and America into an international embrace of friendship and brotherly love, based on closest mutual interests, it would be difficult to find a theme more out of tune with present emotions.

A lobby display poster Patrick Henry shouting for liberty or death in protest against British foreign policy stupidities doesn't jibe with page-one news of united military hemisphere protection against Hitler.  Somewhere in the philosophic background of the picture there may be a parallel for patriotic contemplation, but it is never visible.  'The Howards of Virginia' is propaganda in reverse English, a piece of baffling showmanship and an exhibitors boxoffice problem.

As a film entertainment it is well above average in quality of production, acting and the mechanical accoutrements.  Much of the action takes place in Virginia's early capital, Williamsburg, and Lloyd made many of the scenes in the reconstructed Colonial city, with its interesting buildings, walks and common.  Important debates are pictured in the House of Burgesses, and the fictional characters move easily in the company of the historically great, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick.  The photography throughout is excellent, and Richard Hageman's musical score shows careful research and expert timing.  

Plot is the familiar domestic conflict between the youth of rugged backwoods upbringing and the damsel of high city breeding who join to battle the frontier dangers and subdue its opportunities.  Story is based on 'The Tree of Liberty,' by Elizabeth Page.

In the hero role, Grant gives a robust, convincing performance and carries the action at a rapid and absorbing pace through the first half of the film.  So long as the interest is centered on him and Miss Scott during their frontier experiences, the film has freshness, charm and a certain boisterous humor, both in situation and character.  The dull stretches are the historical passages, the re-hash of the Stamp Act riots, and the Boston Tea Party.  So intense is Sidney Buchman, the scenarist, in recreating the causes of the Revolution that the lives and loves of his characters are smothered under marching redcoats, impassioned political debates and privations of Valley Forge.

This is Miss Scott's second major role in the past two months, and it's a striking contrast to the heroine in 'Our Town.'  She has youth, looks and a potent sense of comedy in her favor.  She gives a good performance in a role that has many artificial handicaps.

Others in the cast have rather static parts  Sir Cedric Hardwicke is a deadpan villain.  Alan Marshal gives nothing to a ne'er-do-well, and Richard Carlson makes Thomas Jefferson a supporting player in events which he fashioned and directed.  Lesser but satisfying bits are played by Elizabeth Risdon, Paul Kelly and Irving Bacon.

Exhibitors who have this one on their list might do well to start their campaigns far in advance of play dates.  

NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - September 27, 1940
- by Bosley Crowther
- submitted by Barry Martin
In these times, when a great many people are talking loosely about American democracy, it is a very good thing to hark back occasionally to first principles. And this Frank Lloyd has done with remarkable clarity and penetration in "The Howards of Virginia," which opened yesterday at the Music Hall. Seldom do the films illuminate our fundamental ideals with such simple and straightforward analysis as that employed in the present instance; never, to our recollection, has the screen pictured in more magnificent detail the period in American history preceding and including the Revolution. As a record of social progression, this film is a master work.

If, then, it may be fore some deficient in dramatic action - if it flows in a narrative vein too deep for surface excitement - let's not charge that seriously against it. For the basic drama lies in the conflict of ideas - in the clash of entrenched conservatism with the ferment of true democracy, out of which the American ideal arose. And the result is a steadily absorbing play of intangible forces, never breaking out in visible physical conflict, but continuously exciting because of their effect on minds and souls.

The story, which is taken from the first part of Elizabeth Page's novel, "The Tree of Liberty," is that of Matt Howard, a Virginia backwoodsman, who marries Jane Peyton, the daughter of an aristocratic Tidewater family, and of their life together during the years of this nation's birth. Jane has been bred to the conviction of her own superiority, to the selfish attitude that her own and her family's security is the only important thing; Matt is of democratic spirit, hot-blooded and passionate in his devotion to his fellow-man.

The conflict, then, is between their divergent natures, manifest through the years as the struggle with England grows. "My fear is for us," says Jane. But Matt's concern is for the rights of himself and his neighbors. And when the war finally comes, when Matt insists on joining the army of Washington, the family is divided, and the breach between fundamental beliefs is made - until the end of the conflict and the victory is Matt's ideal.

Incidental to this main theme of the picture is the story of life in Colonial Virginia - in Tidewater mansions and in the log houses of the frontier - and it is told with rich and colorful elaboration. Many of the backgrounds were actually filmed in restored Williamsburg, which factor imparts a substantial, authentic quality. The mellowness and urbanity of life in the colonial capital is vividly contrasted with the raw and rugged nature of the frontier.

As the Tidewater aristocrat, Martha Scott is excellent, aloof yet warm of heart, dignified yet flexible. She should be the pet of every Colonial Dame in America. Sir Cedric Hardwicke makes a superb Tory, adamant in his hatred of change and of Thomas Jefferson. Richard Carlson plays the latter with grace and credible zeal. The only disappointment - and it is a major one - is Cary Grant as Matt. There is a familiar comic archness about his style which is disquieting in his present serious role, and he never quite overcomes a bumptiousness which is distinctly annoying. However, we must say that he looks like the genuine article in the buff-and-blue of a Continental officer.

But regardless of that and regardless of the film's two-hour running time, we think it one of the best historical pictures to date. As a stern and sobering reminder of our liberal tradition, it is more contemporary than a political speech.  

- by Kathy Fox

THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA is based on the novel THE TREE OF LIBERTY, written by Elizabeth Page. This is Cary Grant's 37th film and his third film released in 1940, the others being HIS GIRL FRIDAY and MY FAVORITE WIFE. The picture had scenes which were filmed at Williamsburg, Virginia, the newly restored tourist attraction. Columbia Pictures did not put a whole lot of money into the film and some of the brief scenes were recycled from the LAND OF LIBERTY, a compilation film originally made to show at the 1939 World's Fair and later reconfigured for theatre distribution. Grant plays Matt Howard who has grown up with Thomas Jefferson played by Richard Carlson of I LED THREE LIVES television fame. Howard meets and falls in love with Jane Peyton but they marry against her brother's wishes and Matt carries Jane off to the wilderness. Three children are born of this marriage, two sons, one of whom is crippled, and a daughter. Matt enters politics on the encouragement of Mr. Jefferson. The family breaks apart when Matt decides to join the Revolution, but the family is reunited when the sons join the war. How accurate the film is remains to be seen. It is clear that audiences in theatres across the country felt Cary Grant out of place in an epic historical drama, and Grant is reported to have said that he would never make another costume drama, but then he obviously relented because he made THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION seventeen years later, a much better film, which showcased him in English garb and where we see a very attractive Cary Grant nine years before his retirement.

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