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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Howards of Virginia (1940)

"What about the principle of the consarn thing?"
- Matt Howard (Cary Grant)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: April 07, 2003

Stars: Cary Grant, Martha Scott, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Marshal, Richard Carlson
Other Stars: Ann Revere, Libby Taylor, Richard Gaines, George Houston, Ralph Byrd, Dickie James, Richard Alden, Phil Taylor
Director: Frank Lloyd

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:55m:44s
Release Date: March 25, 2003
UPC: 043396077645
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-B+B+ D

DVD Review

Cary Grant made a career out of playing smooth, sophisticated characters. He was really cast against type in this 1940 adaptation of the novel, The Tree of Liberty, as an inarticulate backwoods bumpkin and filthy rabble-rouser. Nonetheless, he carries off the part with aplomb, aided by a capable supporting cast.

In pre-Revolutionary War days, young Matt Howard (Grant) decides to head for the frontier country of Ohio and take up surveying in order to acquire some land. However, his friend Thomas Jefferson (Richard Carlson) arranges for him to survey the Tidewater plantation of Fleetwood Peyton (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). When Matt sets eyes on Fleetwood's sister Jane (Martha Scott), he falls in love and proves himself by acquiring a plantation in the back hills of the Shenandoah. Jane marries and follows him, shocked and horrified at the bumptious character of the locals, though she eventually becomes acclimated. But their love is sorely tested when the Revolution comes, and Matt becomes a firebrand in the House of Burgesses and Jane finds herself leaning more toward the Tory persuasions of her brother.

In a sense, this capsule reads like the hackneyed brother-against-brother story that is the staple of such historical romances. But the story includes some intriguing details, most notably Matt's relationship with his eldest son, Peyton (Phil Taylor). Because Peyton is afflicted with the same clubfoot as Fleetwood bears, Matt distances himself from his own son in a somewhat complicated interaction that rings quite true and gives the tale a bit more depth than one might expect.

Grant does an excellent job, and seems to be enjoying himself immensely in this unusual role for him. Hardwicke is terrific as the resentful Fleetwood, with a believably overbearing personality. Martha Scott is a bit on the colorless side as the love interest (one fails to see exactly what it is that attracts Matt to her), but she is convincing in the later sections where the performance really counts. Richard Carlson is a bit saintly as Jefferson, but carries the part off well enough. The weakest player is Ralph Byrd as Matt's father in a lengthy prologue; Byrd (best known as the title character in the Dick Tracy films) shoots out his dialogue as quickly as he can, as if in a great hurry to get out from in front of the camera. Dickie Jones as young Matt in the prologue is charming and credibly could grow up into Grant. Frank Lloyd's direction is pedestrian but gets the job done; a bit tighter editing could have helped with a number of spots that slow down to a crawl.

The history seems to be more or less accurate enough for Hollywood, and there's plenty of declaiming. Given the timing in 1940, one suspects that this bit of exhortation regarding fighting for freedom (complete with Patrick Henry [Richard Gaines] proclaiming "Give me liberty or give me death."), and the timing of the issue may indicate the studios' desire to be seen as supporting American military adventures around the world. Be that as it may, it's an entertaining enough little film that seems to have slipped through the cracks and is deserving of a bit of recognition.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full-frame picture is quite good overall, despite a hail of speckling at the beginning of the first reel. Things quickly settle down to an attractive viewing experience with rich blacks and a good greyscale and plenty of detail. The last few frames before the end titles are oddly unstable, but for the most part this looks excellent for a film over 60 years old. Aliasing, shimmer or compression artifacts do not significantly rear their ugly heads.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono track suffers from a brief spot that is very noisy, but overall it is quiet and clear. Dialogue is sparklingly plain throughout, and the score by Richard Hageman sounds acceptable for aged mono.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring His Girl Friday, Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Other than three trailers for Columbia catalog titles (none of which includes the feature here), there is nothing at all for extra content.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A passable historical drama with an interesting lead performance by Grant. The source print and transfer are nice, but little is included in the way of extras.


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