Thursday, February 19, 2009

Presidents' Day, Part 2

Abraham Lincoln probably got more screen treatment than any other US President, because his place in history included the Civil War, which is a fairly easy event to make cinematically interesting. George Washington ought to be equally interesting, as should Thomas Jefferson. Yet, the two didn't show up all that often in classic Hollywood movies. One movie that does have both as minor characters is The Howards of Virginia.

The Howards of Virginia is a fairly predictable movie for Hollywood standards. It tries to be an epic about one Matt Howard, a Virginia patriarch at the time of the American Revolution. There's the typical Hollywood elements: Matt's father dies when Matt is just a kid; Matt struggles to make a name for himself, and meets and marries a woman above his station, taking her to the then-wilderness of the Shenendoah Mountains. Unfortunately for his family, their bucolic peace is broken by the Revolutionary War. There's strife between husband and wife, and between husband an in-laws, as Matt supports the Revolution while his in-laws are wealthy Tories. And, there's also the inevitable George Washington sighting in the War. (Jefferson appears first as Matt's childhood friend, and then as an adult, too.)

You'll note I haven't mentioned the actors yet. That's because Matt Howard is played by Cary Grant, who is incredibly miscast. (Wow, that hair is something else.) Grant was a good actor, but if there was one genre for which he was ill-suited, it had to be the costume drama -- especially one that would have required him to be a colonial American. Grant tries, but the entire time, it's impossible to get over the fact that this is Cary Grant. No matter what the rest of the cast does, and they're all perfectly competent, they can't steer the movie away from being a Cary Grant vehicle. (Grant, to his credit, realized afterwards that he wasn't suited to historical dramas and didn't make one for another 15 years.)

The presence of Cary Grant, combined with Hollywood's trying to shoehorn every plot twist you can think of in a Hollywood wannabe epic, make The Howards of Virginia more a curiosity than a truly classic movie. If you like Cary Grant, or are interested in the limited number of Hollywood movies about the Revolutionary War, this is certainly a movie for you. Just be warned of what you're getting beforehand. The Howards of Virginia was released on DVD several years ago, but is apparently out of print. As such, you'll probably have to rent it from Netflix instead of trying to buy it.

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