“My dear, I’m a millionaire — that’s my religion.”
When the headstrong daughter (Wendy Hiller) of a millionaire weapons manufacturer (Robert Morley) becomes a major in the Salvation Army, she makes it her life’s mission to save souls, and quickly secures a fiance (Rex Harrison) willing to do anything for her love. Meanwhile, Morley struggles over the question of who to leave his inheritance to.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Deborah Kerr Films
- Missionaries and Revivalists
- Play Adaptations
- Rex Harrison Films
- Robert Morley Films
- Robert Newton Films
- Wendy Hiller Films
After producing a successful cinematic version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1938), Austro-Hungarian Gabriel Pascal directed this adaptation of Shaw’s 1905 play about an idealistic young woman grappling with issues of identity, morality, compromises, and love — specifically, whether poverty is worse than munitions, and whether it’s better to feed the poor or provide them with work. Such universal concerns remain as relevant today as ever, and fans of Shaw’s work will likely be quite happy with this outing (though it’s not a personal favorite of mine). Hiller is note-perfect in the title role; Harrison is less annoying than usual as her sincere yet opportunistic suitor; Morley (only four years older than Hiller) is suitably pompous as heir to a dubious fortune; Robert Newton is on hand to provide plenty of nastiness a la his later characters in Oliver Twist (1948) and Treasure Island (1950); playwright Emlyn Williams has fun as shyster “Snobby Price”; and Deborah Kerr gives a sweet and compelling supporting performance in her film debut.
Note: Major Barbara is historically notable for having been filmed during the Blitz, yet still coming across as polished and professional.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the entire cast
- Atmospheric cinematography by Ronald Neame
- Impressive sets
No, though it’s worth a one-time look for its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.