The Howards of Virginia (1940)

Drama, History, War
Cary Grant, Peter Cushing, Tom Fadden, Tom Drake
The film is set in colonial Virginia between the 1750s and 1781. Matt Howard (Cary Grant), orphaned son of a backwoods Virginia farmer, uses his connections with his schoolmate Tom Jefferson to get employment as a surveyor and acquire a thousand acres on the Shenandoah. While surveying the Williamsburg estate of planter Fleetwood Peyton (Cedric Hardwicke) he meets Peyton's sister Jane (Martha Scott). For both of them it is eternal love at first glance, and despite differences of class and culture, and the enmity of Fleetwood, Jane marries Matt and follows him to his cabin in the west country.Within a few years, the estate is thriving and the cabin on the hillside has become a gracious colonial home. There are minor conflicts with neighbors over manners, but the Howards successfully raise a clutch of 3 children. The one major instability is over the eldest son, Peyton Howard, whose looks remind Matt of his hated brother-in-law, and whom Matt therefore cannot love or even bring himself to touch. As time passes, and conflict with England looms, Matt is sent by his neighbors to the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, where he and Fleetwood represent the extreme rebel and Tory positions.In 1776, the entire family moves back to Williamsburg as Indian attacks threatens, and after the passage of the Virginia resolution for independence, Matt leaves to fight the British under General Washington. A few years later, after quarreling with their uncle over their father's rebel stand, Peyton and his younger brother James are expelled from the Peyton home, and they too go north to join up with their father, and Peyton is accepted as dispatch rider for Washington.Listening unseen to his two sons arguing over the merits of the rebellion, Matt Howard realizes that Peyton is closer to his own principles and political beliefs than his beloved James, and he tries to communicate his regrets over his behavior towards his son. But war gets in the way: Peyton is sent with a message for Lafayette, and we see him shot off his horse by a British patrol. Matt and the rest of the army trudge south to meet the British army, which is bottled up near Yorktown. When the army reaches Williamsburg, Matt forces his way into Washington's presence and asks after Peyton: his mission had been to draw the British fire so that other messengers could get through, but he was merely wounded and is recuperating back at home.At Fleetwood Peyton's house Matt finds his son and they reunite, together with their mother and the rest of the Howards. The odd man out is Fleetwood, who has become cynical and bitter at the outcome of the war and what he sees as the destruction of Tidewater society.The film was commercially unsuccessful despite an excellent cast; Cary Grant was out of his element playing a backwoods American, and the script, though literate, was not really strong. The political conflict, though real enough, is never argued intelligently: Matt and Fleetwood seem to be merely acting out their class positions. And the class conflict within the marriage never really surfaces, as Jane's backwoods estate is miraculously transformed into a Tara.The time scheme of the story also seems inconsistent. Matt is 12 when his father is killed with Braddock in the French and Indian War (1755), so he was born in 1743. His sons are supposedly 18 and 16 when they join Washington's army at Valley Forge (1777-8), so they were born in 1760 and 1762. This would require Matt to be 16, or even younger, when he courts Jane Peyton. But neither of them is supposed to be an adolescent, and of course the actors playing them, Cary Grant and Martha Scott, were 35 and 27 when the film was made.
  • 1940-09-19 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • N/A Writer:
  • Frank Lloyd Director:
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