Wednesday, December 03, 2008


In the same year that Cary Grant did such a great job in the romantic comedy THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, he made one of his rare career missteps in this period drama set during the Revolutionary War era. It follows the arc of the birth of America through the story of two families, the Howards, working class tobacco farmers, and the Peytons, upper class landowners. Cary Grant is Matt Howard, the hard working son, who just happens to be friends with young Thomas Jefferson (yes, improbably *the* Thomas Jefferson, played even more improbably by baby-faced Richard Carlson), who gussies Grant up and gets him a job as a surveyor for the aristocratic snob Fleetwood Peyton (Cedric Hardwicke). When Hardwicke finds out about that Grant is just "white trash," he wants to get rid of him, but Grant has fallen for Hardwicke's sister, Martha Scott, and she for him; they get married and go back to Grant's roughneck home village where Scott slowly begins the process of assimilation. Over the next several years, they have children and become such a respectable family that Grant wins election to the Virginia House of Burgesses. However, between his lawmaking duties and his growing involvement in the fight for independence, which irritates Scott's Royalist family, Grant's relationship with his wife and sons becomes strained. We see (ever so briefly) the Boston Tea Party, and there are scenes with Lafayette and George Washington, and finally a family reconciliation. Grant supposedly thought this was his weakest film role; though he does seem a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, I think the real problem is the screenplay. Based on a long novel, this wanted to be a Gone With the Wind for the American Revolution, and, though it tries to cram lots of stuff into its two hours, most situations and characters aren't developed enough for us to care about them. Carlson as Jefferson comes off worse than Grant does; the cast also includes Tom Drake, Ann Revere, and Paul Kelly. It's not a terrible film, but it might make a good sleeping aid for an insomniac. [TCM]

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