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Major Barbara Reviews

What price salvation? One of Shaw's most amusing comedies, excitingly performed by a brilliant cast, though Shaw's monologues sometimes get boggy with verbiage and the direction (largely by Pascal) isn't very spritely. Hiller plays the idealistic title character, a major in the Salvation Army who despises her munitions magnate father (Morley). Adolphus Cusins (Harrison), a young professor of Greek history and literature, is hopelessly in love with the major, but she's too busy saving souls. Pop Undershaft believes that benevolent industrial management, not charity and moral uplift, is the way to help the poor. He sets out to show that intellectual Cusins and spiritual Barbara can both be bought, with surprising consequences. Shaw's 1905 social comedy was brought to the screen by Pascal, who had talked the curmudgeonly playwright into allowing him in 1938 to film (with great success) PYGMALION, starring Hiller and Leslie Howard. MAJOR BARBARA, however, was not as well received by audiences, who found it too sophisticated and couldn't relate to its eccentric Fabian socialism. The cast is uniformly marvelous, with the dry radiance of Hiller (reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn's, but uniquely her own) firing scene after scene. Harrison has a great way with flip dialogue, yet still manages to convey his passion for Barbara. Newton is delightfully wicked as a money-grubbing slum dweller. The rest of the cast reads like a who's who of British character actors; they keep the rather stodgy, unimaginative direction constantly on the go. Special mention must go to the touching Kerr, just starting her career, and the wonderful Morley. (You almost have to look twice to recognize him behind that beard.) The 32-year-old actor is not only convincing as the father of the 28-year-old Hiller but also a worthy and likable mouthpiece for many of Shaw's ideas. Valuable as a fine performance of an important and delightful play, MAJOR BARBARA makes for bracingly intelligent cinema.