November 6, 2013

Leslie Howard, Berkeley Square

as PETER STANDISH
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Just looking at the stats, the overall intensity of AMPA's anglophilia during its sixth year was pretty crazy. The grotesque Best Picture winner was a film that spent 110 minutes trying to show how amazing it was to be English. U.K.'s Frank Lloyd was named the Best Director of said grotesque Best Picture (this was his second time winning in the Academy's six years for incredibly banal pictures). The Private Life of Henry VIII became the first completely British production to be nominated for Best Picture, and that film's English star won Best Actor. 50% of the acting nominees were English--the last of whom to be reviewed by yours truly is here. I suppose Lloyd wasn't satisfied enough with Cavalcade (that or the demand for British pics was through the roof), so he popped out a second story about English life that very year in the form of Berkeley Square, a film that manages to be just as mundane (but not quite as bad) as Cavalcade. And like Diana Wynyard and Corinne Griffith, star Leslie Howard's work here isn't anything to get excited about.

 photo ScreenShot2013-10-28at105758PM.jpgBerkeley Square is a bizarre story of a man who travels back in time to 1784 London and carries out life there pretending to be his ancestor. He is to marry his cousin Kate (gross) but instead falls in love with his other cousin Helen (just as gross), all the while confusing/scaring/pissing off all the Brits of 1784 with his 1933 manners and mentality. The incest that the film seems to treat as no-big-deal was far from my biggest problem. This is a sloppy picture with numerous holes in plot and reasoning and it's anchored by a leading man who seems to be sleepwalking through entire thing. Howard looks to be bored out of his mind--almost all of his line executions feel lifeless. It doesn't even look like he's acting...he just seems to be talking, saying the things that are on his script and doing the bare minimum necessary to fulfill his contract obligations and get that paycheck. There is absolutely no vigor in his performance or the picture. This is as dull and dreary a picture as it gets, which I suppose is appropriate irony considering it takes place in a city that is often rainy and dreary.

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Again, my lowly American mind was unable to capture any of the British references that are supposed to be amusing or entertaining. The New York Times said of Howard here, "He has done excellent work in other films, but it is doubtful whether he has ever given so impressive and imaginative a performance." Impressive is a very large stretch, and imaginative is a completely falsified superlative. This is a picture in which we learn that Howard's Peter has been acting strangely and obsessively in his home but we find this out from an informative line his maid says rather than see it for ourselves. In fact, the complicated nature of the film's plot results in the film cutting many corners that had they been included could have salvaged Howard's performance. For instance, why do we see the 1784 Peter Standish only at the beginning but never again afterwards, especially since the two Standishes had switched place in time? That could have been an interesting and imaginative thing to see. But alas, I've rarely ever been impressed by Howard--didn't think much of him in Gone with the Wind and he was pretty forgettable in A Free Soul--and so I'm wondering if it's because the roles I've seen him in are underwritten and don't require much of him or if he's naturally a boring performer. Save for one angry monologue (the only moment in the film in which there's any vitality in him), most of Howard's performance is one-note and totally uninspired. This is a completely disposable and forgettable piece of work. His final moments are okay and all but hardly enough to balance out all that is drab about his performance. And with that, I must give it a


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