For years, George Bernard Shaw refused to allow film versions of his plays. He wisely relented to Gabriel Pascal, who produced several, including Pygmalion (1938) and this critically acclaimed adaptation codirected by Pascal, David Lean, and Harold French. The wonderful Wendy Hiller portrays Barbara Undershaft, a major in the British Salvation Army who devotes herself to saving souls while her father (Robert Morley) deals in death as a munitions supplier. He sees his work as a means of saving lives on this earth — to him ”the worst crime is poverty,” which he vanquishes through enlightened employment, providing his daughter with a lesson in the impotence of good intentions.
Major Barbara is a dramatic treatise on the interplay of money and gunpowder, cynicism and realism, hypocrisy and hope. And though it occasionally plods, the film has scenes that fly by on the wings of Shaw’s lilting language (often adopted almost verbatim). Watching it will repay the significant expenditure of attention required to appreciate the intricate maze of Shaw’s thought and high-flown humor. (This new video edition was mastered from a 1977 restoration and runs 131 minutes, 42 minutes longer than some of the original release prints.) B