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Major Barbara

1941 2h 15m Comedy List
93% Tomatometer 15 Reviews 55% Audience Score 100+ Ratings The daughter of rich weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), idealistic young Barbara (Wendy Hiller) rebels against her estranged father by joining the Salvation Army. Wooed by professor-turned-preacher Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), Barbara eventually grows disillusioned with her causes and begins to see things from her father's perspective. Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, the film's comedic social commentary pulls no punches. Read More Read Less

Critics Reviews

View All (15) Critics Reviews
David Parkinson Empire Magazine A bit theatrical in places, which is not surprising when you consider its provenance but it suffers for it. Rated: 3/5 Mar 4, 2015 Full Review TIME Magazine The result is a cinema treat. Mar 4, 2015 Full Review Nell Minow Common Sense Media Good intro to corporate social responsibility. Rated: 4/5 Dec 25, 2010 Full Review Elena de la Torre Cine-Mundial Gabriel Pascal has definitely triumphed as a producer and director, in every field, with the enthusiastic and determined cooperation of Bernard Shaw. [Full review in Spanish] Sep 19, 2019 Full Review Tony Sloman Radio Times [A] superb screen adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's morality study about the Salvation Army and armaments manufacture. Rated: 4/5 Mar 4, 2015 Full Review Emanuel Levy EmanuelLevy.Com Pascal's screen version of Bernard Shaw's 1905 satire about socialism and capitalism is too theatrical, but the dialogue is witty and the performances by Rex Harrison and Wendy Hiller superb. Rated: B+ Jun 9, 2012 Full Review Read all reviews

Audience Reviews

View All (7) audience reviews
Audience Member It's a strong enough storyline, but it's extremely wordy and laborious in places for it. Rated 2.5 out of 5 stars 02/06/23 Full Review Audience Member just not what i expected it would be Rated 1.5 out of 5 stars 01/16/23 Full Review Audience Member Clever, satirical expose of people who do all the right things for all the wrong reasons (and a few who do the wrong things for the right reasons). Propaganda at its core, but still entertaining, and Wendy Hiller is fantastic. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 01/17/23 Full Review Audience Member It Doesn't Feel Like Shaw Anyway There is a prelude thingy for this movie which informs you, essentially, that if you're disappointed in the film, you're unpatriotic. Or something. I think it's even in George Bernard Shaw's handwriting. Conveniently for me, it doesn't apply in my case. I'm not British and therefore don't have to be blindly accepting of Shaw's worth. And it's true that I'm not exactly an expert on the man. It's true that there are more plays of his that I don't know than that I do. However, I spent pretty much the entire story unable to believe that this was the same misanthropic Shaw I knew, the one who wrote the snarky epilogue to [i]Pygmalion[/i]. The one who is so rude to Dionysus in Sondheim's [i]The Frogs[/i]. (Not, of course, that Sondheim's exactly a primary source.) But this film, and the play on which it was based, celebrates the glories of capitalism and the nobility of saving souls. And it doesn't feel as though it's kidding. Barbara Undershaft (Wendy Hiller) is a major, all right. In the Salvation Army. And she is, in a way that I feel sure I got wrong, betrothed to Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), a professor of Greek who gives it up to pound a drum alongside his love. She is also the daughter of Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), a munitions magnate who walked out on his family so long ago that he's not a hundred percent sure how many children he has. He walks back into their lives, I'm not sure why, and joins Barbara at the Salvation Army, I'm not sure why. He gives the Salvation Army a very large sum of money, which angers Barbara, because he does kind of make a living off war. But it's worse; he mostly gives them the money to get back at a whiskey distiller who's already given them something like five hundred thousand pounds, enough to keep their shelters open. And she won't take the money of war and whiskey, until something tells her she ought. I feel sure this missed something in translation to the screen, but how much could it? George Bernard Shaw was the only credited screenwriter, though there were apparently three others. Which does leave it rather open as to who wrote how much. I just can't see Shaw letting his name stay as sole screenwriter for a movie which completely subverted the point he was trying to make. In the end, everyone is actually happy. They don't even seem to be pretending or deluded. It's not the bright, artificial happiness you get when you're supposed to think its causes are silly. Barbara decides that it's worth more to save the souls of the fed and clothed, and ammunition is keeping people fed and clothed who weren't before. The man who beat his girlfriend really is legitimately a better person now he's got a job paying a little over three pounds a week. It's not that I dispute that these people might have these feelings. It's that I couldn't quite believe they'd have them in a story from Shaw. It isn't helped that I didn't quite know why much of anyone was doing much of anything. I missed how Barbara and Adolphus got engaged. He went into a room to pray with her, and she took him home with her and let him introduce himself to her father as her fiancé. There must have been intervening steps there, but I have no idea what they were. Why did Barbara's father leave his wife, Lady Britomart (Marie Lohr)? No idea. They had some conflict over his factory, which she found disgraceful, but why did she find it disgraceful? Was it along the lines of their son, Stephen (Walter Hudd), and his disparagement of trade? Barbara's sister, Sarah (Penelope Dudley-Ward), had nothing to do with anything, which violated a certain economy of character. She also had an unpleasant fiancé of her own, and the movie cared a lot more about him than I did. These people just seemed to have been thrown together in improbable circumstances. The way they get out of them is every bit as improbable. So I have no idea. To be perfectly honest, I only watched it all the way through for one reason. One of my favourite episodes of [i]Mystery Science Theater 3000[/i] is the movie [i]I Accuse My Parents[/i] (featuring the short "Truck Farming"). At one point, I believe it's Tom Servo who declares that Singing Sensation Kitty Reed (Mary Beth Hughes, who was also in one or two bona fide classics and something called [i]Dig That Uranium[/i]) is dressed like Major Barbara. I had absolutely no idea what that even meant. I'd vaguely heard the name somewhere, but I had a thought that it was maybe some sort of wacky (or WAC-y?) World War II comedy. I pretty quickly worked out that it was not, but by then, I was determined to write a review so that I could mention this particular piece of information. I do this sometimes--there are things I am determined to share, and I will write absolute nonsense for a few paragraphs because it gives me the chance to. Alas for you, this wasn't even a full paragraph's worth of information. Rated 1.5 out of 5 stars 02/12/23 Full Review Audience Member Gabriel Pascal's filmed version of the George Bernard Shaw play may be trying to put the work of the great playwright to film as best as possible, but not quite succeeding. Pygmailon fares much better. Wendy Hiller is Major Barbara, a wealthy girl who has taken up with the Salvation Army and helping to spread the word of God. Rex Harrison is professor Adolphus Cusins who becomes immediately smitten with the Major. The two become a couple. Barbara wants nothing from her rich father, despite still living under his provisions and house. Robert Newton is a low class man who solves his problems through drink and violence, but you know he will soon come around. And eventually everything comes together to learn that everyone is not as bad as they may seem, including the rich old man. The acting and characterizations are very good. But the story doesn't hit the comedic moments well (perhaps just age?) and does tend to drag. Nevertheless Shaw fans will probably love it. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 02/09/23 Full Review Audience Member Religion (and philosophy and politics) vs. capitalism? Religion, etc. + capitalism! Religion, etc. in the pocket of capitalism. Major Barbara may be every evangelical American's fantasy-synthesis. It's also a superb interplay of sophistries. Break the religious/ideological jaw of capitalism! And then get down to serious business. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 01/24/23 Full Review Read all reviews
Major Barbara

My Rating


Cast & Crew

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Movie Info

Synopsis The daughter of rich weapons manufacturer Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley), idealistic young Barbara (Wendy Hiller) rebels against her estranged father by joining the Salvation Army. Wooed by professor-turned-preacher Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), Barbara eventually grows disillusioned with her causes and begins to see things from her father's perspective. Based on the play by George Bernard Shaw, the film's comedic social commentary pulls no punches.
Gabriel Pascal
Original Language
Release Date (Streaming)
Oct 15, 2020
2h 15m