Howards of Virginia, The (1940): Frank Lloyd’s Oscar-Nominated Civil War Drama, Starring Cary Grant and Martha Scott

The Howards of Virginia, like most Hollywood films about the Revolutionary War, was an artistic and commercial failure, which even mega-stars like Cary Grant, then at the prime of his career, could not salvage.

Grade: C (* out of *****)

The Howards of Virginia
1940 - Colonial Theater Ad - 3 Oct MC - Allentown PA.jpg

Newspaper advertisement

The story takes place in the capital city of Williamsburg, Virginia, where Matt Howard (Grant) dedicates himself to the causes of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

His faithful wife, Jane Peyton Howard (Martha Scott) is the sister of unregenerate royalist Fleetwood Peyton (Cedric Hardwicke).

Other historical personages include Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (played respectively by Richard Carlson and George Houston).

There is depiction of the Stamp Act riots, the Boston Tea Party, and Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty” speech, but Frank Lloyd’s direction is flat and dull and his coverage of the expected issues barely adequate.

The Howards of Virginia proved more suitable for schoolroom showings and discussions than for intelligent entertainment.

This is easily one of the worst films that Cary Grant has made.  Fortunately, in the same year he also scored high in George Cukor’s sublime comedy, The Philadelphia Story, opposite Katharine Hepburn (in her best screen role) and Jimmy Stewart in his first and only Oscar-winning performance.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Sound Recording: Jack Whitney.

Original Score: Richard Hagemen

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The Sound Oscar went to Douglas Shearer for the musical Strike Up the Band, and the Original Score to Disney’s Pinocchio.


Directed by Frank Lloyd
Screenplay by Sidney Buchman, based on The Tree of Liberty
1939 novel by Elizabeth Page
Produced by Frank Lloyd, Jack H. Skirball (associate producer)
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Paul Weatherwax
Music by Richard Hageman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: September 19, 1940

Running time: 122 minutes
Black and white

DVD: Mar 25, 2003