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  • It's a pretty sorry state of affairs that Leslie Howard is best remembered for Gone With the Wind, for I always think of it like remembering Max Von Sydow for The Greatest Story Ever Told. Howard was all wrong for Ashley Wilkes, and he knew it, only agreeing to it because David O.Selznick promised him producer reins on Intermezzo. In truth, Ashley was an unplayable part, the Edgar Linton of Civil War literature.

    Howard's real greatness was on stage in Britain in the 1920s and on film in the 1930s. His roles As Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and the definitive The Scarlet Pimpernel immortalised him even before the tragic air crash in 1943 that ensured he'd never get old in the mind's eye.

    When I saw Tom Hamilton's film it brought back many memories of Leslie, and the story of how he came to begin his film is almost as fantastic as Leslie's career and life. And then there's the wonderful touch of having it narrated by Derek Partridge - familiar face and voice on TV in his time - who just so happened to have been one of the people who were taken off the ill-fated Flight 777 to accommodate Leslie Howard (he was only a 7 year old boy at the time).

    Essentially, this has been a labour of love for five or six years for Tom Hamilton and his other half Tracy and I only wish it could be made possible for the film to be seen by more people than have yet had the opportunity. (We sadly live in a world where even Kevin Brownlow is struggling to get new documentaries commissioned).

    Only last month, Tom set up a Kickstarter campaign page to raise the necessary funds to clear all legal and clearance costs and this will remain open for another week. Anyone who is in a position to contribute will be helping to bring Leslie back to the state of remembrance he deserves.
  • Odd indeed that a man regarded as a quintessential Englishman on stage and screen was an adopted one, the son of a Hungarian Jewish father and a partly German Jew. But that was Leslie Howard a man who crossed the Atlantic quite regularly to star on the British and American stage and screen.

    A kid whose parents wanted to send him into some humdrum business career, you could not contain his creativity which only at a last resort channeled itself into acting.

    I found it fascinating how the two children, Ronald and Leslie seemed to take with equanimity their father's womanizing. Merle Oberon and secretary Violette Cunningham were only the two most prominent. Something that Ruth Howard just put up with as did Robert Mitchum's wife.

    Interesting also that the two films he didn't think much of were the two that he co-starred with Clark Gable. In A Free Soul, Gable was a newcomer and Howard was a distinct 4th behind Lionel Barrymore's Best Actor performance and Gable's roughhewn gangster and Norma Shearer's woman with an itch. And he could never convince David O. Selznick he wasn't quite right for Ashley Wilkes. It would have been interesting had he lived another two decades with a few revivals of Gone With The Wind and seen the response to it even today what he might have thought.

    Enough great roles to remember him in any event. The Scarlet Pimpernel, Of Human Bondage, Pygmalion. We are fortunate also that preserved on film are Broadway starring roles in The Petrified Forest and The Animal Kingdom and Berkeley Square.

    Of course the speculation grows even now about the doomed airline flight from Lisbon to London where he was shot down over the Bay of Biscay by the Germans. He was most active in the war effort. He served in the trenches during the first World War. He died in the second as surely as any soldier, sailor, or airman.

    The film is a great tribute to a great star.
  • I had never been particularly intrigued by Howard, but this splendid film drew me in and proved fascinating viewing (thanks TCM!). Director/prime mover Thomas Hamilton did a great job of bringing his subject to life -- literally. It was startling to hear Howard's daughter (miraculously still able to bear witness!) and others offer their still-vivid memories of a man who died so long ago, along with all of the rare archival reminiscences. The film was beautifully assembled -- smoothly edited with so many wonderful clips, so much rare footage, the story well told with some skillful non-linear touches and a haunting score by Maria Antal. A real contribution to film scholarship that will have me looking closer into every Howard film I see from now on.
  • Intimate and insightful, Thomas Hamilton's "Leslie Howard - The Man Who Gave a Damn" offers a rare detailed examination into the life and career of stage and film star Leslie Howard.

    Though the film covers all the highlights of his film career, including his most famous role as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone with the Wind", it is really the new understanding of the man himself that makes this film so compelling.

    The documentary is generously endowed with clips of home movies showing Howard in his off-screen life in everything from frequent trans-Atlantic traveller to devoted father of two children, Leslie Ruth Howard known as "Doodie" and her older brother Ronald Howard known as "Wink".

    Although I had read and thoroughly enjoyed the biographies written by his children ("A Quite Remarkable Father" published in 1959 by Leslie Ruth Howard and "In Search of My Father" (1981) by Ronald Howard), it did not prepare me for the candor of their revelations in this film. Both appear frequently in interviews. They demonstrate through their recollections a balance of love and respect for their father but also an understanding of the complicated man. A man who appears to have been able to enjoy both a home life with his wife and children and at the same time relationships with other women which frequently kept him away from that home.

    Doodie's recount of being so disagreeable to Merle Oberon, who Howard had introduced to his daughter as her future step-mother, is priceless. A few days after the Doodie meeting with Oberon the relationship which was to cause a divorce for Leslie and his wife Ruth was off and her parents reconciled. Wink's recounting how he, like his father, also fell for Howard's great love, his assistant Violette Cunnington is matter of fact and charming.

    This meticulously researched film brings many rarities to the project which classic movie fans may have known about but had long assumed were lost. A sound recording of Howard saying the immortal words "to be or not to be" from his stage version of "Hamlet" from 1936 is stunning. Also of interest are the snippets of BBC wartime broadcasts that Howard made and even interviews with the star himself.

    But for this reviewer it's the lighter moments depicting a warm character that I had only read about previously that are so enchanting. Home movies of a devoted father kissing the cheek of his adult daughter, playing in the snow with her as a young child are both touching and revealing. Even the home movies taken on the sets of films he appeared in show a more lighthearted side. A soft shoe dance with fellow actor William Gargan on the set of "Animal Kingdom" (1932) is a great example.

    Hamilton's film expertly captures and shines a light of the principles and convictions of the man who truly gave a damn. Unwilling as many Brits in Hollywood were to ride out WWII in the United States, he returned immediately in 1939 to his home in England to help out the war effort in any way he could. He spent the rest of his life working on projects in film, radio and finally the ill-fated lecture tour of Portugal and Spain on behalf of the British government.

    The desire to return from that tour one day early by a strange twist of fate saved the life of Derek Partridge this film's narrator and one of its authors. Partridge as a small boy was returning to England with his nanny when he was removed from the June 1, 1943 civilian flight at the last minute to make room Leslie Howard and his travelling companion. All the crew and passengers perished when this flight was shot down by Nazi warplanes over the Bay of Biscay. The motive remains a mystery to this day.

    Although it is easy to speculate over what the future would have held for Howard, this intimate portrait of the man, expertly and lovingly crafted in this film, shows us what we did have of him - a remarkable man brought back to life in this remarkable film. I strongly recommend this film for not one but several viewings.