Let's be realistic, shall we? The Hollywood leading man has about a dozen solid archetypes, the quintessential paragons of rugged handsomeness, or tortured sensitivity, or suave coolness, etc. and so on. On any such list of silver screen demigods, you'd be hard-pressed not to find Cary Grant near or at the top. And why not? The star of such screen classics as Notorious, The Philadelphia Story, North by Northwest, Charade, and To Catch A Thief positively commanded the screen every time he appeared. Even in some of his more mundane films, like An Affair To Remember and Operation Petticoat, Grant helped elevate them to a slightly higher status with his seemingly effortless yet always debonair display of charm and humor.
But even the former Mr. Leech couldn't do anything to save The Howards of Virginia, a limp Revolutionary War-era story that strives to be nothing more than a historical piece of light entertainment (or perhaps a light piece of historical entertainment) and fails to achieve anything than mediocre ho-hummitude. The cast includes many talented actors, including Martha Scott and the great Sir Cedric Hardwicke, but the film seems overly staged and stilted. Even Grant seems miscast, lost in a role that calls for rugged, frontier style derring-do rather than his refined, 20th Century charisma.
So even if the movie is a dud, fans of the film finally have the chance to view The Howards of Virginia at home with Columbia/Tristar's release of the film on DVD. Unfortunately, the DVD is as lackluster and disappointing as the film itself.
Disappointing. Like many of films of its era, The Howards of Virgina retains a full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is presented in black-and-white (don't let those creepy colorized pictures on the main menu fool you!) While I can make a world of exceptions when it comes to rating older films, the video on this DVD is a pretty weak. While most images are sharp and well-detailed, the original negative is riddled with scratches, dirt, wear on the print, and various other tears and artifacts. The transfer is also marred by excessive grain structure and a flittering shakiness that distracts from the quality of the presentation. Contrasts are reasonable, while shadow detail is fairly weak; darker scenes simply recede into the background at times. Compression noise is non-apparent, and edge-enhancement and other haloing effects are absent. Many scenes display an unnerving shimmering, where the video suddenly seems to brighten and darken to absurd extremes.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and is workable if singularly unremarkable. This is primarily a center-channel affair, with a decent representation of the dialog that is only marred by a slight tinge of thinness. Orchestrations are well-rendered if limited by the restrained fidelity of the time. Directionality, surround activity, and any kind of audio aggressiveness or immersion are non-existent. Overall, while the audio is basically mono, there is nothing overtly wrong with the audio presentation – while rather indistinctive, it serves the movie well.
The only extras on this DVD are Trailers for His Girl Friday, Lawrence of Arabia, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The Howards of Virginia is for Grant-completists only, and even then you might entirely be better off pretending the film (or the DVD) doesn't exist. The movie is unremarkable and forgettable, and the quality of the DVD is pretty weak. Is the film watachble? Digital home theater has spoiled us, my friends. The quality of the presentation is no worse (but not even remotely better) than you might see on any local late-night movie show. But as technology and film preservation/restoration techniques have improved over time, The Howards of Virginia simply cannot compare with better-looking films from decades past. The bottom line is that, if you're a fan who has to own the film, you're going to be disappointed by its weak transfer and lack of extras. Curiosity seekers may best want to steer clear.