24 June 2012

Herbert Marshall

Il cinema Ritrovata 2012

At Il Cinema Ritrovato there is an interesting tribute to Mrs Hitchcock a.k.a. Alma Reville. She was a major influence on Alfred Hitchcock's work, but she also had a filmmaking career of her own, both before and after their marriage in 1926. Alma worked on nearly all of her husband’s films, either credited or more informally. Mrs Hitchcock’s talent can be seen in the films she made with her husband, such as Murder! (1930). The star of this early sound film was the popular English cinema and theatre actor Herbert Marshall (1890 - 1966). He overcame the loss of a leg in World War I to enjoy a long career in Hollywood, first as a romantic lead opposite stars like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, later as a fine character actor.

Herbert Marshall
British postcard in the Real Photograph series, no. 87. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (M.G.M.).

Herbert Marshall
British postcard in the Real Photograph series, no. 52 B. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Herbert Marshall
British postcard in the Real Photograph series, no. 52 C. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Amputated Leg
Herbert Brough Falcon Marshall was born in London, England, in 1890. His parents were actors Percy F. Marshall and Ethel May Turner, but initially Herbert had no stage career intentions himself. After graduating from St. Mary's College in Harrow, Marshall became an accounting clerk. His job failed to interest him, and with an equal lack of enthusiasm, Marshall joined a stock company in Brighton. So he made his stage debut in 1911, and ascended to stardom two years later in the evergreen stage farce, Brewster's Millions. During World War I, he served in the London Scottish Regiment with fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, and Claude Rains. He was severely wounded and his right leg was amputated. While this might normally have signalled the end of a theatrical career, Marshall was outfitted with a prosthesis and determined to make something of himself as an actor. His wooden leg was kept a secret to the public for most of his career. He used a very deliberate square-shouldered and guided walk - largely unnoticeable - to cover up his disability. In tandem with his first wife, actress Edna Best, Marshall worked on stage in a series of domestic comedies and dramas. He had spent nearly 20 years in distinguished stage work in London before he entered motion pictures with the British silent film Mumsie (1927, Herbert Wilcox) starring American character actress Pauline Frederick. He was almost 40 when he appeared in his first Hollywood picture, the early sound film The Letter (1929, Jean de Limur) featuring Broadway star Jeanne Eagels. According to William McPeak at IMDb the courtroom drama is “a worthwhile comparison (but for the primitive sound recording) with the more famous second version (The Letter (1940)) with Bette Davis. Marshall is the murder victim in 1929 and the betrayed husband in 1940.” In Great Britain he appeared in Murder! (1930, Alfred Hitchcock). He starred as a juror in a murder trial, who after a young actress (Norah Baring) voting to convict, has second thoughts and begins to investigate on his own before the execution. In Britain he also starred in films for the Gainsborough studio like Michael and Mary (1931, Victor Saville) with Edna Best.

Herbert Marshall
Vintage British postcard.

Herbert Marshall
British postcard by Raphael Tuck & Sons in the Real Photograph series, no. 176. Photo: Gaumont-British.

Herbert Marshall
British handcoloured Real Photograph postcard in the Colourgraph Series, London, no. C 233. Photo: M.G.M.

Heavily in Demand
In the 1930’s, Herbert Marshall had his breakthrough with producer-director Ernst Lubitsch's marvelous Hollywood comedy Trouble in Paradise (1932). He and Miriam Hopkins played Gaston and Lily, a pair of Parisian thieves, both disguised as nobility. They decide to rob lovely perfume company executive Mariette Colet (Kay Francis). Love rears its head, forcing Gaston to choose between marriage to Mariette and a fast getaway with Lily. Hal Erickson writes at AllMovie: “Filled with marvelous throwaway gags and sophisticated innuendo, Trouble in Paradise was described by one critic as ‘as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.’” That same year Marshall did one of his most warmly human romantic roles in the wonderfully erotic Blonde Venus (1932, Josef von Sternberg) with the mesmerizing Marlene Dietrich. Initially he played romantic leads opposite such stars as Dietrich (also in Angel (1937, Ernst Lubitsch)), Claudette Colbert (in Secrets of a Secretary (1931, George Abott) and Zaza (1939, George Cukor)), Greta Garbo (in The Painted Veil (1934, Richard Boleslawski)) and Bette Davis (in The Letter (1940, William Wyler) and The Little Foxes (1941, William Wyler)), and later he specialized in substantial character roles in films like The Razor's Edge (1946, Edmund Goulding). His rather blasé demeanor could take on various nuances - without overt emotion - to fit any role he played, whether sophisticated comedy or drama - and the accent fit just as well. He filled the range from romantic lead, with several sympathetic strangers thrown in, to dignified military officer to doctor to various degrees of villainy - his unemotional delivery meshing with the cold, impassive criminal character. Marshall was deviously subtle as the pre-World War II peace leader actually working against peace for a veiled foreign power (Germany) in the adventure/thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), one of Alfred Hitchcock's earliest Hollywood films. He did a small but standout performance as Scott Chavez, who at the beginning of Duel in the Sun (1946, King Vidor) - with typical Marshall nonchalance - calmly shoots his cantina entertainer Indian wife for her cheating ways. His mellow baritone British accent rolled out with a minimum of mouth movement and a nonchalant ease that stood out as unique.

Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Dickie Moore
Dutch postcard by JosPe, no. 327. Photo: Paramount. Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall and Dickie Moore in Blonde Venus (1932).

Greta Garbo, Herbert Marshall, The Painted Veil
Dutch postcard by M. Bonnist & Zonen, Amsterdam, no. B 422. Photo: M.G.M. Publicity still for The Painted Veil (1934) starring Greta Garbo.

Sci-Fi Classics
By the 1950’s, Herbert Marshall was doing fewer films, but still did a variety. He played the father of Jean Simmons in Otto Preminger's Angel Face (1953). His voice was perfect to lend credence to some early sci-fi classics like Riders to the Stars (1954, Richard Carlson), Gog (1954, Herbert L. Strock) and The Fly (1958, Kurt Neumann). But he was also busy honing his considerable talent on radio and television. On the radio he portrayed British intelligence agent Ken Thurston on CBS (1944-1948) and NBC Radio's (1950-1952) The Man Called X. He also fit comfortably into episodic TV including a rare five episode run as a priest on 77 Sunset Strip (1958). One of his last film roles was in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963, John Huston) starring George C. Scott. Herbert Marshall graced nearly 100 film and TV roles with an aplomb that remains a rich legacy. He was married five times. Among his wives were two actresses, Edna Best, with whom he appeared in The Calendar, Michael and Mary and The Faithful Heart, and Boots Mallory, to whom he was married from 1947 until her death in 1958. He had three children, including actress Sarah Marshall by Edna Best. Herbert Marshall died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, in 1966, aged 75.

Herbert Marshall
British postcard in the Real Photograph series, no. 52 A. Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Herbert Marshall
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3199/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Universal.

Herbert Marshall
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 209, 1946. Photo: M.G.M.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), William McPeak (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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