British Screen’s Debt to Leslie Howard (1943)



No man in the film world could be spared more grudgingly or missed more from the screen than Leslie Howard, who was in the Douglas shot down over the Bay of Biscay. His art had won him literally millions of warm admirers. There can be no doubt about his place as the leading film personality in Britain. Not only a great actor, he combined with his artistry unusual abilities as a director and a producer.
At a time when the British screen was awakening from the comatose state it had fallen into after the first world war, and was making its influence felt once more, Leslie Howard had been the principal factor in its renaissance. He had had the courage to come forward as
a producer and to direct films in which he had faith and films which owed their greatness to him. He gave the English imprint to all his work.
At the present time 2 films of his own making are on the screen in Melbourne. “Pimpernel Smith” has been running at the Savoy since the middle of August last year. Probably his best production, “First of the Few,” at the Athenaeum, tells the story of the creation of the Spitfire fighter. Both films are typical of Leslie Howard’s work. Although the story of “Pimpernel Smith” approaches melodrama and in other hands might have been just another film, the restraint of its direction makes it a memorable dramatic production. His own role as R. J. Mitchell in “First of the Few” must endear him to all who have seen it. His quietness and reserve are the factors that give the character its great dramatic strength. It is indeed
a sorry coincidence that the man who made the story of the Spitfire such a moving and absorbing film should have become the victim of enemy air action.
Looking back over the long list of roles in which Leslie Howard has appeared on the screen, it is difficult to recall an artist who has been more uniformly successful. Some of his successful roles have made screen history. Few people who saw him in plays such as “Romeo and Juliet,” in which he was partnered by Norma Shearer, or in “Pygmalion,” for example, are likely to forget them. Leslie Howard escaped the fate of being typed by producers, and his versatility has always been given full play. If Leslie Howard is not found in the search now being conducted, the tragedy of his death will be felt by all who knew him through his screen work, but it will be felt most by the British film industry, for the advancement of which he has done so much.

(The Argus, Melbourne, June 4, 1943)