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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To my knowledge this was the first time-travel film ever made. Leslie
Howard had made a hit in the play, both in London and in NYC, and was
selected for the Fox film. It is nicely opened up from the play,
although it is still a bit stagey.
The plot involves the fascination of a young American, who inherits a house in Berkeley Square. He becomes fascinated with his ancestors to the point of believing he can time travel if he wants to badly enough (SOMEWHERE IN TIME owes a great deal to this premise).
His ancestor of the same name visited the house from America on a certain date and he is able to change places with him on the anniversary date. He of course is at first quaint and then taken by his ancestors to be bizarre and finally, possessed by the devil - his ability to predict the future and other faux pas being the cause. Only his fiancée's sister is able to discern who he really is. They of course fall in love and in a powerful sequence reminiscent of Lloyd's montage in CAVALCADE the year earlier, she looks into his mind and sees the devastation of the centuries mankind has wrought in the interim between their two worlds. He can no longer remain in the past and she has no desire to return with him to the future.
The play and film end tragically as, once returned to the future, our hero locks himself in the house, awaiting death, and visiting daily the 200 year old grave of the woman he loved.
The costumes are lavish and Lloyd does his usual fine job of direction. Howard earned an Academy Award nomination for his excellent performance. Other than the opening out of the action with exterior scenes and new dialogue, the only real difference is the character's interactions with notable figures of the time and his negative take on their characters, as well as the filth and bad manners of the eighteenth century - these observations are not part of the screenplay.
Extremely hard to find - rarely on television although the Fox channel is about the only place one could find it these days. Never available commercially on video, but private collector Mon Ayash (Forgotten Hollywood) has it on VHS for trade or sale.
Very worth seeking out for both romantics and those fascinated with time travel.
"Berkeley Square" is similar in theme to Jack Finney's "Time and Again." A present day American is transported back to the home of his ancestors in London, during the American Revolution. He knows, of course, what will hap- pen and even falls in love with one of his female ancestors. An old film but a terrific one, with Leslie Howard and Heather Angel.
This is a very amusing love story with a good dash of humor. Much of
the humor centers around the culture clash between Standish and the
18th century family. Standish uses modern terms and slips when he
reveals things that happen in the future. The culture clash is a
cautionary tale for would be travelers. This film appealed to many
women because Leslie Howard was a heart throb for many of them. My
mother loved this film and could watch it over and over. She was so
disappointed when late in her life it disappeared from the old movies
shown on TV.
It is currently not commercially available, but a number of vendors have poor quality CDs or tapes for sale. All of these were probably made from a VHS tape from a TV showing. The tape was deteriorated and possibly copied several times so there is a lot of instability and wiggling of the image. The original broadcast used extreme compression of the video and sound. As a result the noise level rises to become very loud until dialog causes the gain to be cut. As a result the dialog is sometimes very indistinct. The music which was originally soft also rises to match the level of the dialog. Once this is restored by hand, the film is fairly listenable. The complaint of another reviewer about the music being too loud may stem from watching a copy with similarly compressed sound. In addition the broadcast severely cropped the film and did not stabilize the jitter.
This is a film that deserves restoration from the existing prints, but when and if this happens is unknown. Until then buying one of the existing CDs may be the only way to view this fine film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For me, Heather Angel's name conjures up the image of delicate, wistful
loveliness as the girl beloved by Leslie Howard, when he travels back
to Regency times in "Berkeley Square". She seemed to come along at the
right time to be a successor to Janet Gaynor but Fox didn't bother much
about her after a role in a forgotten Charlie Chan movie, "Charlie
Chan's Greatest Case" (1933). She did have some interesting moments in
"Springtime for Henry" and "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" but after that
her career just ambled along until she found a place as Phyllis
Clavering in the Bulldog Drummond series.
Peter Standish (Leslie Howard) is a wealthy American traveler who, unbeknownst to him, is about to be "hooked" into matrimony by an impoverished Regency family, the Pettigrews, whose son has spent the family fortune on wine, women and cards. Just as he arrives a fearful storm breaks out and .......................
Marjorie Frant (Betty Lawford, who looked a lot older than 23!) is very concerned about her fiancé, Peter Standish - he keeps to his room and is obsessed by his ancestor Peter Standish. He has inherited the house in Berkeley Square that the original Peter Standish owned and spends his time pouring over a diary that tells him all the little details about the family and London life in the 1780s - especially Helen, who seems to have a "secret sorrow" and never marries. Walking back to his house during a storm and arriving at exactly 5.30 he is suddenly whisked back in time to 1785 and the intrigue that is going on at the Pettigrews!! He is so determined to do the right thing, to let events take their course without changing the course of history but he bumbles from the start. Almost proposing to Kate on their first meeting (he knows from the diary that Peter marries Kate) to revealing Helen's birthday gift, a beautiful shawl before the box is opened!!!
Peter feels like a stranger in a strange land but also senses a kindred spirit in Helen who seems to understand he is not in his own time. I thought it was a touching, romantic fantasy with many scenes that bought tears to my eyes. When Helen looks into Peter's eyes and sees the future of the world, she is instantly repelled and cannot be coaxed by him to return to the future with him. She convinces him to go back and wait until they can both be reunited in the hereafter. Her speech is very eloquent. The original play by John L. Balderstone, who also wrote the screen play, was much more grittier - Standish was very disillusioned with the past, he was appalled by the squalor and poverty, by the horror of public hangings. In the movie John astounds everyone by insisting on a daily bath!!! So Helen's "seeing the future through John's eyes", which couldn't have worked on the stage, was a way to give the movie an added dimension.
Alan Mowbray had a small role as Peter's friend and Beryl Mercer played what she played best, sweet little cockneys.I just loved this movie but can only give it 9 out of 10 because the soundtrack was very scratchy and the picture quality was very grainy. The play "Berkeley Square" opened on Broadway in 1929 and ran for a respectable 229 performances. The plot was suggested by a Henry James short story "The Sense of the Past".
Highly, Highly Recommended.
Although this version of Berkeley Square was little more than a
photographed stage play it does have Leslie Howard portraying Peter
Standish as he did on Broadway for 229 performances during the
1929-1930 season. No other member of the cast repeated their roles. I
have to say that the Tyrone Power version from 1951 was and is more
That being said Leslie Howard was doing a part that was tailor made for him. He's a jaded American scientist who is firmly convinced that he is at some point in time destined to change places with an ancestor also named Peter Standish from the 18th century post American Revolution Great Britain.
When he gets there he mixes and mingles with high and mighty of the day like the Prince Of Wales, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. And he knows things that others don't and uses all kinds of modern in this case 1928 idioms that first amuse then frighten.
He's in fact pledged to one woman, but falls in love with her sister played by Heather Angel, something he did not count on. It's almost like a trip to Fantasy Island where Mr. Rourke has arranged a trip to the Age of Reason. Usually those trips to some idealized place in history involved a cruel dose of reality as well and in Berkeley Square Leslie Howard gets just such a dose.
Howard and Angel are a wonderfully matched pair of lovers who will meet some day in time and space and know it. Howard earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, the second coming with Pygmalion. Had Berkeley Square been better cinematically it probably would be more revived. As it is it's a great performance by Leslie Howard, one his legion of fans should treasure.
In adapting his own stage play 'Berkeley Square' for the screen,
playwright John L Balderston made numerous changes. One change is
significant in hindsight: during Act One of the stage play, the
dialogue makes several references to a war hero named Bill Clinton! (A
hero on the side fighting AGAINST the United States.) In the film, this
British officer is merely identified as Major Clinton, and there are no
mentions of his heroics.
Leslie Howard, everyone's definitive Englishman, was actually English only by a fluke: his parents were Hungarian Jews who moved to London shortly before his birth. In the film version of 'Berkeley Square', Howard portrays two Americans -- one from the 18th century, one from the present -- but his accent and demeanour in both roles are quintessentially English. Howard had previously starred on Broadway in this story, but in the stage play he portrayed only the modern-day Peter Standish who journeys into the past; his namesake ancestor (swapping places with him in the present) remained offstage.
Here we have the fantasy about a modern American who contrives to switch places in time with his 18th-century ancestor: both men are named Peter Standish, and are physically identical. (This is unlikely: the medical, dental and nutritional standards in 1784 would have kept that century's Standish looking very different from his descendant.) Apart from failing to convince me that he's American, Howard gives an excellent performance in both roles. Soon enough, Peter Standish acquires a touch of Peter Ibbetson as he falls in love with a woman who will die in 1787, more than a century before his own birth.
The ever-reliable Samuel S. Hinds (wearing a bizarre moustache here) plays straight man to Howard in one fascinating scene, in which Standish explains the difference between linear time and non-linear time: in the latter, all the events in the universe are occurring simultaneously.
Also quite excellent is Betty Lawford in an unsympathetic role. She wears some very chic gloves but also sports a bizarre fur collar that seems to be intended for a female impersonator. A transvestite linebacker could hide his shoulders inside there!
As the doomed young lady of 18th-century England, Heather Angel has one memorable scene opposite the 18th-century Standish's body possessed by his modern descendant. Staring into Standish's eyes, she glimpses an amazing stock-footage montage of the chaos and mayhem of modern times. Her reaction is memorable.
A story like this will have intentional anachronisms, but I looked for unintentional errors. Here's one: a string ensemble in 1784 perform Gossec's 'Gavotte' two years before he wrote it. Have another: in the opening scene, set in September 1784, Lionel Belmore reports that a French aeronaut has just flown from Dover to Calais (Belmore mispronounces this name) in a balloon. Actually, that didn't happen until January 1785: the flight was in the opposite direction, and there were two men (one of them Anglo-American) in the balloon. In a later scene, some English gentlemen give the word 'bathed' the wrong pronunciation (yes, I'm quite certain). The art direction is generally excellent, except for a dodgy thunderstorm. And it's weird to encounter the term 'crux ansata' applied to what modern viewers know better as the Egyptian ankh.
This film gets very much right a detail that many other period stories get wrong: 'Berkeley Square' acknowledges that the past is a dirtier, not cleaner, place than the present.
The single worst thing about 'Berkeley Square' is the overscored soundtrack: practically every scene assaults the ears with loud background music, when so much of this gentle fantasy would have worked better with no music at all. I was delighted that the character actress Beryl Mercer is much less annoying than usual here, probably because (for once) she's been given no maudlin material. My rating for this gentle, stately fantasy is 7 out of 10. For a much more romantic treatment of this premise with a different set of time-travel paradoxes, I recommend a better movie: 'Somewhere in Time'.
Leslie Howard stars in "Berkeley Square," also starring Heather Angel.
Howard plays Peter Standish, who is fascinated by all the material he finds in his house from his 18th century ancestors, 146 years earlier. He believes that if he wants to, he can go back to that time. This film is the predecessor to many time travel films, including Somewhere in Time.
His ancestor, also Peter Standish, visited his house from America on a particular date. Peter changes places with him on that date in the present.
At first, all is well; then he starts slipping and speaking of things in the future to the extent that people begin to believe he is possessed b the devil. The only person who senses the real Peter is Helen Pettigrew (Heather Angel) a Standish cousin. He and Helen fall in love, and she is able to see the future through his eyes -- war, weapons of destruction, neon lights, cars - it all terrifies her. This is the best sequence in the film.
Helen cannot go into the future with him -- and doesn't want to, given what she's seen -- and he's a pariah, and will make her one, if he stays.
This is a charming film badly in need of restoration. Leslie Howard is perfect as Peter -- handsome, ethereal, and well-suited to the period aspects. Heather Angel, whom I've just gotten to know in the Bulldog Drummond series, is delightful, petite and pretty with a soothing voice and a fragility that lends itself well to the role.
Berkeley Square was remade in 1951 as "I'll Never Forget You," starring Tyrone Power, which has a less sober ending - before it was released on DVD, it was in the TCM website's top ten of most requested films to be released as a DVD. There's something appealing about time travel - otherwise, there wouldn't be so many films about it. But there's also something appealing and modern about the premise of Berkeley Square - that all time runs parallel and is all happening at once. Quantum physics would agree that this is so.
Leslie Howard proves once again that he was the matinée idol women
adored long before he was unwillingly cast as Ashley Wilkes in "Gone
with the Wind," a role he hated to play.
He gives a very forceful performance here as a young man who is fascinated by his ancestry and somehow transports himself to an earlier era, with unhappy consequences he couldn't have expected when events turn against him.
Heather Angel makes a good impression (she and Howard both starred in the Broadway stage version), but the tale itself is much too talky for the screen and would have benefited from a wider use of outdoor scenes to take away some of the stage-bound feeling. An unusual feature is the almost constant flow of background music in an era when most soundtracks were only punctuated by dialog without musical effects. This affects the quality of the spoken words, of which there are far too many for my taste and, in this case, because it's based on a stage play taken from an unfinished Henry James novel called "A Sense of Time." It takes a willingness to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the fantasy aspects of the story, but it's done in an interesting way and directed in stylish fashion by Frank Lloyd.
Summing up: One of Howard's better film performances, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Remade by Fox in 1951 as a film for Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth called "I'll Never Forget You."
How many of us have wished that we might escape from the dull reality
of the present into the glamor and romance of yesterday? But if we
could journey back into the mystery of the past, should we find
contentment - or unhappiness?"
On a stormy night in 1784, new American noble Leslie Howard (as Peter Standish) arrives in London's "Berkeley Square" to seek a distant cousin's hand in marriage. After exiting his coach, Mr. Howard seems to vanish. Meanwhile, in the present (1933), his direct descendant and namesake "Peter Standish" (Howard, in a dual role) has inherited the same house. The modern Howard troubles his fiancée and friends due to his preoccupation with the past, especially the September 1784 day when his namesake arrived. Transported to the past, Howard invites suspicion when his "modern" manners and knowledge surface. Howard talks too much. More significantly, he becomes attracted to the wrong woman, beautiful but melancholy Heather Angel (as Helen Pettigrew)...
This intriguing "time travel" film was unavailable for decades, but the story was revived often on stage and screen. It was based on an unfinished Henry James novel and inspired memorable imitations from horror mythos-makers H. P. Lovecraft ("The Shadow out of Time") and Dan Curtis ("Dark Shadows"). Howard recreates his performance from the stage well, but director Frank Lloyd and Fox don't take full advantage of cinema potential. Early examples are Howard's trip to the past. He could have appeared outside the door, wet, as both arrivals occurred in the rain. Howard also immediately knows how to sit in his 1784 costume, betraying a familiar comfort. Later, the film would have benefited from Howard visiting the actual grave mentioned in a letter...
Solid impressions are made by lustful Colin Keith-Johnston (as Thomas "Tom" Pettigrew) and sensible sister Valerie Taylor (as Kate). Matriarchal Irene Browne (as Ann) played her role again in the 1941 re-make starring Tyrone Power.
******* Berkeley Square (9/15/33) Frank Lloyd ~ Leslie Howard, Heather Angel, Colin Keith-Johnston, Valerie Taylor
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The greatest of all time travel romance dramas, this is a sweet tale of
two lovers destined not to be together in life but vowing to be
together in eternity. Leslie Howard is a rather mystical young man
consumed with the past for some reason beyond his knowledge, and when
he returns to his Berkeley Square home one night, finds him living 150
years before, in period clothing, and engaged to a distant cousin. The
family senses something odd about him from the get-go, and the romance
between him and his fiancée is obviously non-existent, he falling head
over heels in love with the more innocent cousin (Diana Wynard) who is
intrigued by his ability to see into the future. In a key moment of the
film, he gives her the ability to see the future, and she is horrified
by what she sees. (And this was only events up to 1933!) Howard's
character is considered by his distant family to be some sort of evil
omen, having taken over the spirit of the actual cousin coming from
America. When his shipmate Alan Mowbray arrives for a visit, he senses
immediately that something other worldly has taken over him as the
senses of who he was have totally vanished. Everybody around him from
the family elders to a local painter are disturbed by his ability to
read into their secrets, the painter truly spooked by Howard's
mentioning a painting nobody knew about that he was in the process of
This is a story that no review can really describe. Like its Tyrone Power remake ("I'll Never Forget You") and one of my favorite modern classics (the underrated "Somewhere in Time"), this is the story of romance that time and human frailties cannot wither. In modern times, Howard must face the truth that he's never going to find his true love in his own era and lives with the memory of somebody long dead. Howard's performance shows the despair but acceptance that this causes him, and in this lies the tragic element of the story.
Strikingly filmed, acted and directed, "Berkeley Square" is one of those sleepers beloved by classic film connoisseurs but obscure for everybody else. It is one definitely worth re-discovery.
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