He was one of the smoothest, most proficient leading men of his era…. and with a handicap.
Herbert Marshall flies under the radar too often these days but he was once classic Hollywood’s go-to man who could pull off villains with chilly finesse and sophisticates with ease. He could knock off five or six movies in a year without blinking.
Do yourself a favor: catch Marshall’s performance in the 1940 version of The Letter as the wronged husband emotionally shattered by the infidelity of his volatile wife (played with panache by Bette Davis). In true film noir fashion it is SHE who wrecks more than one life in this superb hot-house melodrama.
While going toe to toe with Davis, Marshall beautifully balances the naive marital devotion of his character, a plantation owner in Singapore, with highly controlled and convincing outrage once the truth is known. It’s typical Marshall — concisely spoken in his soothing British baritone and rising to the emotional demands of the script with consummate skill.
Like Sidney Greenstreet another of our all-time favorites from across the pond, Marshall arrived in Hollywood relatively late. Born in London in 1890, he spent spent a couple of decades on the English stage before migrating westward at age 40. He certainly made up for lost time by racking up nearly a hundred movie and tv acting credits before his death by heart attack in 1966.
Ok, let’s see how much you known about this first rate actor. As usual questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: As mentioned above, Marshall costarred with Bette Davis in 1940’s The Letter. But he also starred in a much earlier movie version of the same material with the same title? Which one of the following was his female costar? a) Gloria Swanson; b) Jeanne Engles; c) Joan Crawford; or d) Marlene Dietrich.
2) Question: Throughout his Hollywood career, Marshall had to cope with a serious physical liability. What was it? a) During World War I he lost a leg, which was replaced by an artificial wooden limb; b)He was born without one hand; c) He was rapidly losing sight in one eye; or d) He had a serious heart condition.
3) Question: Marshall enjoyed an active marital life, having been wed five times. One of his spouses was an actress known for her ladylike portrayals in several films including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Who is she? a) Clare Greet; b) Nova Pilbeam; c) Cicely Oates; or d) Edna Best.
4) Question: Marshall excelled in multiple screen versions of the works of which one of the following novelists? a) Edna Ferber; b) Henry James; c) Somerset Maugham; or d) Raymond Chandler.
5) Question: Toward the end of his career, Marshall found himself playing a priest on the 1958 tv series, 77 Sunset Strip. Can that possibly be true? a) Yes; or b) No.