In this adaptation made during the the London Blitz of George Bernard Shaw’s edgy comedy of the same name, Wendy Hiller as the idealistic title character is running a Salvation Army shelter in the East End that aims to save the souls of the destitute while preserving their physical well-being. She becomes engaged to the sceptical, unworldly Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison), a professor of Ancient Greek who discards his agnosticism and joins the Salvation Army to be near his fiancee. Cusins is then startled to learn that Major Barbara in fact comes from a privileged background – she is the grand-daughter of an earl on her mother’s side, and her long-absent estranged father Andrew Undershaft (a young Robert Morley) is a multi-millionaire arms manufacturer.
Undershaft is a self-made cynic, a man who relies on his intelligence and wealth to overawe others. When invited to resume contact with his wife and children to help with the family finances, he becomes convinced that Barbara is wasting her abilities in evangelising to the poor, and seeks to overturn her belief system. For her part, Barbara is fascinated by her father yet appalled that his fortune has been built out of violence and destruction. But when Undershaft makes a large and much-needed donation to the Salvation Army that Barbara’s superiors have no hesitation in accepting, he succeeds in challenging his daughter’s principles and undermining her loyalties. At the same time, Cusins is finding Undershaft’s philosophical stance strangely congenial…
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