A Rex Harrison Serenade

On Film / Short Takes — Mar 5, 2013

Today we tip our hats to the debonair, mischievous Rex Harrison, born on March 5, 1908. Perhaps remembered best for his role as the arrogant impresario Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, the 1964 movie musical version of Pygmalion, Harrison was also a leading man in wonderful comic confections throughout the 1940s, four of which are available from the Criterion Collection: Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich (1940), Gabriel Pascal’s Major Barbara (1941), David Lean’s Blithe Spirit (1945), and Preston Sturges’s Unfaithfully Yours (1948). In all of them, the lanky stage and cinema star commands the screen with a sly twinkle in his eye. We’re especially fond of his breakout turn as an undercover British agent in the lighthearted spy thriller Night Train to Munich, his first staring role in a major production, which is quite a juggling act. In his liner notes for our release, Philip Kemp describes Harrison’s performance as “quizzical, witty, dandyish, with a hint of erotic cruelty.” When we, along with Margaret Lockwood’s heroine, meet him, though, he seems little more than a jocular song-and-dance man. It’s a charming and fitting introduction to an actor who left such a mark on the world of musical comedy variety. Harrison was knighted in 1989 and died the following year.