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The Great Garrick is a 1937 American historical comedy film directed by James Whale and starring Brian Aherne, Olivia de Havilland, and Edward Everett Horton. The film also features Lionel Atwill, Luis Alberni, Melville Cooper, and future star Lana Turner,[1] who has a bit part. Based on the play Ladies and Gentlemen by Ernest Vajda,[2] the film is about the famous eighteenth-century British actor David Garrick, who travels to France for a guest appearance at the Comédie Française. When the French actors hear rumours that he said he will teach them the art of acting, they devise a plot to teach him a lesson. Though often overlooked by critics in favor of Whale's horror films, The Great Garrick was chosen by Jonathan Rosenbaum for his alternative list of the Top 100 American Films.[3]

The Great Garrick
The Great Garrick.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Whale
Produced byMervyn LeRoy
Screenplay by
Based onLadies and Gentlemen
by Ernest Vajda
Music byAdolph Deutsch
CinematographyErnest Haller
Edited byWarren Low
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • October 30, 1937 (1937-10-30) (USA)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States



In London in 1750, renowned English actor David Garrick announces onstage that he has been invited to Paris to work with the prestigious Comédie-Française. A person in the audience jeers that the French want him to teach them how to act. The playwright Beaumarchais (Lionel Atwill) returns to the Comédie-Française and attributes the remark to Garrick himself. The outraged French actors, led by their president, Picard (Melville Cooper), decide to make him an object of public ridicule. They take over a wayside inn where he will be staying, and Beaumarchais devises a plot intended to humiliate Garrick by frightening him into returning to England.

On his way to Paris, Garrick is met by Jean Cabot (Etienne Girardot), an admirer who works as a Comédie-Française prompter. Cabot warns the actor about the plot and advises him to travel straight to Paris, but Garrick decides to continue on to the inn and play along with French actors, despite the misgivings of his servant Tubby (Edward Everett Horton). A complication arises when Germaine Dupont, Countess de la Corbe (Olivia De Havilland), arrives at the inn soon after. Garrick believes she is one of the actresses (and not a very good one), when she is actually fleeing a marriage arranged by her father. She falls in love with Garrick, and he plays along.

Meanwhile, the French try to discomfort the Englishman with a sword fight, a shootout between a husband and his wife's lover, a mad waiter (Luis Alberni), and at the end, a violent blacksmith (Trevor Bardette). After overhearing the "blacksmith" remind himself to hit the anvil with his hammer and not Garrick's head, Garrick disguises himself as the blacksmith and, pretending to be drunk, tells the aghast French actors that he has struck and killed their intended victim. Then he reveals his identity. Relieved, Picard apologizes and begs him to join them in Paris. Garrick graciously accepts. Before they leave, however, he criticizes Germaine for her bad acting, infuriating her.

At his premiere in Paris, playing Don Juan, Garrick learns that Germaine is not a member of the company. Realizing that she was telling the truth and that he actually loves her, he is too distraught to perform. Fortunately, Jean Cabot informs him that he ran into Germaine and explained the whole thing to her. She forgives him and is in the audience.

The central situation of the film, in which the protagonist is supposedly deceived into believing that he is surrounded by the staff of an inn, somewhat resembles the plot of Oliver Goldsmith's play She Stoops to Conquer, to which Garrick wrote the prologue. In that comedy the hero arrives at his intended destination, the estate of a prominent landowner, but mistakes it for an inn along his route. There he falls in love the daughter of the house, whom he mistakes for a maid.



The film was made by James Whale for Warner Brothers shortly after the troubled production of The Road Back which had met with controversy and opposition from the Nazi government, and strained his relationship with his bosses at Universal Pictures where he had worked for the past six years. The Garrick film was intended to be a more light-hearted effort. However, both it and his next film Port of Seven Seas were failures at the box office.[4] Whale eventually returned to Universal where he saw out his contract largely by making B Movies.[5]

Critical receptionEdit

Variety noted "a production of superlative workmanship fabricated from old prints of the period, and acting by a fine cast in the flamboyant manner demanded by the script...not without some very amusing angles. Fact is, it is a farce, should be played as a farce with speed and increasing hilarity. Such, however, is not the case. Whale’s direction is geared to a slow tempo. His romantic passages between Aherne and De Havilland are quite charming, but much too long. Anton Grot’s art direction calls for special comment. Ernest Haller’s camera work is a series of pastels";[6] however more recently, Dennis Schwartz thought this "neglected period farce deserves more attention and love; it's one of Whale's most joyous films and shows he can make great comedies outside of the horror genre... It's a thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy, with the ensemble cast in fine form and under Whale's able direction it catches all the fun in the farce."[7]


  1. ^ "The Great Garrick". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  2. ^ Goble 1999, p. 471.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "List-o-Mania".
  4. ^ Mank 2009, p. 324.
  5. ^ "Overview for James Whale". Turner Classic Movies.
  6. ^ Staff, Variety (1 January 1937). "The Great Garrick".
  7. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "greatgarrick".


External linksEdit