Herbert Marshall had trained to become a certified accountant, but his interest turned to the stage. He lost a leg while serving in World War I, he was rehabilitated with a wooden leg. This did not stop him from making good his decision to make the stage as his vocation. He used a very deliberate square-shouldered and guided walk – largely unnoticeable – to cover up his disability. He spent 20 years in distinguished stage work in London before films. He almost made the transition from stage directly to sound movies except for one silent film, Mumsie (1927), produced in Great Britain. His wonderful mellow, baritone British accent rolled out with a minimum of mouth movement and a nonchalant ease that stood out as unique. His rather blasé demeanor could take on various nuances – without overt emotion – to fit any role he played, whether sophisticated comedy or drama – and the accent fit just as well. He filled the range from romantic lead, with several sympathetic strangers thrown in, to dignified military officer to doctor to various degrees of villainy – his unemotional delivery meshing with the cold, impassive criminal character.
He was almost 40 when he appeared in his first picture in Hollywood, The Letter (1929), a worthwhile comparison (but for the primitive sound recording) with the more famous second version (The Letter (1940)) with Bette Davis. Marshall is the murder victim in 1929 and the betrayed husband in 1940. He was heavily in demand in the 1930s, sometimes in five or six pictures a year. Perhaps his best suave comedic role was in Trouble in Paradise (1932), the first non-musical sound comedy by producer/director Ernst Lubitsch – to some, Lubitsch’s greatest film. That same year, Marshall did one of his most warmly human, romantic roles in the marvelously erotic Blonde Venus (1932), with the captivating Marlene Dietrich.
Through the 40s, his roles were of a more character variety but substantial. He was deviously subtle as the pre-World War II peace leader actually working against peace for a veiled foreign power (Germany) in Foreign Correspondent (1940). The film was one of Alfred Hitchcock ‘s earliest Hollywood films and, definitely, an under-rated adventure/thriller. Who could forget Marshall’s small but standout performance as “Scott Chavez”, who at the beginning of Duel in the Sun (1946) – with typical Marshall nonchalance – calmly shoots his cantina entertainer/Indian wife for her cheating ways? By the 50s, Marshall was doing fewer movies, but still a variety. His voice was perfect to lend credence to some early sci-fi classics like Riders to the Stars (1954) and Gog (1954) and the The Fly (1958). But he was also busy honing his considerable talent with various early-TV playhouse programs. He also fit comfortably into episodic TV including a rare five-episode run as a priest on 77 Sunset Strip (1958). All told, Herbert Marshall graced nearly 100 movie and TV roles with an aplomb that remains a rich legacy.
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