Shot largely on the Warner Bros. backlot in Hollywood, Captured! (1933) is a World War I thriller set in a German POW camp filled with British and American officers. British stage star Leslie Howard plays Captain Fred Allison, the superior officer among the prisoners and the cool-headed leader who devotes himself to sustaining the spirits of his men in a dehumanizing situation.
Leslie Howard had been a star of the stage for years but had steered clear of movies throughout the 1920s, the golden age of silent cinema. With the coming of sound, however, stage actors with strong, distinctive voices were in demand and in 1930 he was wooed by Hollywood to star in the screen version of the playOutward Bound. He had played the supporting role on stage in New York, but for the film he took the lead and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the son of Hollywood royalty and a rising young actor in his own right, took the supporting role that Howard had created onstage. The film was a financial disappointment but a critical success and a mark of prestige for Warner. It was also the beginning of a “hilarious and adventurous friendship off screen,” as Fairbanks describes it in his autobiography, between Howard, the very English stage professional newly arrived in the movies, and Fairbanks, the son of the Hollywood action superstar. They shared the same Hollywood agent, Mike Levee, and both landed lucrative contracts with Warner Bros.
Howard preferred stage to screen and didn’t think much of the quality of scripts he was getting. Captured! was “just another in a long line that helped to pay for the English house, and this was a very important reason for anything,” wrote his daughter, Leslie Ruth Howard, in A Quite Remarkable Father. It did, however, provide a reunion for the two friends. As Fairbanks shared in his autobiography, “one compensation for being maneuvered into a so-so story was being co-starred with Leslie Howard again…. Leslie was bound to raise the film’s standards and I would have my work cut out just to keep up with him in my performance.”
Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, July 17. Not on home video.