The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) Poster

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A Lifetime of Service To His King And Country
bkoganbing1 February 2008
I finally got to see The Young Mr. Pitt, a film I had wanted to see for decades. Mainly because Robert Donat perfectly fit my conception of what William Pitt, the Younger was like. In that I was not disappointed, Pitt is definitely one of Donat's best screen performances.

William Pitt, the Younger 1759-1806 was the second son of William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. As he was the second son, he did not inherit the earldom, but he did inherit his father's name and in British history, he is probably one of the five greatest individuals ever to be their Prime Minister. And he became Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 24 and held that office for most of the rest of his life.

Although certain things were left out, what was in the film stuck pretty close to the facts. When Pitt turned 21 he entered Parliament in 1781 and the following year, Lord Frederick North, the Prime Minister who lost the American Revolution was finally kicked out. There was a bit of jockeying for power and several governments were formed over the next two years when George III got the idea to ask young Pitt to take the job. He managed to win the next elections and was master of Parliament the rest of his life. He also never lost the confidence of his sovereign.

Donat captures Pitt perfectly, his only vice was every now and then to drink a bit much. No cheap swill for him though, only the finest of wines did he occasionally overindulge in. His chaste behavior around Phyllis Calvert is also true, it's pretty much established the man was celibate all his life, probably due to a low sex drive, though that's not explicitly gone into.

Without family attachments, Pitt's whole life was devoted to the protection and governance of the United Kingdom. He saw the danger of radical Jacobinism from France to British society and the even greater menace of Napoleon Bonaparte. Like FDR and General George C. Marshall reaching down the ranks to get Dwight D. Eisenhower in World War II. Pitt was the man who found Horatio Nelson and gave him command of Great Britain's fleet and who responded with victories at Aboukir Bay and Trafalgar.

As Pitt was chaste and aesthetic, his great rival of the period Charles James Fox was a rake and a gambler. Robert Morley gives one of his greatest performances also suitably cast as Fox. My favorite moment in the film is after Aboukir Bay, Fox gets a brick thrown through his window while dining with four lovely young ladies. When one of them asks what this was, Morley drolly replies, 'the voice of public opinion.'

What makes that particular scene more effective is that the next scene cuts to demonstrations against Pitt, calling for a truce in the war. The fickle finger of public opinion very graphically demonstrated.

John Mills plays William Wilberforce of whom a film was made about last year to great acclaim. He was Pitt's devoted friend and ally, but Wilberforce's crusade to abolish slavery gets a brief mention in The Young Mr. Pitt and nothing more.

What gets no mention at all is King George, III's periods of insanity and the Prince Regent, later George IV is not a character here.

The film takes us up to Trafalgar. In real life Pitt died very soon after the battle of Austerlitz which left the United Kingdom bereft of continental allies for several years. Worn in body and spirit, sadly he died without knowing of Great Britain's eventual triumph over the force of despotism.

Of course the film was made while the United Kingdom was also going through a great trial against an even greater evil, with another resolute Prime Minister who devoted his heart and soul to his country's service and protection. I'm sure Winston Churchill saw the film as some propaganda against his critics, but I'm also sure that William Pitt the Younger was a role model for him.

As Pitt should be a role model for all who put country above all.
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Ambitious but entertaining
Igenlode Wordsmith28 August 2006
Only in England, surely, would anyone set out to make a propaganda movie by quoting verbatim from 18th-century Parliamentary proceedings..!

Admittedly -- as shown in the sequences where Robert Donat, as the eponymous Prime Minister, is howled down in the House of Commons -- the gentlemen of that era did not always mince their words. Still, in common with so many other famous British propaganda products of the time -- "A Matter of Life and Death", "In Which We Serve", "Pimpernel Smith", "49th Parallel" -- "The Young Mr Pitt" is a sophisticated and amazingly literate piece of work: no cheap bashing of the enemy, no sentimental romanticising of the fickle mob, no principle or personage too elevated to bear a little gentle mockery. The film's subject is presented in a manner arguably verging on hagiography (Pitt is Right, Fox is Wrong, and the former has no vices beyond a tendency to self-sacrifice)... and yet it has no qualms, for example, in counterpointing Robert Donat's great patriotic speech towards the end of the film with images of Members of Parliament yawning or exchanging long-suffering glances as he orates. By refusing to treat itself with blind veneration, it creates a depth of subtlety that stands up well in its own right so many years later, where simple-minded tub-thumping would long since have become merely embarrassing.

The script is surprisingly funny, and often sparkles: when a naval official complains that he feels more at home at sea than in politics, Pitt returns the swift quip that his rival Fox will soon feel all at sea at home. We are introduced to the King known to history as 'Farmer George' over a bowl of home-grown royal turnips, and treated to the spectacle of the Prime Minister caught out by some very important guests in mid-pillow-fight with the children of his host. By leavening its message with humour, it humanises a potentially heavy-handed political slant.

It is, of course, a one-man show, and Robert Donat proves fully equal to the task. He begins the film portraying Pitt the Elder in old age, and then develops the title character from one mocked for his youth to the sick and prematurely aged man of the final reels; and does it without overwhelming awareness of cosmetic wizardry, and with the benefit of a pair of fine expressive eyes. John Mills has the somewhat thankless role of playing reformer William Wilberforce in what is essentially the role of hero's sidekick, the ever-present character to whom Pitt can voice his plans and dilemmas for the audience's benefit. Albert Lieven is memorable as the devious Talleyrand, and Leslie Bradley and Roy Emerton make an impression in the early part of the film as the famous heavyweights of the bare-knuckle boxing era, Mendoza and 'Gentleman' Jackson.

Featuring cameo scenes for characters ranging from Lord Nelson to Danton, the film is inevitably a quick canter through the relevant history. It doesn't pretend to be a deep political analysis of the period. But as a flag-waver it aims high, and compared to your average Hollywood 'biopic' it is quality entertainment. I saw this as the fourth film at the end of a hectic day, and even under such circumstances it stood out as a more ambitious vehicle than the -- perfectly enjoyable -- rest.

It doesn't have the complexity of a great picture. But it benefits fully from the restraint and talent of its era.
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Maltin is wrong...
nbt726 May 1999
I don't get that Maltin bloke at all. Overlong? Occasionally moving? I wonder what gave him the right to be so jumped up. Has he missed the humour? The perfect castings of Lom. Lovell and Donat? Yes it might be a thinly veiled morale booster, but hello it was WW2 and I am sure even the USA did these but none quite as good or as able to use memories of an epic period in a long and successful history. Pride does count for something here. All I can say is WATCH IT AND JUDGE FOR YOURSELF and then laugh at how pretentious Maltin really is.
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The "Sprig From the Tree" Who Saved England and Europe
theowinthrop19 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
For Americans, after Yorktown, there seems a vague jump of six years of history we ignore. We know Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau defeat Lord Cornwallis but we tend to ignore the period of the Articles of Confederation government - except for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and Daniel Shay's Rebellion and the Constitutional Convention.

Few concentrate on the issue of the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1783, and how Lord Shelburne sacrificed his political career to get Parliament to swallow it (Shelburne was very generous because he, like Franklin, realized that America's best interest was to have gradual rapprochement with Britain). The political mess in England was dreadful. Lord North was discredited, and replaced by the Marquis of Rockingham, who died. Rockingham was replaced by Shelburne, who got the peace but lost his office. And suddenly North returned supported by one of his persistent critics during the war: Charles James Fox. The "broad - bottom" ministry of North and Fox struggled for about a year when it lost a vote of confidence. King George III was happy about this (he disliked Fox), and turned to an unexpected figure to head the new government: William Pitt the Younger.

Pitt the Younger was the son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham: the architect of great victory in the French and Indian (or Seven Years) War, which had left Britain the most powerful country in the world. The Earl had tried to prevent the American Revolution, but failed. He died in 1778, shortly after giving another drubbing on North's failed policies in the House of Lords. His title went to an older son, but his younger son and namesake went into Parliament. A brilliant speaker and organizer, Pitt the Younger was also a smart economical theorist. England needed peace - it had done very badly in the war (the only major war in nearly three hundred years it lost). It did have some naval victories under Romney and Hood in the Caribbean and Hughes (barely) over the brilliant Suffren in the Indian Ocean, and did acquire Florida, but it lost it's main empire.

Pitt the Younger gave England a good respite. He rebuilt the fleet, and he encouraged agriculture and industry (the film briefly covers this - even mentioning the forgotten Richard Trevethick and his early locomotives). He was determined to continue, but history was against him - he found that his monarch's health was uncertain (see THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE), and that the French Revolution unsettled Europe. From 1792 through 1815 Europe had only two brief periods of peace. Pitt was Prime minister until the first peace in 1802, and then Prime Minister from 1804 to his death in 1806. His economic dreams and his desire for peace were ruined by the French and Napoleon I, but he lived long enough to make certain that Napoleon would ultimately fail.

Except for not mentioning the insanity of the King (Raymond Lovell here), the movie is actually fairly factual. It does sugarcoat the reforming urge of Pitt the Younger (Robert Donat). He did rebuild the economy, and did set the stage for final victory. But he was willing to keep many corrupt political practices like "Rotten Boroughs" and government bribery. Unmentioned in this film was the 1797 great mutiny of the British fleets Pitt had rebuilt, because dockyard corruption affected the men's pay and rations. A more balanced view of Mr. Pitt appears in THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE where he is seen as a master manipulator that he was.

But this film was a British war film, meant to really compare Pitt's activities against Bonaparte (Herbert Lom, in his first appearance as the "Little Corporal"*) with the current struggle with Hitler. It doesn't quite work historically. Not only was the Younger Pitt capable of winking at corruption, but his opponent Charles James Fox (Robert Morley here) was a charming, if virtually ineffective supporter of democratic reform. Fox led the Whigs until his death in 1807. He did hold high office again in 1806 - 07 as Foreign Secretary under the Duke of Portland, but he died too soon. In the film he is made to seem an obstructionist who is ready to make peace with France too quickly (like Nevil Chamberlain with Germany, perhaps). He was actually far cagier than that, and the film at least suggests that Fox realizes (when Napoleon's invasion of Britain seems probable) that Pitt must return to office over Henry Addington, his somewhat weaker successor.

(*Lom, of course, replayed Napoleon in the film WAR AND PEACE with Henry Fonda, Audrey Hepburn, and Mel Ferrer.)

Donat gives a splendid pair of performances as Chatham (briefly at the start) and Pitt the Younger. He captures the workaholic and near inebriate who worked and drank himself into an early grave before his fiftieth year (but managed to serve one of the longest tenures as Prime Minister). A romance is created for him with Phyllis Calvert, which is doomed due to his public sense of duty. Also there is the appearance of John Mills as William Wilberforce, forced to watch his campaign to wipe out slavery in the British Empire put on hold (this is not shown totally - a twenty year old "Masterpiece Theater" series did better on that subject). Note too Albert Lieven's Talleyrand, willing to serve the new master of France (Lom) but already showing his manipulation of Napoleon to get him to do his work (and also undercutting Nappy's comments about the weaknesses of Pitt and England). As a whole it is pretty good as history told in film. Certainly a film to come back to now and then.
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Carol Reed makes a great historical film during the war
clanciai4 January 2019
Robert Donat is of course the leading character here, playing both father and son William Pitt with sincerity and honour, but Robert Morley as the indomitable opposition leader Charles Edward Fox is at least equally impressing. It's a very human film watching one of the most important and famous British prime ministers from the inside, his drinking, his health problem, and so forth, but the times around 1800 are conscientiously caught on celluloid, and Herbert Lom practices his great part as the best Napoleon ever before King Vidor's "War and Peace" 1956. It's a great history lesson with great human insights, and although a propaganda film during the war, as a history cavalcade from the days of George III it is wholly convincing and most entertaining, especially the election scenes.
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Fascinating historical drama!
JohnHowardReid9 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Not copyrighted in the U.S.A. New York opening at the Roxy: 10 March 1943. U.S. release: 26 February 1943. U.K. release: 21 September 1942. London trade screening: 16 June 1942. Australian release through G.B.D./20th Century-Fox Film Corporation: 24 February 1944 (sic). 10,912 feet. 121 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Good biographical feature stars Donat as the famous English politician and statesman of the title. He rises to prominence early and becomes prime minister at age 24. Morley is his political nemesis who eventually comes to respect the youthful leader.

COMMENT: Whilst director Carol Reed doesn't match the elegance of his opening dolly shot in the rest of the movie (at least so far as imaginative camera movement is concerned), he does work in some really memorable images, especially with his lavish montages and staggering crowd scenes. Yep, they had protesters and rallies in those days too!

Technically "The Young Mr Pitt" is a marvel of superlative craftsmanship in every department. Even the models look great.

But despite the lavishness of its budget and the stirring nature of its message, "The Young Mr. Pitt" rarely made it to Saturday nights around the working-class neighborhoods, but was confined to midweek bookings. The main drawback: virtually no love interest. (According to screenwriter Sidney Gilliat: "Pitt was known as a cold fish in his day.")

OTHER VIEWS: Splendid historical drama. Although made in war-time as a patriotic breast-rouser with obvious parallels in the speeches against Napoleon vis-a-vis Hitler, the production is so ably acted, magnificently set and brilliantly directed to be still vastly entertaining today. And, of course, the speeches in those days were nothing if not witty.
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beautifully made and written WW2 propaganda that rises far above that
andrew-lyall11 April 2011
I first saw this film many years at school when the headmaster, a most enlightened man, had a film collector show it to us one afternoon. It made a lasting impression. It is beautifully made and wittily written. Donat gives an excellent performance as our most brilliant prime minister who gave his life, in effect, in the service of his country. There are also some superb cameos, most notably Robert Moreley as Charles James Fox. It gives an intriguing, if overdrawn, view of 18th century manners and behaviour. The House of Commons scenes, with members imitating clucking chickens to vent their disapproval is memorable. So no change there, then. And look out for the little man at the end of the row in No 10 as Pitt leaves office for the first time. Pitt lived to hear of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, so it is not true, as one reviewer commented, that he died without knowing of Britain's victory over Napoleon. But why, with due respect, is it an American import? It is an essentially British film. Churchill raised the money to make it.
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A Donat film is never dull
malcolmgsw28 March 2019
Donat lived only a couple of miles from where I live.The house has a blue plaque and a covered drive to save him him from adoring fans.This is a typical wartime biog,when you see Napoleon, see Hitler.The film covers a lot of ground and has a linking narration. This obviously makes it rather episodic. Robert Morley is good as Charles Fox.
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"In peace time all dreams come true."
morrison-dylan-fan29 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Deciding for the final week of viewings for the ICM poll of the best films from 1942,I began digging into the mountain of unwatched DVD's from the year to view. Getting a copy ages ago,I was happy to spot this Carol Reed title,which turned out to be from '42,and led to me meeting Mr. Pitt.

View on the film:

Bringing a crane shot down to the packed House of Commons on his second "Costume" title, directing auteur Carol Reed outlines his more flamboyant side that would hit the high-notes decades later with Oliver! (1968), in Reed & cinematographer Freddie Young framing Pitt the Younger's patriotic speeches in vast wide-shots of crowds cheering him on,and the regal costumes being put on fully display in circling shots round the elegance. Despite being made for the war effort, Reed wonderfully finds spaces in the margins of speeches for his distinctive Film Noir stylisation, voted on in long, dark narrow shots riding with Pitt carriages and down the staircase of Number 10,as his long premiership leaves him surrounded by baying mobs,and becoming gripped by illness in the shadows.

Rather uniquely making long speeches in Parliament from the late 1700's-early 1800's be a call for the public to stay strong during WWII, Frank Launder reunites with Reed,and is joined by co-writers Viscount Castlerosse and Sidney Gilliat in thickly laying the message on thick, in Pitt's belief of defending the UK from being invaded, which is matched by his stubbornness against the public and fellow MP's to not sign a "peace" treaty that would give appeasement to Napoleon.

Determined to defeat the British on the high-seas, Herbert Lom gives a delirious,over ripe turn as Napoleon. Given extravagance speeches which bounce off John Mills quick-witted Wilberforce and Robert Morley's lively Charles James Fox, Robert Donat holds the moments of facing unpopularity with a quiet, contemplating thoughtfulness over entering the twilight, for young Mr. Pitt.
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Good History Lesson
smithy-830 December 2003
"The Young Mr. Pitt" gives you a good history lesson on British politics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Robert Donat plays the young British prime minister, Mr. Pitt. Mr. Donat made three movies during WWII. All three movies were patriotic and well cast. Many of the actors in all three movies I have never seen before or since. After Mr. Donat, the next best performance was by Raymond Lovell, who played the king, George the third. Mr. Lovell is one of the actors I had never seen before.

The movie is long and is interesting to watch once, but not a second time. It is still on video.
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