There is little point denying that the greatest dramatist in England inthe 20th Century was George Bernard Shaw. He was a great wit, and hehad a view of society that he felt needed expressing in one play afteranother. But there was something irritating about him that hasprevented him from overtaking Shakespeare in drama writing: His desireto give his views on this societal problem or that one led to polemicstaking over his writings, so that the plays, even when good, can beuneven. He also displayed a monstrous ego at times that did not deserveto be admired or applauded by the public for most of his ninety threeor four years. <br><br>In 1897 he had only a handful of plays that had been produced to showhis talents: WIDOWERS HOUSE and MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION were the bestof these, and the second had been banned by the Lord Chamberlain'soffice for treating the subject of prostitution as a business. Hedecided to do a play with one of London's leading actor managers of thetime: Mr. William Terris. But while negotiating with Terris to appearin this play. a madman stabbed Terris to death. Looking around foranother actor, Shaw contacted Mr. Richard Mansfield, thus beginning abrief business relationship with that stage star. Mansfield producedTHE DEVIL'S DESCIPLE in America, where it was a big success (Mansfieldalso played Dick Dudgeon).<br><br>Shaw was looking at good and evil in the play, with Dudgeon being ananti-religious type who was cynical. But Dudgeon demonstrates a senseof right and wrong and compassion that is missing from the othercharacters in the play, making the title very ironic - Dick may boastof worshiping the Devil, but he never hurts anyone. In the play,because of his fast life style, the local Puritanical townspeople(especially his mother) disapprove of him, and all but ostracize him.Then his father's will is read, and they realize he is rich (and theother heirs, especially his mother are poor). Since they arehypocrites, the lucky break for Dick makes them even more vicioustoward him (his mother cursing him before she dies). So far so good forShaw.<br><br>As I said, the play begins well, and continues fine - introducing highcomedy when General Burgoyne appears. Burgoyne was a dramatist too, soShaw liked him. And here the play (and movie's) problems begin to befelt. Shaw was writing the play in a period that the Whig historians,like George Otto Trevelyan, wrote the history of the AmericanRevolution. Trevelyan's books became best sellers, and were wellresearched. But he wrote of the Revolution as the backdrop of EnglishRevolutionary spirit as well. To Trevelyan, the English lost the wardue to the ineptitude of the Tory regime of Lord North. One example ofthis was the story of how General Burgoyne's brilliant plan to splitthe northern colonies in half and conquer both halves one at a time wasruined when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord GeorgeGermain, failed to send vital plans to General Sir William Howe to linkhis men with Burgoyne. Instead, Sir William headed for Philadelphia,which he occupied, and heard nothing about Burgoyne until the lattersurrendered in October 1777. <br><br>The play builds up to a comic misunderstanding between the British andDudgeon, whom they arrest thinking he is the Reverend - Dick was alonewith the wife of the Reverend at the time, and assumes the latter'spersonality because he does not want a scandal to break out. Soon theReverend (who supports the Revolution) faces a court martial, with thewhimsical Gentleman Johnny asking questions. Although the result is aforegone conclusion, (the British have already hanged Dick's father asthe movie begins), Burgoyne is annoyed to discover after the verdict isabout to be given that Dick is not the Reverend.<br><br>This is all in the film, and it still works, especially with Olivier'sperfect performance as the British general, who is facing defeat butwon't lose his cool about it. But Shaw's source, George Otto Treveylan,is no longer supported by students of history - he is regarded as aWhig who ignored the many errors of his own party, to concentrate onthe failures of Lord North and his Tories. One mistake is the story ofLord George Germain's failure to send Sir William Howe his plans,because Lord George felt he had to go on his personal vacation to thecountry, and would not wait to send out those vital plans. It is nottrue, after all. Lord George did send Sir William the plans, but Howeignored them, going out to capture Philadelphia instead. <br><br>"History will lie as usual" says Burgoyne to Major Swindon. Ironically,Shaw pushed the lie as truth himself. Now everyone who sees the play orfilm believes that Lord George Germain's vacation plans lost theRevolution. Not really. The forests of upper New York State, the lackof good roads, the immense supply train played vital, the vigor ofBenedict Arnold as an American general led to Burgoyne's surrender. Butthat was not as amusing as Lord George Germain's "failure" to send thevital plans. One recalls the end of John Ford's LIBERTY VALANCE: Whengiven a chance to print the truth of the legend, print the legend!