Bernard Shaw helped adapt his own play about a woman who leaves her Christian work after her arms-making father donates money.
Greek professor Adolphus Cusins (Rex Harrison) loses his audience and listens to Major Barbara Undershaft (Wendy Hiller) preach salvation. Adolphus joins because he is in love with her and learns she is the daughter of a weapons manufacturer. Stephen Undershaft (Walter Hudd) advises his mother Britomart (Marie Lohr) not to take money from his father, because he sells arms. Andrew Undershaft (Robert Morley) arrives but does not know his son or daughters Barbara and Sarah (Penelope Dudley-Ward). They discuss morality and religion. Andrew will go to Barbara's meeting if she will go to his factory.
Painter Snobby Price (Emlyn Williams) and unemployed Peter Shirley (Donald Calthrop) go to the Salvation Army for a meal. Bill Walker (Robert Newton) blames Jenny Hill (Deborah Kerr) for taking his girl away and hits her. Barbara questions Bill and tries to help him. Andrew arrives and says his religion is being a millionaire. Adolphus tells him that he and Barbara love the common people. The General (Sybil Thorndike) preaches. Ex-boxer Todger Fairmile also testifies; but Bill spits on him. Todger holds down Bill to pray. Barbara tells the General not to accept her father's money and resigns in protest. She walks home with Peter. In Albert Hall the General thanks the anonymous donor. Andrew leaves and invites Adolphus to dinner. By the river a policeman sees Barbara faint. Andrew gives Adolphus vodka and wine. Adolphus says he will marry Barbara, and Andrew asks him to manage his business. Drunk Adolphus passes out.
At breakfast Adolphus says he drank with Andrew, who gave the Salvation Army 50,000 pounds. Britomart asks Andrew for money for Barbara and Sarah, and she says that Stephen can run his business; but Andrew disagrees. Stephen says he is going into politics instead. Andrew implies that he governs with money and says Stephen can be a journalist. Barbara is bitter with her father, who says she saved Bill. The family visits Andrew's foundry that makes steel. Adolphus says he hates war; but Andrew says they make war on war; nitrates can also be used for fertilizer. Andrew shows them the town for the workers with gardens and a united church. They see Bill got a job. Andrew advises Barbara to leave her obsolete religion. Britomart says that Andrew is wicked. Adolphus asks for 5,000 a year and profits after two years; Andrew negotiates for three-fifths of that. Barbara says that Adolphus is selling his soul; but she agrees to marry him and live in the model town, saying they will lift hell to heaven and man to God.
This thought-provoking comedy has a new meaning in the
context of Britain's using armaments to fight European fascism.
We see the prosperity created by the jobs but not the destruction
and suffering on the other end.