Saturday, January 11, 2003


Set during the French Revolution, this is a very fun adventure film that I'd be inclined to call it a swashbuckler, but there's actually very little actual fighting; most of the battles involve wits rather than swords. I like Leslie Howard, but whenever I see him, I always think of Ashley in GONE WITH THE WIND. Now, however, this will be the part with which I'll associate him. He plays a foppish British aristocrat, Sir Percy, who is actually the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious "superhero" who leads a group of British noblemen who help various members of the French nobility escape the guillotine. I wonder if this character (taken from a novel) was an inspiration for Superman. As the Pimpernel, he is brave and daring and a master of disguise; as Sir Percy, he is a wonderfully effete Oscar Wildeish dandy, always exclaiming "Damn me!" or "Sink me!" and seeming far more concerned with his clothes than with politics. His French wife (Merle Oberon) is suspected of having betrayed a royal family so Percy has not told her about his secret identity; the scene where she finds out contains a very effective zoom shot. If the movie has a fault, it's that any real danger is confined to the opening (where we see the Pimpernel and his men in a daring rescue) and closing (Howard is caught in a trap by the villainous Raymond Massey). The middle section is rather leisurely, but Howard is always fun to watch. Nigel Bruce is the Prince of Wales, and Melville Cooper is the painter Romney. Oberon, who I don't usually care for, is fine here. Great fun and highly recommended.

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