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In the late 1700s France, Andre-Louis Moreau (Ramon Novarro) becomes a rebel
against aristocracy after his friend is killed by the evil de la Tour d'Azy
(Lewis Stone). Unfortunately the woman he loves Aline (Alice Terry) is part
of the aristocracy.
Elaborate, well-directed with a cast of (seemingly) thousands this is a superb drama--it's just now getting its due on a stunning brand-new print showing on TCM. Alice Terry is just gorgeous as Aline--she's breath-takingly beautiful (that comes as no surprise--director Rex Ingram was her husband) and also one heck of an actress; Lewis Stone is convincingly slimy and cruel as the villain; best of all is Novarro. Easily one of the best-looking men ever it's easy to see why he was the top box office draw of his day. Looks aside, his acting was superb--he doesn't over emote (like some silent screen actors did) and was believable every step of the way. Sadly his career was destroyed because he was gay and homophobia was riding high at MGM. This man's acting and movies deserve some overdue recognition.
The movie moves at a brisk pace, there's never a dull moment and has a very moving finale (although I had guessed the two twists at the end). A definite must-see!
Fleeing from the wrath of the vengeful Nobility, a young
Frenchman joins a troupe of actors. Winning fame as the
SCARAMOUCHE, the stalwart fellow finds himself drawn into
events surrounding the start of the Revolution.
Following his big movie hit of the previous year - 1922's THE PRISONER OF ZENDA - director Rex Ingram discovered that cinematic lightning could indeed strike twice with this very fine adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's swashbuckling novel, "Scaramouche." Metro gave the production a high gloss, with excellent atmospherics, richly detailed exteriors & rousing mob scenes. It is always refreshing, in any epic film, to see every penny the studio invested represented on the screen.
Ingram reunited his principal cast from ZENDA - Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone & Alice Terry - as stars for SCARAMOUCHE. Novarro, taking the hero role this time, proved he was no flash in the pan. Equally adept as sensitive lover or dueling revolutionary, with this performance Novarro was catapulted to Hollywood's upper ranks. Stone gives a finely nuanced performance as the villain of the story, slowly revealing layers to the man's personality not readily apparent at first. Miss Terry, who was Ingram's wife, is lovely, but the plot gives her little to do except look distressed or frightened.
In the supporting cast, special note should be given to George Siegmann, striking in the historical role of Danton. Edward Connelly, as the King's Minister, makes a marvelous grotesque.
It is interesting to note that Italian-born British author Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950) had been a novelist for many years before striking gold with "Scaramouche." Its popularity with the public, to say nothing of this acclaimed movie adaptation, pushed it permanently onto that small shelf of fiction (and films) - "A Tale of Two Cities," "The Scarlet Pimpernel" & ORPHANS OF THE STORM - forever associated with the French Revolution. Sabatini also wrote the swashbuckler adventure novels "The Sea Hawk" & "Captain Blood."
This 1923 adaptation of a mid-1921 novel is one of the most
faithful-to-the-original screenplays I have ever seen. Granted, large
blocks of the book are omitted or greatly condensed, but who wants a
20-hour movie? The basic story line is retained and well developed.
The cinematography is superb, and the print we saw on cable was sharp and clear. It shows there is no excuse for the foggy, low-contrast prints we see in so many of the early thirties films. The sets, costumes, performances, and overall production are outstanding for any era. The silent film has been provided with a fine score, and even with its limitations is infinitely superior to the 1952 so-called "remake," which is virtually no relation to the book.
The two-hour-plus production moves along briskly (with perhaps a few too many minutes of the final mob scenes) and is exciting. Suspense is maintained very well, though my wife anticipated the ending. It was hard to keep my previous knowledge of the plot to myself.
I loved this production and give it an enthusiastic and unqualified 10.
Ramon Novarro stars as André-Louis Moreau. Lewis Stone is Moreau's
enemy, the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr. And, Alice Terry is the woman
they both love, Aline de Kercadiou. The story is set during the time of
the French Revolution. The film begins with Mr. Stone as the Marquis de
la Tour killing Mr. Novarro (Moreau's) best friend, which makes them
great enemies. Enemies usually like the same woman; in this case, the
coveted Ms. Terry (as Aline) creates the additional animosity.
This is a well-produced spectacle, from director Rex Ingram; the film obviously cost a fortune, and the money was well spent, creating a beautiful looking film. Mr. Ingram does a great job of pacing the approximately two hours of film; it retains much of its pace today, relative to other 1920s epics. Ingram's cinematographer John F. Seitz and star Ramon Novarro are indispensable. Mr. Seitz' photography is great, from the windmilly opening until the final conflicts. Some of the spectacular scenes are still terrific; but, some do look like they were staged to fit the movie screen, where everyone gathers for "Action!"
Mr. Novarro's lead performance is excellent; though, it might have been wise to let him use more of the ahead-of-their-time skills that are clearly evident. But, what's left is fine - best are the "looks" from the performers, which are not overacted (mostly). Lewis, Terry, and most everyone performs well. Novarro must join an acting troupe, by the way, while on-the-run - he becomes "Monsieur X" and play acts clown "Scaramouche", giving the film its title. Watch for the relationship between Novarro and a woman from the troupe, and the reason he finally rejects her (it parallels the major love triangle). Also, watch for two of the characters to startlingly look exactly like/alike the "shocking" second revelation at the end of the film.
******** Scaramouche (9/15/23) Rex Ingram ~ Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, Lloyd Ingraham
Sticking a whole lot closer to the Rafael Sabatini novel than the MGM
remake with Stewart Granger in the Fifties, the silent Scaramouche was
an important milestone in the career of Ramon Novarro. It was also one
of the bigger moneymakers of Metro Pictures before it combined the
following year as part of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer colossus. Novarro's
box office appeal was one of the bigger assets the newly created MGM
Novarro strikes the right notes of passion, romance, and swashbuckling derring-do as the young lawyer of questionable parentage who starts an odyssey of adventure when he runs afoul of nobleman Lewis Stone when he calls him out after Stone who is a master swordsman kills young Otto Matieson in a one sided contest.
With the authorities looking for him in the France of Louis XVI, Novarro takes refuge in a troupe of strolling players and plays the famous clown character Scaramouche. Before the film France falls to the Revolutionary Terror and Novarro discovers his true heritage and his true love.
Scaramouche firmly established Novarro as the number one rival of Latin Lover Rudolphe Valentino. In fact Novarro seemed to be able to handle a bigger variety of roles in silent films than Valentino. Of course we'll never know what Valentino might have done in the sound era.
Lewis Stone as the villainous nobleman who is the bane of Novarro's existence is a far cry from Judge Hardy of Carvel, the ever wise father of Mickey Rooney and Cecilia Parker later on. But Stone from the time he was on stage before the Spanish American War handled a variety of parts in stock companies and Broadway. Those were the days where you had these local theater groups to learn your trade and Stone learned it better than most. He and Lionel Barrymore were mainstays in just about every MGM production of note while they were with the studio.
Scaramouche is a deserved silent classic and don't miss it when TCM decides to run it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ingram gathered his cast from the year before's THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and
recast them - this time with Novarro as the lead and Stone doing an
excellent turn as the villain. Ingram's wife, the beautiful Alice Terry,
again played the love interest.
This is set in pre-Revolutionary France. It is well edited - the pacing is much better than in ZENDA and it moves along fairly briskly. There are two surprises near the end so I won't refer to them to avoid spoilers, but just when you think you're going to have a tidy ending, it is exactly what you do not have.
All do well in their roles but Stone is quite exceptional as the villain- had there been Oscars then, he would most certainly have been nommed, along with the editing and the art direction.
For Alice Terry fans, she has approximately twenty scenes here: with Stone in the garden; the flashback farewell to her family; the farewell to Stone; the confrontation with Novarro; at the piano with Stone and then later hiding Novarro; the letter from Paris; the recognition scene at the theatre; the following visit to Novarro; the salon; the truth in the carriage; with Stone at her chateau; at the theatre riot; with Stone at her chateau, then with her uncle re the upcoming duel, and finally her attempted sacrifice rejected; her pleading with Novarro; the intercut attempt to prevent the duel, first at home, then in the carriage, the garden etc. and with Stone post-duel; the letter to evacuate Paris; the escape carriage; three scenes of at home waiting; the wounded Stone/revelation of truths & escape; five final shots of the carriage escape.
Grapevine Video has an excellent print transfer and it is well worth the price.
Hats off to Rex Ingram. Scaramouche, like his other gorgeously mounted
adventure sagas The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Prisoner of
Zenda, or Ben-Hur (which he co-directed) illustrate clearly how the art
of cinema took a body blow with the coming of sound, recovery from
which took several years. The kinds of stunning compositions and
environmental detail that were possible before the soundtrack era had
to be jettisoned just for the sake of miking, so we lost much of this
intensive artistry. Visually this film is every bit as impressive as
Selznick's A Tale of Two Cities, or Korda's The Scarlet Pimpernel, both
made well into the sound era over a decade later. Ingram was a
visionary, right up there with Griffith, Stroheim and early DeMille.
This film is beautiful right down to the title cards.
In this tale of the French Revolution we are treated to large doses of "The Masses," as in the later Selznick Tale of Two Cities. In fact, these masses are so vividly presented that one suspects that Selznick borrowed some of his imagery from Ingram. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche is a participant in the events of the era. But whereas the Pimpernel used ingenious disguises and impersonations to save selected aristocrats from the guillotine, Scaramouche uses his position as popular comedic stage actor and skilled swordsman to rouse the masses to revolutionary action and successfully duel to the death with reactionary members of the National Assembly. Ramon Novarro, who plays the title character, was second only to Valentino as a heartthrob of the silent era but his countenance and manner were gentler. Lewis Stone, best known for his stern but benign elder patriarch roles in talkies, was once the dashing, chiselled-featured leading man on display here. Alice Terry as the love interest reminds us of how cinematic standards of beauty have changed. Her costuming and coiffure notwithstanding, there is a pre-20th-century quality to her, as if she stepped out of a painting or daguerrotype.
The 1923 "Scaramouche" has all the elements of an epic film saga -- intricate and plausible sets and costumes, clearly drawn characters, ever more intense pacing -- but it just failed to catch fire for me. Maybe it's the way it makes no pretense of being anything but a big bundle of melodramatic clichés wrapped in a too-transparent plot. Too bad; it sure had potential. If you can see the Turner Classic Movie version, with the new score by Jeff Silverman, do so. It's how film scores should be created for silent pictures like these, absolutely in sync with the action but not slavishly commenting on every little detail. Usually it's a backhanded compliment to say that one finds one is losing oneself in the movie and not paying any attention to the score, but in this case, believe me, it's the mark of a resounding success.
Had I never read the original novel "Scaramouche" by Rafael Sabatini
and had I never seen the amazing Stewart Granger film of the 1950s,
then I probably would have loved this silent movie. However, the book
was so good and the Granger film so perfect that I found myself forever
comparing this silent epic to the others and it usually came up short.
In a way, that's sad, because it IS a very good film--especially
compared to other films of the day.
The basic plot is set in the days just following the French Revolution of 1789. For a few short years, the country had still not slipped into radicalism and the country was ruled by a coalition of the old elite and young upstarts. Eventually, of course, most of the elite would be executed or run off to exile, but this film is set during the last gasps of the nobles--who STILL exercised some of their old clout.
Andre (Ramon Novarro) is an orphan who hobnobs with the upper crust but is definitely not one of them. When his best friend is murdered by an evil nobleman (Lewis Stone), he vows revenge and soon becomes a very outspoken critic of the rich. However, because of his outspokenness, he is marked for death and so he hides with a traveling theater company. He becomes very successful for the plays he writes as well as his rendition of the classic "Scaramouche" character. During this time, he also practices with the sword in the hopes of one day killing Stone. Eventually, his fame on stage increases so much that he is invited to serve in the Parlement. Plus, they want him because his swordsmanship is so good they figure he'll be able to protect himself--as the nobles are always dueling with their opponents killing them (a great way to deplete the non-elite class in Parlement).
All this leads to the expected ultimate showdown with Stone, though it ends differently than the Granger film and more like the original novel. In some ways, this isn't bad, but what is missing is the great sword fight between Novarro and Stone--it ends almost as soon as it begins! In the Granger version, the fight is the longest and best sword fight in film history and something you can't miss.
Apart from the fight that just fizzled, the film does have excellent sets, cinematography and musical score (something many silents do NOT have when shown today). It's good,...but I just can't help but prefer the sumptuous and more entertaining remake. This is one of the few cases when I do prefer a remake--so it just goes to show you how wonderful Stewart Granger's version is. If you only want to see one version of the film, see that one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Before anyone gets angry from the summary title, let me say this: I
really enjoy the 1952 Scaramouche. It's the perfect remedy for stress,
Eleanor Parker is gorgeous, the fencing is great, and overall it's one
of my favorite adventure flicks from the 1950s. However, it doesn't
work nearly as well as this silent adaptation does. This Rex Ingram
adaptation has more focus on character development and the historical
setting of the French Revolution which make it a more mature and
Ramon Novarro gives one of his greatest performances as the passionate and witty Andre Moreau. It makes me sad that he didn't get to do many more swashbuckling parts like this. Lewis Stone is also worthy of praise: though he could have just hammed it up and called it a day, he brings depth to the villainous Marquis. Alice Terry is given little to work with as the love interest Aline, but she does portray the character's struggle between ambition and love well.
Rex Ingram's films are usually beautiful, but this is the most gorgeous I've seen yet. The sets and costumes fit the period. Most classic films time stamp their historical pictures by letting modern day fashions seep through. Fortunately, this is not the case here.
And of course there's all the swashbuckling and adventure you could ask for. There's no climactic lengthy duel in a playhouse as there is in the talkie remake, but the amazing mob scenes are enough to compensate. There's so much energy in them that you cannot help but be swept up. The fencing is excellent too.
This is one of the best silent epics there is. If you liked the remake and would like to see a more serious, novel-accurate version, then get your hands on this right away!
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