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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!
Those who are familiar with the well-known 1952 remake of "Scaramouche"
might find it difficult to recognize it in this 1923 silent version.
The story in this earlier and seldom-seen version is quite different in
many respects. Many of the plot points are different, the names of some
of the principal characters are not the same and some of the principal
characters in this earlier version do not even appear in the remake.
The earlier version is also quite different in tone, being rather more
in the nature of Historical-Melodrama or Historical-Fiction than the
later version, which is much more of a mere swashbuckler. However, the
fact is that this earlier version is actually much more faithful to the
original book than the remake.
Don't be put off by the fact that this is a silent film produced 90 years ago, because it's production values are excellent. Clearly no available expense was spared to make this production as lavish and authentic to the period (France during the French Revolution), as possible. The director, Rex Ingram, was about as good as one could find at the time.
The cast also features some first rate performers, including perennial MGM favorite Lewis Stone, who was probably with the studio longer than any other actor, so long that he appeared in the 1952 remake. The title role is played by Ramon Navarro, who was a major star in the 1920s. Like Rudolph Valentino, Navarro was a major leading man in the films of the 1920s, and had the title role in the silent version of "Ben Hur". However, unlike Valentino, who died young, Navarro continued to work for many years, though his career as a leading man waned after talkies came in. Navarro's problem in talkies was that he happened to be Mexican, and spoke with an accent.
All in all, "Scaramouche" comes off as a lavish and well produced melodrama set against the background of the French Revolution. The plot points and tone are so different that it should be rated alongside, rather than above or below, the better-known swashbuckling remake. This film is very well worth a look, especially to the many fans of the 1952 version.
My TCM print has excellent picture quality, but the score is not up to scratch; it mainly fails to bring out the action of the film or direct the viewers reaction to what is on the screen; occasionally it succeeds, but overall is not very inspiring-- which describes the whole film, really. They may be historically accurate, but the costumes are dull,Alice Terry is no great beauty and Novarro, in his first major role, looks stodgy and not yet in possession of the looks which later led him to be described as "more beautiful than any man has the right to be!" Lewis Stone plays an arrogant but truly noble aristo who finally sacrifices himself for the benefit of those he loves. The mob scenes, where aristocrats are assaulted by the furious revolutionaries give a real sense of how frightening the experience must have been, but, as usual, no mention is made of the fact that, under "The Terror" , more common folks were guillotined than nobles. The film picks up pace in the second half, but I suspect that those familiar with the Sabatini novel will enjoy it more.
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