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The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

7.6
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A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.

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Title: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) on IMDb 7.6/10

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
Bramwell Fletcher ...
The Priest
Anthony Bushell ...
Joan Gardner ...
Walter Rilla ...
Mabel Terry-Lewis ...
O.B. Clarence ...
Ernest Milton ...
Edmund Breon ...
Col. Winterbottom
Melville Cooper ...
Romney
Gibb McLaughlin ...
The Barber
Morland Graham ...
Treadle (the tailor) (as Moreland Graham)
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Storyline

Leslie Howard plays Sir Percy Blakeney, an 18th century English aristocrat who leads a double life. He appears to be merely the effete aristocrat, but in reality is part of an underground effort to free French nobles from Robespierre's Reign of Terror. Based on the novel by Baroness Orczy. Written by Patrick Dominick <p-dominick@adfa.oz.au>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Scarlet Pimpernel. Who Was He... What Was His Strange Power?

Genres:

Adventure | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

|

Release Date:

7 February 1935 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Die scharlachrote Blume  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Wide Range Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The failure of the original copyright holder to renew the film's copyright resulted in it falling into public domain, meaning that virtually anyone could duplicate and sell a VHS/DVD copy of the film. Therefore, many of the versions of this film available on the market are either severely (and usually badly) edited and/or of extremely poor quality, having been duped from second- or third-generation (or more) copies of the film. See more »

Goofs

At Lord Grenville's ball, the final movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" is played several times. Although the piece was composed in 1787 it was not published until around 1827. See more »

Quotes

Percy Blakeney: Open up your sleeves, man. Let your ruffles take the air. Let them flow. Let them ripple.
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in Zorro: The Gay Blade (1981) See more »

Soundtracks

La Marseillaise
(1792) (uncredited)
Music and lyrics by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
Played during the opening credits
Reprised by singing citizens
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Script and star make a close-to-perfect 'Pimpernel'
14 February 2005 | by (England) – See all my reviews

To date, I've seen three "Scarlet Pimpernels" from three different eras, but the more I see this one, the more I appreciate it for the economical little masterpiece that it is. Three years ago, when I reviewed Powell & Pressburger's "Elusive Pimpernel", I dismissed its predecessor as a 'dated period piece' remarkable only for Leslie Howard's performance; watching it again now I'd hedge no bets in saying that it excels above its successor in almost every way.

From the very beginning, long before the hero appears, it's evident that we are in for a treat. The reason? Above all, the script.

Necessary establishing information -- the Pimpernel's name and fame, the Revolution, the state of the Blakeneys' marriage -- is conveyed quickly and naturally in a few pertinent phrases here and there, without any need for static exposition. A vein of wry humour runs through almost every scene, from the Prince's opening conviction that all the excesses of the Terror can be explained away by Johnny Foreigner's lack of sporting spirit -- "why, if it weren't for fox-hunting and pheasant-shooting, we might be cruel too!" -- to Sir Percy's sleepy quip when his wife implores him to rise above trivialities for once ("Can't rise above anything longer than three syllables, m'dear -- never could") and the cheerful double meaning of his disguised assurances to a Frenchman reviling 'perfidious Albion': ''It won't take *us* long to cross the Channel, eh boys?'' But wordplay is also used to poignant effect, as when he tells Marguerite, estranged from her husband but bedazzled by the romantic image of the unknown Scarlet Pimpernel, "For all you know, he's a married man deeply in love with his wife..."

If the script is witty, humane and on occasion impassioned, it owes a great deal also to the nuanced delivery of the cast. Nigel Bruce far outshines his bumbling Watson of later years in the pat of the pompous and preening but not entirely stupid Prince-Regent-to-be; Raymond Massey's Chauvelin is intelligent as well as menacing, despite an accent that strays periodically and disconcertingly across the Atlantic from France, plus the necessary abridgement of the plot for cinematic purposes; Merle Oberon, no raving beauty to today's taste, provides all the resourcefulness and heartbreak one could ask for, playing proud, neglected Marguerite -- one can easily credit her as Orczy's 'cleverest woman in Europe'.

But casting Leslie Howard in the dual title role was a simple stroke of genius. His tall figure and bony beak of a face serve perfectly both as the languid Sir Percy, setting off a series of immaculately-fitting 'unmentionables', and as the commanding, quick-thinking Pimpernel; and the scene in which he drops from one persona to the other almost in mid-sentence upon the entry of the irate Colonel Winterbottom is a joy to watch. He is absolutely convincing as the "spineless, brainless and useless" fop, and yet he can shade intelligence and feeling back into his features at the drop of a hat in unconcealed moments that never let the audience forget the man behind the mask. His scenes with Merle Oberon as Marguerite are joint masterpieces of brittle drawing-room comedy with an undertow of unhappiness that convinces us of the former passion between them, alluded to but never shown.

Blakeney, of course, gets all the best lines, and Leslie Howard makes the most of them, mocking with exquisite insolence in his guise as licensed fool. But perhaps the third factor that really makes this film is the richness of those background moments when the starring characters are not there. The secure pomp of England epitomised in the opening shots of the changing of the guard; the revolutionary barber stropping his blade with eagerness at the thought of aristocrats' throats; the 'tricoteuses' beneath the guillotine, counting off heads with busily-clicking needles; and the instants of screen time that establish each of the 'aristos' awaiting execution -- tiny, non-speaking parts -- as individuals in their own right.

The script is intelligent, succinct and sparkling with understatement. The actors' faces speak as eloquently in the pauses as in any silent drama. The black-and-white photography is sumptuous, from the lavish ballroom scenes to the grimy "Lion D'Or" in Boulogne. And Leslie Howard is endlessly watchable in an ever-changing portrayal of leashed strength in masquerade. The only caveats I'd make are concerning the soundtrack quality -- I suspect the prints I've heard have been damaged -- and the final brief epilogue scene, which despite the gentle wordplay falls, to me, a little flat. In all other respects this would be the "Scarlet Pimpernel" I'd recommend: every time.


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