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 ... See full summary »
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A. Edward Sutherland
The priceless Blue Water sapphire is coveted by the heirs of Sir Hector Geste - his new wife, Flavia; his daughter, Isabel; and his adopted twin sons, heroic Beau and pathetic Digby. When ... See full summary »
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 <email@example.com>
Percy Blakeney refers to one of the boxers as "Mendoza", a reference to Daniel Mendoza, the 18th-century British Jew who revolutionized boxing. Mendoza was the heavyweight champion of England (1792-5), despite being a middleweight. See more »
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 »
Open up your sleeves, man. Let your ruffles take the air. Let them flow. Let them ripple.
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Leslie Howard probably was the first British stage star who became a genuine Hollywood star as well. We tend to think of Ronald Colman, his elegant contemporary, but Colman never had the great stage career Howard did, and never made films in England - he worked (for Samuel Goldwyn mostly) in Hollywood. Howard conquered English cinema, most notably in PYGMALION (which he co-directed) and this film. His ability to play a romantic figure like Percy Blakeney and a Shavian master character like Henry Higgins shows his amazing talent. By 1935 he had been in several films opposite Frederic March and Norma Shearer (SMILIN' THROUGH), Mary Pickford (SECRETS), Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart (THE PETRIFIED FOREST), Davis and Olivia de Haviland (IT'S LOVE I'M AFTER), and Bogart and Joan Blondell (STAND-BY). He continued in this manner, eventually being in Ingrid Bergman's first American movie (INTERMEZZO), and in GONE WITH THE WIND as Ashley. For an actor who died tragically prematurely in World War II, Howard left an impressive film record.
Sir Percy Blakeney must have become a favorite role to Howard. He was to make it the basis for a final spy comedy-thriller (his last role) PIMPERNELL SMITH, bringing the character up-to-date (taking on the Nazis led by Francis Sullivan as a "Goering" clone). But the original is the better film, as there is a real attempt to capture the spirit of the 1790s, the stirrings of Regency England. The scenery looks a little forced, but it is done consciously to capture the London of 1793.
There are slightly jarring effects (inevitable in any historical movie). Nigel Bruce captures the triviality of the Prince of Wales (the future George IV), although he does strike the proper note in explaining the difficulties of attempting to rescue French political prisoners and aristocrats. But his Scottish burr is noticeable. Merle Oberon does well as the heroine, cruelly twisted into helping the French (via the detestable Chauvin, played by Raymond Massey) into betraying aristocrats to the guilloutine. Her willingness to spy for the Frenchman based on his threatening to execute her brother for treason. Only later does she accidentally realize that her noodle-headed husband is the man she is ultimately forced into betraying.
Massey played mostly villains at this point in his career, except in THINGS TO COME. However, he was to soon make a "favorable" transition, by starring on stage and in the film of ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS. His turn as the psychotic John Brown in SANTE FE TRAIL also changed his movie personae - as he shows that his psychosis is based on a genuine desire to end slavery, as opposed to the opportunistic greed of his betrayer Van Heflin. Here his Chauvin is pompous and deadly. Not a nice character at all. But he has moments to shine: When he hears Blakeney's idiotic verses about the Pimpernell, he is doing a quiet slow burn and says, "I particularly like that use of the term "Frenchies"!". When he hears Oberon bemoaning the deaths her testimony (which he forced her to give) caused in the French courts, he suddenly makes a comment too often forgotten in movies about the French Revolution: "Why is it that everyone is always bemoaning the fate of the poor aristocrats? Don't people ever recall what they did to us?!" Even Chauvin and Robespierre had some points to bring up.
Howard's gleeful performance is the anchor for it all. As clever and watchful a spy as one imagines, instantly dropping the seriousness to play the fool. Look at how he keeps bringing up the proper tying of cravats, or his miscalling the apoplectic Colonel Winterbottom "Ramsbottom". Wonderful stuff Sir Percy. Wonderful movie still.
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