The only element this film lacks is 'star quality', other than that, it's a very worthy sequel to the 1934 'Scarlet Pimpernel'. The story is based upon Orczy's 'The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel', with elements of 'Elusive' (Marguerite's arrest and Percy's escape) and even 'Sir Percy Hits Back' (Chauvelin's fate) added to make the action flow better on film. Barry K. Barnes, despite not being as fair or famous as Howard, makes for a passable fop (sounding like Leslie 'Ding Dong!' Phillips with a speech impediment: "Stap me, Senorita, don't dwag me into it!"), a revered leader of the League, and a truly devoted and romantic husband. In fact, this film is probably more in the spirit of Orczy's books than any other, with the characters portrayed nearly exactly as you would find them written; there is a great deal of heart and natural charm in the sequel, which I always find lacking in the Howard/Oberon version. Barnes does not have the commanding screen presence of his predecessor, and as such is sometimes lost amongst the sea of League faces, but he is far more believable as the 'husband in love with his own wife' and as a friend to nineteen brave men. Sophie Stewart is similarly indistinctive as Marguerite, but I think she brings more to the role than Oberon: at once 'the sweetest woman in France', naive and easily lead into danger, and a brave and noble wife, willing to sacrifice her own life for that of her husband's, when she needs to be strong. Diminutive and bright-eyed, Stewart is endearing as a rather more innocent Lady Blakeney. Francis Lister plays a diplomatic and reserved Chauvelin, who fears for his own life as the Terror reaches its peak and Robespierre hunts out 'the men at his elbow', traitors amongst his own supporters. The discredited agent parries words with the dictator, and enlists Theresia Cabarrus, lover of Tallien (a young James Mason, given a rousing speech at the end of a minor role), in a final bid to destroy the Pimpernel. Margaretta Scott is formidable and intelligent as the Spanish double agent who is introduced to Sir Percy and Marguerite as an actress seeking the protection of the English court. Marguerite is of course immediately taken in, Sir Percy is naturally more wary of her motives.
There is some recycled footage (as well as the odd recycled actor), but ultimately this film stands alone from its more well-known and oft-shown stablemate. The neat dialogue flows better, without the heavy-handed patriotism injected into the original story (strange, with World War Two looming even closer); fiction is supported by historical details from the eighteenth century (the popularity of cricket, dancing the cotillion, songs such as 'Aupres De Ma Blonde' and the rousing toast 'Here's a Health unto His Majesty'), which is surely a novelty for such an early film; there is more League action (and three members are actually given names from the book!), as well as more scenes of friendship between Sir Percy and his band of men; plus some excellent disguises (the deaf colonel had me in stitches: "Grilled trout?", "Yes, all right, I'll have half a bottle"). All in all, there is no reason not to watch this compact, entertaining little film, especially now that it's available on DVD, and I consider it a definite must for all fans of the Pimpernel.
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