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Paris is Burning! Under the Iron Fist of Robespierre hundreds are executed, by the swift and bloodstained guillotine. Through these acts of injustice a new heroism is born - The League of The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Barry K. Barnes,
It is mid-1939 and both Germany and England are preparing for an inevitable conflict. Professor Horatio Smith, an effete academic, asks his students to come with him to the continent to engage in an archaeological dig. When his students discover that the professor is the man responsible for smuggling a number of enemies of the Nazi state out of Germany, they enthusiastically join him in his fight. But things are complicated when one of his students brings a mysterious woman into their circle, a woman who is secretly working for the Gestapo. Written by
Returning to England before the war, Leslie Howard was a towering figure in the British government's anti-Nazi propaganda policy, making patriotic radio broadcasts and movies that lifted the spirits of the British people in the dark days of the war. One such film was Pimpernel Smith in which Howard plays Archeology Professor Horatio Smith who doubles as a British spy, undertaking to help refugees escape from the Gestapo. Based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy and modeled after the 1934 film of the same name, Pimpernel Smith is said to have influenced Raoul Wallenberg, known for his heroism in rescuing Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.
In the film, Professor Smith takes six students with him on an archaeological dig in Germany, presumably to find out whether or not there was an early Aryan civilization in Germany. Smith tries to convince Gestapo leader General Von Graum (Francis L. Sullivan) that he is just a learned professor, reading from The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and telling him his theory that William Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford. Imagine that! The Professor's wit and wisdom are no match for the humorless Nazis and they seem to fall for each of the professor's tricks. Unfortunately, the Nazis are depicted not as mass murderers but only as bumbling clowns who speak English as well as Winston Churchill.
When Smith is wounded, the students catch on to what he is up to and agree to help him in his attempts to secure the release of pianist Sidimir Koslowski (Peter Gawthorne). In his clandestine cat and mouse game, he meets Koslowski's daughter Ludmilla (Mary Morris) who is working for the Nazis in order to save her father and the two form a bond. Howard's role as Professor Smith is one of his most acclaimed in a career that included roles as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind and Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel. He had a great sense of style and screen presence and his death in 1943 on what was most likely an intelligence gathering mission for the British left the film industry bereft of one of its brightest stars.
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