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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
Winston Churchill showed this movie to officers and other guests on board the battleship Prince of Wales in August 1941 as the ship sped across the North Atlantic en route to Churchill's historic meeting with Franklin Roosevelt in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, culminating in the Atlantic Charter. See more »
Although Professor Smith's first name is Horatio, in several scenes he is called Horace, by his brother, and others.
Horace would be correct for someone called Horatio, that most famous one called Nelson, was as a child called Horace, this is well documented. See more »
Professor Horatio Smith:
A dead man. Would you like to see him? There we are. Buried with all his weapons, you see, presumably, in the belief that there might be a rearmament program in the hereafter, eh, Mr. Spencer? An ancient Teuton. "Alas poor Yorick, get thee to my lady's chamber, my dear general. Tell her that, though she paint an inch thick, to this favour must she come; make her laugh at that." The Earl of Oxford wrote that, you know.
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Opening credits: The tale we are about to unfold to you is a fantasy. None of its characters are living persons, but it is based on the exploits of a number of courageous men who were and are still risking their lives daily to aid those unfortunate people of many nationalities who are being persecuted and exterminated by the Nazis. To these champions of freedom this story is dedicated. See more »
Quiet academic hero, World War II version of Scarlet Pimpernel
Leslie Howard starred during his younger years in the original 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the story of an Englishman named Sir Percival Blakeney, who rescues aristocrats during the French Revolution. However, I actually preferred this World War II version, Pimpernel Smith, to both the original Scarlet Pimpernel and its 1982 remake, starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour.
This movie, set in pre war 1939, tells the story of the unassuming British Professor Horatio Smith, who takes a group of his students on an archaeological dig in Nazi Germany. These students, much to their amazement, discover that this dig is merely a front for their professor's true purpose, which is to rescue intellectuals, artists, & other enemies of the Third Reich and arrange for their safe passage out of Germany.
Howard is perfect as the absent minded, socially inept, and rather eccentric professor. Also, while in Germany, the group encounters a beautiful woman, Ludmilla, who is being forced to act as a Gestapo agent, hoping to obtain the release of her father whom the Nazis are holding as prisoner. This enhances Professor Smith's character development and adds romance & some tender moments to the tale. Hitherto the only woman in the professor's life has been a statue of Aphrodite in his college campus back in England!
The Nazis in this movie are portrayed essentially as idiots, totally lacking any sense of humour. Professor Smith, on the other hand, is constantly witty. The very purpose of his archaeological dig, to determine whether or not an Ayran civilization actually existed in Germany, of course totally mocks the entire Master Race nonsense of the Third Reich, though the Nazis here are far too dumb to perceive the ridicule. In fact, the apparently bumbling (but actually very clever) Smith is able to snatch his intellectuals right out from under these Nazis' noses! By the way, you'll always think of this movie whenever you chance to hear the tune 'Tavern in the Town'.
The movie has less swashbuckling derring do than The Scarlet Pimpernel, but does boast an engrossing and suspenseful plot, a cat & mouse game with some tense moments. However, the film's main asset, in my opinion, is its message that quiet, unassuming people can make unlikely heroes, not just the obvious tough guy superheroes, and can accomplish great if unheralded deeds. Also, people may sometimes be other than what they appear!
It's always interesting to watch these old war movies. The original British audience back in 1941 would have been in the darkest wartime months and of course not have realized the eventual outcome of World War II. This hopeful & uplifting tale must have cheered them up. I was also interested to note that Howard himself was killed when his plane was shot down by Germans, during a flight returning home from what may have been a spy mission to Lisbon.
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