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France, 1803: 11 years after the Revolution, a royalist underground is led by a new 'Scarlet Pimpernel', the Purple Mask, who rescues nobles in distress and kidnaps Napoleon's officials for ransom, aided by the spy services of a group of lovely models headed by Laurette (really the Duc de Latour's daughter). But even she doesn't know the Purple Mask's real identity as foppish dancing master Rene... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
THE PURPLE MASK (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1955) **1/2
This is yet another vintage Hollywood costumed adventure romp, a "Scarlet Pimpernel" clone that proves to be a modest but lively swashbuckler with Tony Curtis cutting a dashing figure as the titular masked avenger (who, predictably, utilizes a foppish countenance as cover). Though awarding the film per se no stars at all, the late eminent British critic Leslie Halliwell nevertheless recommended Curtis' contribution here when denoting the more noteworthy genre exponents in his "Filmgoer's Companion" (an informative and vastly entertaining tome which I used to consume in my younger days but, having now been overtaken somewhat by up-to-date information which can be gathered more readily via the Internet, I do miss leafing through)!
Anyway, though the narrative pretty much follows the traditional pattern with The Purple Mask even taking time out for romance (with unknown but adequate Colleen Miller) amid his action-packed and danger-fraught exploits it's given a considerable boost by once again providing (as did BOTANY BAY : see my review elsewhere) a formidable antagonist for the hero in Dan O'Herlihy who, like him, is not above using deceptive cunning in carrying out his task and eventually engages Curtis in a fencing duel by the shadow of the guillotine! Also on hand in the villainous stakes are John Hoyt as the incompetent Chief Of Police, Gene Barry as a Captain Of The Guards (who is also conveniently enamored of the leading lady) and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, Robert Cornthwaite (best-known for playing the misguided scientist in Howard Hawks' THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD ) as Napoleon Bonaparte! Therefore, this was O'Herlihy's first on screen encounter with Napoleon since he would later also appear in the Russian epic WATERLOO (1971; with Rod Steiger); on the other hand, O'Herlihy had also just come from playing a monarch himself and an ally of Tony Curtis in their previous (and superior) collaboration, THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH (1954).
Incidentally, the script makes a passing but interesting reference to France's then-First Consul's own bid for power: while he seemed to side with the Revolutionaries, Napoleon secretly harbored a wish for Royalist restoration (which would eventually occur, albeit briefly, in 1804 a year after the events depicted in the film with himself as Emperor). Finally, THE PURPLE MASK along with another popular Universal swashbuckler, the Rock Hudson vehicle CAPTAIN LIGHTFOOT (1955), which I had tried to acquire recently but ended up with only 20 minutes of playable film! is conspicuous by its absence on DVD; consequently, I had to make do in this case with an edition culled from a panned-and-scanned TV screening which, bafflingly, ran for a mere 75 minutes: the movie's full-length is given in various sources as 82 (which, even making allowances for PAL speed-up, would still leave some 4 minutes unaccounted for!).
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