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As part of a birthday celebration of the late Sir Alec, TCM
this seldom shown character study in between two hilarious Guinness
"Hotel Paradiso" and "All at Sea." In combination with "The Malta Story,"
"Scapegoat" allowed Guiness to indulge both his more serious dramatic
inclinations as well as play another double role, something for which he
a master. His "Kind Hearts and Coronets" is the tour de force of this
of multiple identities.
This adaptation of Du Maurier's novel has also the advantage of five strong female leads, three of them, Bette Davis, Irene Worth and Pamela Brown, known in their own right for their dramatic achievement. Actually, all of the supporting roles are excellently cast, even to the faithful manservant, Gaston, and especially the count's precocious and very articulate daughter.
Bette Davis, as the matriarch, sets the tone for neurotic tyranny in this family; but it is a role that could have been less of a caricature if Dame Wendy Hiller had played it instead (See Dame Wendy in "Murder on the Orient Express" for the epitome of "noblesse oblige.") In the role of the wife, Irene Worth gains some of our sympathy as the high-strung and beautiful, sensitive but persecuted spouse unable to give the count a male heir. Her mobile and expressive face is a perfect foil to Guiness's stoic reserve.
As the count's sister, Pamela Brown's natural reticence and grave air, her huge luminous eyes and rich voice (which can be savored in an earlier role in "I Know Where I'm going") made her a likely choice in the role of a sibling, however, the differences she shares with her brother are not resolved nor explained, neither is her motivation for being so antagonistic toward him. In other words, through the eliptical, somewhat ambiguous dialogue, there is a history or subtext of sibling rivalry of which we must remain ignorant. (Perhaps the novel delineated this more clearly.)
Despite the strong and balanced cast, I found the ending a surprise and a slight disappointment. For me it failed to resolve Guiness's relationship with the other females save one, his lover. Therefore, despite the putative attempt to plumb his character, it remained an identity problem hardly more than skin deep. Still, all in all, it is a fascinating attempt and a rare chance to see Guinness in a noncombative drama with strong females, somewhat like a diamond set among a ruby, emerald and pearl.
Of four stars, definitely a strong three*** for the excellent cast.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We've seen it done a hundred times - twins switching identities - but
somehow, having Alec Guinness as the twins makes The Scapegoat a cut
above the other switch films. Guinness, of course, played multiple
roles with great success in the fantastic Kind Hearts and Coronets, so
twins for him must have seemed a cinch. In Kind Hearts, he had the
benefit of a variety of disguises and voices. In this film, he had to
create two completely different characters who look exactly alike. Of
course he does so magnificently.
This isn't the most successful DuMaurier adaptation - that honor has to go to Rebecca, in my book, but The Scapegoat has a strong cast - Guinness, Bette Davis, Irene Worth, Pamela Brown, and the lovely Nicole Maurey. The atmosphere of this black and white film is somewhat depressing, given the gargantuan, ugly home the family resides in - but it is certainly the right mood for what Guinness inherits when his double disappears. Bette Davis is good, if on the grand guignol side. Guinness does so much with just a gesture, her histrionics seem out of place. All in all, it's a good film - it's very hard to go wrong when Alec Guinness is involved.
I was lucky enough to see this movie during a TCM Bette Davis Marathon. Although her part is relatively small, I was thrilled to see Sir Alec Guinness in a very unusual story. He encounters a man that is for all purposes identical to him. They drink, go to his apartment, and in the morning one is gone leaving the other one to fill in his shoes at home. At first of course he protests- saying he is John Barrat. But the Count has made sure that no one will listen by telegraphing his doctor that he's been having delusions that he's someone else. Being a man that really had no one that cared about him to begin with, he decides to go on with the charade. The plot thickens from there on. Good story & a fine supporting cast make this an interesting murder mystery. Enjoy it if you can find it. (TCM is short for Turner Classic Movies cable station.) It is worth note that this story is by the same author of Hitchcock's Rebecca- another murder mystery worth viewing & much easier to find.
Provincial University professor from England chances to meet his diabolical, selfish twin while on vacation in Paris. Daphne Du Maurier's novel gets a highly polished screen-treatment, with star Alec Guinness very fine in the dual role, the split-screen photography and editing pulled off with skill. After being tricked into assuming the French nobleman's eccentric life, the teacher finds himself settling well into this new role as a business tycoon and family man--until his glinty-eyed look-alike returns. Bette Davis has a small but important, amusing role as a dowager Countess, and there's also a wreck of a wife, a wise little girl, a loyal chauffeur, and an Italian mistress. Gore Vidal worked on the adaptation, and the literate script is absorbing yet constricting for the teacher-character (he can only attempt to explain so much without throwing the whole plot off-course). There's a lot of talk in the early stages that the Count is delusional and perhaps schizophrenic, all of which is quickly dropped once the teacher assumes his life. Still, it's a smartly-planned movie, one without hysterics or false dramatics. Guinness seems a bit uncomfortable at times, though this may have been intentional and is acceptable behavior here. A very entertaining film with some weak or disappointing passages, but just as many adept ones and a satisfying finish. *** from ****
Alec Guinness once again plays a dual role. In this one, his two
personas are that of a wicked French count and a benign Englishman.
Despite some interesting supporting cast, including a very Baby Janeish
Bette Davis, the story seems somehow only half told, and the two
Guinness characters remain frustratingly underdeveloped. We sense a
conflict between good and evil, but we are never made to understand why
this is nor how it came about. The ending is frustrating in the
I decided to write this primarily to point out the appearance of Donald Pleasence as a desk clerk. Up till now, he remains uncredited.
All of this said, I would still recommend watching this oddity the next time it happens to come around. It is Alec Guinness, afterall.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alec Guinness is in top form here, playing dual roles: one a jaded,
aimless teacher on holiday in Paris from GB (Barratt), the other an
oily, manipulative French count (De Gue). His performance in both roles
is understated; one can imagine that in preparation for this film he
read du Maurier's book and easily slipped into character, as he did for
so many of his other films. One can feel his delight at meeting his
exact double in a Parisian bar, and he laughs and gets loaded in what
must be the first time in years. He wakes up the next morning in a
hotel room, where he is mistaken for his guest.
At first he's annoyed and protests vehemently, even when driven all the way out to his twin's country château. Everyone thinks he's gone over the edge. Given a few days he makes a game of the whole thing, wondering how long he can fool everyone before he's found out. In a few weeks he has grown accustomed to his new life, develops a fondness for his "wife" and "child", and brings a social conscience to the family by insisting that a failing company remain open, so that dozens of people can keep their jobs. It's a life-changing transformation not just for the family but for Barratt, who realizes he has finally found what he's looking for.
De Gue's dark motives are revealed later when he needs an alibi, and Barratt realizes he has been a patsy.
This movie is kind of stiff and formal, but on the other hand the actors are playing people who probably act like that all the time. Bette Davis, in a weird cameo role, injects a dose of much-needed bitchiness as De Gue's mother, the drug-addicted matriarch of the family. Robert Osborne on TCM said that Davis hated working with Guinness, well big surprise there, was there anyone that she loved working with?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the book years before I saw this on TCM; the book is a typical Daphne duMaurier shaggy dog story with plenty of intrigue but no satisfactory resolution. The film is faithful to the book in that way, and it might have been far more effective to dispense with the (albeit well done) melodramatic dual character scene at the end and resolve it another, more ambiguous way. There's plenty in The Scapegoat of interest otherwise; a sprawling château to die for, an amazing car, supporting stiff-upper-lip Brit cast pretending to be Franch aristos pitching the scenery-chewing just right, and Bette Davis, presumably in the days she couldn't get arrested in the States, being as John/Jacques says, 'sulphurous'. If you catch it, try to work out whether all the cars are (UK-style) right-hand drive or not. BTW, my EX father-in-law George Lloyd was the man who made the caged-bird musical box. A real shame about the 'with one bound, he was free' ending.
A lesser nobility finds an ersatz university professor that looks like
his identical double and decides to have him take his place and devises
a scheme to do it. The two are of course both played by Alec Guinness.
He is marvelous in his performance but that isn't enough.
At the end the nobility came back wanting to take the place of his "scapegoat" after the scapegoat had improved things. You have to discover the end for yourself. After all, it is the only part of this dreary movie that I liked.
Do you want the best of Guinness? Then watch his performances in Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Murder by Death, and Star Wars. He is just as much in his peak here in this movie as he is in the other movies but this movie falls flat by comparison.
If you want to see the best of dual personalities watch Blake Edwards (creator of the Pink Panther series) "The Great Race." Jack Lemmon does such a wonderful job of playing both Professor Fate and Crown Prince Frederic Hoepnick that even Tony Curts shows his admiration for Jack Lemmon's skills. It wasn't called for in the script. It was just the honest emotions of Tony Curtis as he marveled at the performance of Jack Lemmon and his shift from one personality to the other. Both "The Scapegoat" and "The Great Race" require that you suspend your disbelief. It is just that in "The Great Race" it takes over very fast on its own. Relax and enjoy it. The Scapegoat? I never got there. I had this uneasy feeling all the way through that I was being given shoddy goods by the film-flam man.
Now when I know these other magnificent performances how do you think I will feel for this movie after watching them? I am sorry, but Gore Vidal's attempts to smooth over the erratic direction didn't cut it. The movie is lucky to get a 5 and got that only because of Guinness performance.
Based on a Daphne du Maurier source-text, THE SCAPEGOAT is very much in the tradition established by Hamer's more famous earlier film KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949), also starring Guinness. In this film Guinness plays two roles; that of a mild-mannered university teacher whose identity is stolen by a rakish French aristocrat. The university teacher takes over the aristocrat's life, and proves rather good at it; so much so that he does not want to recover his old life when the aristocrat asks him to. The climax is a violent one. Hamer's film, although set in France, takes a particularly English approach to death; the performances are quietly understated, and the atmosphere of menace restrained. Bette Davis seems rather out of place in a cameo role as the aristocrat's mother; her grande dame performance, complete with rolling New England vowels, contrasts starkly with that of Guinness. The ending is a bit peremptory, betraying the fact that THE SCAPEGOAT was not without its production difficulties, especially when scriptwriter Gore Vidal had to deal with an increasingly alcoholic director. Nonetheless THE SCAPEGOAT is definitely worth a view, if only for Guinness' versatility as an actor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Way before Peter Sellers came along to sweep the title of Britian's
actor who completely disappeared into each character he played, Sir
Alec Guennis was there doing just that. Whether as the lovable rogue
Fagin in David Lean's masterpiece version of "Oliver Twist" or the
subtle villain of "The Lady Killers", Guennis could almost out-do Lon
Chaney Sr. when it came to the art of creating a character beyond his
physical appearance with even little make-up to create a
characterization. Decades before his comical butler in "Murder By
Death" ("As you can see, I can see", he chuckles in that Neil Simon
classic) or guiding the heroes of "Star Wars", Guennis was stunning
audiences and critics alike with each performance he gave.
This version of the novel by Daphne DuMaurier goes down familiar territory in the tale of a man assuming the life of another and only getting into trouble with the results of those actions. Here, the good man is an unwilling participant, while the bad man remains mostly in the background, waiting like a spider to strike so he can swallow the fly. In this case, the intended fly is his fragile wife (Pamela Brown) while "bad Guennis" wants to obviously frame "good Guennis" for her murder. Thrown into the midst is a mistress, "bad Guennis's" two children, and his psychotic bed-ridden mama, played as if an older Fanny Skeffington by Bette Davis. Unlike other Du Maurier mysteries successfully done on screen (most notably "Rebecca" and "My Cousin Rachel"), "The Scapegoat" is plagued with a confusing narrative. Guennis is excellent, and fortunately he is on screen for most of the film, so this does sustain interest. But the legendary Bette isn't at her best here, and screams most of her lines as if preparing to kick Joan Crawford in "Baby Jane". She only has three scenes (two of them while in bed) so there are only a few opportunities to feel sorry for her. As an acting exercise for Guennis, this is worth watching, but that is the only positive statement I can muster concerning this misfire.
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