A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, the French Revolution's greatest enemy, first came to life in a 1903 play by the Baroness Orczy and in her subsequent, and almost unreadable, 1905 novel. He was an immediate favorite with both the British & American public and found his finest translation to screen in this lavish movie from Sir Alexander Korda's London Films.
It's interesting that the film actually became so popular, because there is very little action in it. It begins with an exciting rescue & escape from dangerous Paris, but then it settles in for lengthy dialogues in English parlors and ballrooms. Even the conclusion, with its confrontation between hero and villain, is civilized and bloodless. The bulk of the story is actually a melodrama enacted principally by a trio of characters: an English husband who believes his Parisian wife has betrayed the Gallic nobility he so loves, she frets that he has lost every scintilla of masculinity, and the French serpent in their midst plots to destroy their entire Eden.
The reason the film clicks is because it is so very well written (celebrated American playwright Robert Sherwood worked on the script) and acted. Sensitive Leslie Howard is perfectly cast as courageous Sir Percy Blakeney, who must wear a double disguise, that of the Pimpernel to fool the French, and as a complete aristocratic ass to dupe his wife, Marguerite. She is played by the exotic Merle Oberon; the script allows her to do little more than look frightened or confused, but she does both very nicely. Raymond Massey is properly wicked as the sneering Chauvelin, Revolutionary ambassador and master spy, who desperately desires to capture the Pimpernel.
In the large cast it's often a mite difficult to sort out who's who, but a few fine character actors particularly stand out: Nigel Bruce as a stout & pompous Prince of Wales, Bramwell Fletcher as a French priest aiding the Pimpernel, and Melville Cooper as George Romney, the celebrated portraitist, who has to endure a silly critique from Sir Percy.
The Baroness Emmuska Magdalena Rosalia Marie Josepha Barbara Orczy (1865-1947) was a most prolific author with a list of books almost as lengthy as her name. Those wishing to follow the further clashes between Sir Percy and Chauvelin may do so in the many sequels, now mostly quite obscure, which she penned over the next several decades: I Will Repay (1906), The Elusive Pimpernel (1908), El Dorado (1913), Lord Tony's Wife (1917), The League Of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1919), The Triumph Of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1922), Sir Percy Hits Back (1927), Adventures Of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1929), The Way Of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1933), The Scarlet Pimpernel Looks At The World (1933), Child Of The Revolution (1933), Sir Percy Leads The Band (1936) and Mam'zelle Guillotine (1940).
The scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) is a low spreading herb with a 5-peteled blossom that grows as a weed throughout Northern Europe. The flower closes at rain's approach and opens again with returning sunshine, hence giving rise to its being called 'the poor-man's weatherglass' or 'the shepherd's barometer.'
- Ron Oliver
- May 7, 2005