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The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

A noblewoman discovers her husband is The Scarlet Pimpernel, a vigilante who rescues aristocrats from the blade of the guillotine.

Director:

Harold Young

Writers:

Baroness Emmuska Orczy (by) (as The Baroness Orczy), Lajos Biró (scenario, continuity & dialogue) (as Lajos Biro) | 3 more credits »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Leslie Howard ... Sir Percy Blakeney
Merle Oberon ... Lady Blakeney
Raymond Massey ... Chauvelin
Nigel Bruce ... The Prince of Wales
Bramwell Fletcher ... The Priest
Anthony Bushell ... Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
Joan Gardner ... Suzanne de Tournay
Walter Rilla ... Armand St. Just
Mabel Terry-Lewis ... Countess de Tournay
O.B. Clarence O.B. Clarence ... Count de Tournay
Ernest Milton Ernest Milton ... Robespierre
Edmund Breon ... Col. Winterbottom
Melville Cooper ... Romney
Gibb McLaughlin ... The Barber
Morland Graham Morland Graham ... Treadle (the tailor) (as Moreland Graham)
Edit

Storyline

London fop Percy Blakeney is also secretly the Scarlet Pimpernel who, in a variety of disguises, makes repeated daring trips to France to save aristocrats from Madame Guillotine. His unknowing wife is also French, and she finds that her brother has been arrested by the Republic to try and get her to find out who "that damned elusive Pimpernel" really is. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Scarlet Pimpernel. Who Was He... What Was His Strange Power?

Genres:

Adventure | Drama

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English | French

Release Date:

7 February 1935 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Die scharlachrote Blume See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

London Film Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Wide Range Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The original director, Rowland Brown, was fired on his first day at work. See more »

Goofs

Blakeney and the Prince of Wales are seen at a boxing match in which the combatants are in a structure similar to a modern 'square' ring. This form of the ring was not used until around 1838. See more »

Quotes

Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!
See more »

Connections

Followed by The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937) See more »

Soundtracks

The Comical Fellow
(uncredited)
Traditional
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Script and star make a close-to-perfect 'Pimpernel'
14 February 2005 | by Igenlode WordsmithSee all my reviews

To date, I've seen three "Scarlet Pimpernels" from three different eras, but the more I see this one, the more I appreciate it for the economical little masterpiece that it is. Three years ago, when I reviewed Powell & Pressburger's "Elusive Pimpernel", I dismissed its predecessor as a 'dated period piece' remarkable only for Leslie Howard's performance; watching it again now I'd hedge no bets in saying that it excels above its successor in almost every way.

From the very beginning, long before the hero appears, it's evident that we are in for a treat. The reason? Above all, the script.

Necessary establishing information -- the Pimpernel's name and fame, the Revolution, the state of the Blakeneys' marriage -- is conveyed quickly and naturally in a few pertinent phrases here and there, without any need for static exposition. A vein of wry humour runs through almost every scene, from the Prince's opening conviction that all the excesses of the Terror can be explained away by Johnny Foreigner's lack of sporting spirit -- "why, if it weren't for fox-hunting and pheasant-shooting, we might be cruel too!" -- to Sir Percy's sleepy quip when his wife implores him to rise above trivialities for once ("Can't rise above anything longer than three syllables, m'dear -- never could") and the cheerful double meaning of his disguised assurances to a Frenchman reviling 'perfidious Albion': ''It won't take *us* long to cross the Channel, eh boys?'' But wordplay is also used to poignant effect, as when he tells Marguerite, estranged from her husband but bedazzled by the romantic image of the unknown Scarlet Pimpernel, "For all you know, he's a married man deeply in love with his wife..."

If the script is witty, humane and on occasion impassioned, it owes a great deal also to the nuanced delivery of the cast. Nigel Bruce far outshines his bumbling Watson of later years in the pat of the pompous and preening but not entirely stupid Prince-Regent-to-be; Raymond Massey's Chauvelin is intelligent as well as menacing, despite an accent that strays periodically and disconcertingly across the Atlantic from France, plus the necessary abridgement of the plot for cinematic purposes; Merle Oberon, no raving beauty to today's taste, provides all the resourcefulness and heartbreak one could ask for, playing proud, neglected Marguerite -- one can easily credit her as Orczy's 'cleverest woman in Europe'.

But casting Leslie Howard in the dual title role was a simple stroke of genius. His tall figure and bony beak of a face serve perfectly both as the languid Sir Percy, setting off a series of immaculately-fitting 'unmentionables', and as the commanding, quick-thinking Pimpernel; and the scene in which he drops from one persona to the other almost in mid-sentence upon the entry of the irate Colonel Winterbottom is a joy to watch. He is absolutely convincing as the "spineless, brainless and useless" fop, and yet he can shade intelligence and feeling back into his features at the drop of a hat in unconcealed moments that never let the audience forget the man behind the mask. His scenes with Merle Oberon as Marguerite are joint masterpieces of brittle drawing-room comedy with an undertow of unhappiness that convinces us of the former passion between them, alluded to but never shown.

Blakeney, of course, gets all the best lines, and Leslie Howard makes the most of them, mocking with exquisite insolence in his guise as licensed fool. But perhaps the third factor that really makes this film is the richness of those background moments when the starring characters are not there. The secure pomp of England epitomised in the opening shots of the changing of the guard; the revolutionary barber stropping his blade with eagerness at the thought of aristocrats' throats; the 'tricoteuses' beneath the guillotine, counting off heads with busily-clicking needles; and the instants of screen time that establish each of the 'aristos' awaiting execution -- tiny, non-speaking parts -- as individuals in their own right.

The script is intelligent, succinct and sparkling with understatement. The actors' faces speak as eloquently in the pauses as in any silent drama. The black-and-white photography is sumptuous, from the lavish ballroom scenes to the grimy "Lion D'Or" in Boulogne. And Leslie Howard is endlessly watchable in an ever-changing portrayal of leashed strength in masquerade. The only caveats I'd make are concerning the soundtrack quality -- I suspect the prints I've heard have been damaged -- and the final brief epilogue scene, which despite the gentle wordplay falls, to me, a little flat. In all other respects this would be the "Scarlet Pimpernel" I'd recommend: every time.


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