Friday, July 13, 2012

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

As one who counts herself as a fan of The Scarlet Pimpernel (TSP) I've long been interested in seeing other film adaptations besides the amazing 1982 version. I had once tried The Scarlet Pimpernel (1999) but gave up when I found some of the beginning scenes were pretty questionable, or rather really needed to be fast forwarded through. :(
Recently I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) available for viewing on YouTube and jumped at the opportunity to see what Sir Percy would look like in black & white!

For this review I can only compare with the 1982 version because I haven't read any of the books yet. As soon as I am able to unpack more of my books I look forward to reading it!

Story: During the French Revolution, a mysterious English nobleman known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel (a humble wayside flower), snatches French aristocrats from the jaws of the guillotine, while posing as the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney in society. Percy is married to the beautiful actress Marguerite St. Just, but their love has cooled as he suspects her of being involved with his rivals Chauvelin and Robespierre, and she sees little of the gentleman she married. Will Chauvelin discover Sir Percy's secret identity before he has time to rescue Marguerite's loved ones?

Scenes: Mostly staged scenes but richly decorated. The outdoor scenes are fairly few and some of the chase scenes are harder to see. For being made only seven years after "talkies" premiered this was a very ambitious film for it's time.

Music: Fairly melodramatic but there were a few lighter themes too. Overall the music wasn't that memorable to me.

Costumes: Gorgeous Georgian fashions! I love the sleeves on the greatcoats of the gentlemen and their hats. Marguerite's dresses and hats are very pretty with many elegant details. Sir Percy's outfits, though a little straight-laced at time, are quite what you'd expect for his fashionable fop character. And the cravats while not as to-die-for as the TSP 1982, they are excellent! And The Scarlet Pimpernel's despises were quite as clever as those of the 1982 version - the priest outfit and the old hag costume with her pipe and plague were very brilliantly done.

Actors In Their Roles:

  • Leslie Howard as Sir Percy Blakeney - If I had to pick a second favorite Sir Percy after the awesome Anthony Andrews then Leslie Howard would have to be it. I didn't expect to like him in the role very much but apart from his rather long pointed nose I actually found very little to criticize. I found myself giggling quite profusely at his pompous speeches and idle remarks, and his critique of the Prince of Wales' coat is just hilarious! I found he kept the film very entertaining but still was as heroic as Sir Percy should be. 
  • Merle Oberon as Marguerite St. Just Blakeney - We first meet Marguerite when she has been married to Sir Percy for a while and is growing tired of his apparent foolishness. Ms. Oberon brought a great deal of beauty, natural sweetness and a bit of spirit as Marguerite and though her pained looks are rather dramatic it's still easy to feel for her when Sir Percy fails to live up to her expectations. But oh her look when she finally figures out Sir Percy really is a hero! I loved that look!  
  • Raymond Massey as Chauvelin - I couldn't quite decide what to think about Mr. Massey's Chauvelin. He was dressed quite finely most of the time which gave Sir Percy very little to criticize and though he did threaten Marguerite into helping him capture The Scarlet Pimpernel he wasn't really as evil as he could have been. Also I found myself listening to him and trying to determine whether his accent was supposed to be French, Russian or British - it seems the actor was actually a Canadian! I was particularly interested in Raymond Massey because he was the father of talented period drama actress Anna Massey.
  • Nigel Bruce as Prince of Wales - He was slightly familiar to me from other classic films and I found him quite funny in this role.
  • Other Characters - The other actors in this film really didn't stick out to me that much. I was quite disappointed that the members of The Scarlet Pimpernel's League weren't really that prominent, in fact I can't really remember any other names that Armand St. Just being mentioned (is he in The League?). Suzanne de Tournay and her family are rescued toward the beginning and are seen later on in the film and she was quite sweet. I remember there was one gentleman who seemed to like Suzanne but his name wasn't mentioned more than once so I can't remember it at all. 

My Thoughts: When I began watching this I expected to be quite bored and though there were a few slower parts it was actually quite entertaining! Having recently read Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities I was quite amused to find they included a group of knitting ladies at the guillotine scenes and a scene in a tavern where the proprietor uses the phrase "Eh Jacques?" I'm not sure if these things are significant to TSP books or just common scenes from the French Revolution but they reminded me of Two Cities right away.
There were a few disappointing things such as Sir Percy and Marguerite are already married so we don't get to see their romance, there is no rescue of the Dauphin (is that in another book perhaps?), the end scene with Sir Percy and Chauvelin in the library wasn't quite as clever as the 1982 version and there was no exciting sword fighting at the end. But despite these slightly crushing disappointments there are still some very funny scenes, an exciting story, heroic deeds are done and Sir Percy sails off into the sunset with his lady fair. And at the heart of the film there is still Sir Percy with his witty remarks and gallant deeds and that is what really made this movie highly entertaining and very lovely!

My Recommendations: I highly recommend The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) to any and all who count themselves in The League! Sir Percy's scenes are not to be missed!
I would also recommend this film to fans of classic black & white films because it's just a fun film in general. It is not rated and is completely safe for family viewing, though it may be a bit boring for young viewers.

Have you seen The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
What did you think of Leslie Howard as Sir Percy?


Miss Melody Muffin said...

I have seen this movie and loved it!! I agree it is second only to the 1982 film.

Miss Dashwood said...

Hmmm... I might try this! Nothing, but nothing can beat 1982, but I'd like to see another take on the story. From what I've heard, this one is actually closer to the original book. See, the 1982 film is adapted from both the original TSP and also El Dorado, another book in the series. The dauphin's rescue takes place in El Dorado, and--horror of horrors-- the amazingly epic swordfight doesn't take place in the books at all! :(

I'd highly recommend reading the books, though. Obviously you'd want to start with the first one :) and then a good one to read next would be The Elusive Pimpernel, followed by El Dorado. ED is, IMHO, the best, but you'll understand it better if you read TSP and TEP first.

Oh, and was there a Chauvelin-and-Marguerite relationship in this movie? Because that wasn't in the book, either... in the book, he's about thirty years older than she is. :P

Rachel Olivia said...

I saw this, but the D.V.D. it was on was such terrible quality I had difficulty making out a great deal of it. Anthony Andrews is the best, but he might've taken his inspiration from Leslie Howard since they spoke with a similar "foppish" accent.
BTW, I love your header.

Ella said...

This looks good!
Have you wacted the 40's Phantom of the Opera(I know,it's completely unrelated to the post:)

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

Miss Dashwood,
I think you really would like it! The film does move a bit slow and you might find Marguerite a bit annoying but Leslie Howard is definitely an entertaining AA Sir Percy impersonator! :) No, I don't really remember there being a Chauvelin-and-Marguerite relationship in this movie. I do remember them saying that Marguerite had been in prison though which surprised me quite a bit. Is that true?
Thanks for explaining the books, I have the first one so I read the first chapter and can't wait to read more!

No I haven't seen the 40's Phantom of the Opera. Would you recommend it?

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