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The Scarlet Pimpernel

1934

London fop Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard) 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 (Merle Oberon) is also French, and she finds that her brother (Walter Rilla) has been arrested by the Republic to try and get her to find out who "that damned elusive Pimpernel" really is.



The Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1934 British adventure film directed by Harold Young (director) and starring Leslie Howard (actor), Merle Oberon, and Raymond Massey. Based on the classic adventure novel The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, the film is about an eighteenth-century English aristocrat who leads a double life, appearing as an effete aristocrat while engaged in an underground effort to free French nobles from Robespierre's Reign of Terror. The film was produced by Alexander Korda.

Plot

In 1792, at the bloody height of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, vengeful French mobs are outraged when again and again French aristocrats are saved from death by the audacious "Band of the Scarlet Pimpernel", a secret society of 20 English noblemen, "one to command, and nineteen to obey". Among the latest scheduled for execution are the Count de Tournay, former ambassador to Great Britain, and his family. However, one of the Scarlet Pimpernel's men visits them in prison disguised as a priest and gives them a message of hope. As the prisoners are being escorted to the cart to be taken to the guillotine, the guards take the count away; French leader Maximilien Robespierre wishes to question him further. The countess and her daughter are rescued and spirited away to England.
Back in Paris, Robespierre meets with Chauvelin, the republic's new ambassador to Britain, to discuss the problem of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Summoning the Count de Tournay, they offer him his life in return for information from his English contacts as to the Pimpernel's true identity. The Scarlet Pimpernel is Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English baronet and friend of the Prince of Wales. Sir Percy cultivates the image of a fop in order to throw off suspicion. His pose is so successful that not even his French wife Marguerite suspects the truth. Though the two are in love, Sir Percy no longer trusts his wife because of her past denunciation of the Marquis de St. Cyr, which led to the execution of the marquis and his family.
Through his network of spies, Chauvelin discovers that Armand St. Just, Marguerite's brother, is one of the Scarlet Pimpernel's agents. Chauvelin orders Armand's arrest, then uses the threat of his execution to force Marguerite into helping him discover the identity of the Pimpernel, who he knows will be an upcoming ball (dance). At the ball, Marguerite intercepts a message given to Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, a member of the Pimpernel's band, stating that the Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. She passes the information along to Chauvelin, who goes to the library to find only Percy, apparently asleep. While waiting, Chauvelin falls asleep; when he wakes up, he finds a message from the Pimpernel mocking him.
The next morning, Percy and Marguerite travel to their English country house. There, Marguerite breaks down and tells her husband of Armand's arrest and her deal with Chauvelin. Confronting her, Percy learns the truth behind the denunciation of the marquis; he had her imprisoned for consorting with his son. After the revolution freed her, she told her friend Chauvelin, who was the one who denounced them. Promising to use his influence at court on Armand's behalf, Percy leaves for London. Afterward, Marguerite notices a detail on a portrait of the 1st baronet hanging in the library – on his finger is a ring decorated by a Anagallis. Realizing that she has inadvertently betrayed her own husband, she rushes out of the room, only to be presented a letter from Chauvelin announcing that he had discovered the Pimpernel's true identity as well. Racing back to London, she warns Ffoulkes that Percy's life is in danger. Ffoulkes agrees to mobilise the band to warn Percy.

To lure Percy into his trap, Chauvelin has both Armand and the Count de Tournay transferred to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Despite the vigilance of Chauvelin's men, the Pimpernel frees the two men from prison through bribery. However, one of the prison guards tells Chauvelin that the Pimpernel will be at a certain tavern (the Lion d'Or) that evening. Marguerite goes there to warn Percy, only to be arrested by Chauvelin and his troops. Percy arrives at the appointed time and is met by a gloating Chauvelin. Percy distracts him long enough for Armand and the count to board the ship, but as he prepares to leave, Chauvelin announces that he has Marguerite in custody. Percy surrenders on the condition that she be freed. He is led away by soldiers to be shot by a waiting execution by firing squad. Chauvelin exults at the sound of gunfire, but Percy returns to the tavern very much alive, revealing that the men in uniform are in fact his. After securing Chauvelin in the basement, Percy joins his wife on the ship back to England.

Cast

  • Leslie Howard (actor) as Sir Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel
  • Merle Oberon as Lady Blakeney, née Marguerite St. Just
  • Raymond Massey as Citizen Chauvelin
  • Nigel Bruce as George IV of the United Kingdom
  • Bramwell Fletcher as The Priest
  • Walter Rilla as Armand St. Just
  • Anthony Bushell as Sir Andrew Ffoulkes
  • O. B. Clarence as Count de Tournay
  • Mabel Terry-Lewis as Countess de Tournay
  • Ernest Milton as Maximilien Robespierre
  • Robert Rietty as an Aristocrat Boy
  • Philip Strange as Member of the League

Production

Alexander Korda, a Hungarian who had been born in a town not far from Baroness Orczy's farm, had recently had great success with the actor Charles Laughton in the film The Private Life of Henry VIII, so he asked Laughton to play the role of Sir Percy.<></> But when the announcement went out to the press, the reaction from the Pimpernel's many fans was negative; the pug-nosed Laughton was thought inappropriate to play the suave Sir Percy.
Korda thus gave the role to Leslie Howard (actor), with Merle Oberon as Marguerite. Leslie Howard set the standard with his portrayal of Sir Percy Blakeney; his version is widely regarded as the best screen adaptation.

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    Category:1934 films
    Category:1930s drama films
    Category:1930s adventure films
    Category:British films
    Category:British adventure films
    Category:British drama films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:London Films films
    Category:Scarlet Pimpernel films
    Category:Films directed by Harold Young (director)
    Category:Films based on novels
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