Monday, December 12, 2011

Movie Monday: "Scaramouche"

If you watch a lot of old movies, you've probably seen the 1952 Swashbuckling classic "Scaramouche." If you haven't seen it then go rent it; you are in for a treat!

The movie takes place during the French Revolution, but in true form to the blind side of Hollywood, the movie almost completely ignores both the poor people of France and the entire Revolution. It stars Stewart Granger as Andre-Louis Moreau, a nobleman's bastard son who embarks on a dangerous vendetta to avenge his young friend. He is determined to slay the vicious Marquis de Mayne (Mel Ferrer, who makes the perfect aristocrat) who killed his young idealistic friend in a duel. As he trains, he takes on the character of Scaramouche, a roguish Italian commedia dell'arte clown, for a local theatre company. And naturally he woos two beautiful women, one feisty actress (Eleanor Parker) and one innocent aristocrat (Janet Leigh) who, through the comedic confusions of the film, might prove to be Andre's own sister.

Though the film is historically inaccurate, it is none-the-less beautiful. The costumes are lavish and will make your mouth water, and the scenery (though obviously filmed in a soundstage, with false forests and gardens) is believable and luscious. The "play-within-a-play" of Andre's Scaramouche and the low-brow comedy troupe he travels with is always entertaining, and I have to give Mr. Granger props for managing to be comically insane and feverishly sexy all at once. Her manages to make an impulsive, frustrating, and often misogynistic character into the sort of magnetic man you would follow anywhere.

In my regular fashion, I fell in love with the bad boy of the film, the Marquis de Mayne. Mel Ferrer plays him to perfection and I fully believed while watching the film that he, with his thin frame and delicately sinister way of speaking, was born for the role. And falling in love with him is nothing to be ashamed of with this film, especially after the (rather predictable) twist at the end. (I won't give any more spoilers.)

The Marquis' young fiance, Aline (played with sweet naivete by Janet Leigh) is both beautiful and about as courageous as one can expect a sheltered aristocrat to be, and her childish love easily wins the hearts of her audience. However she is thoroughly outdone in beauty, courage, and general pluck by Lenore, the golddigging, fun-loving, sexually liberated actress who attracts men like flies to honey. Played with red-headed fire by Eleanor Parker, Lenore quickly becomes the favorite character of the film and conssistantly surprises the audience with her alternating caprice and selflessness. She is about as feministic as a movie character of the 1950's can get, and that is mostly owed to Parker's portrayal which puts the men of the film to shame with its honesty and sheer sexiness.

Despite the varied cast of characters, the film is worth watching for the final fight scene alone. The 8 minute duel is one of the longest in film history and manages to keep the audience on their toes until the very last second. It is composed of a destructive romp through an opera house that took over two months to prepare for, and the stunts, many of them performed by the actors themselves, are as breathtaking as the stunts in modern action movies.

All in all, "Scaramouche" is a must-see for anyone. It will satisfy the romantic movie lover, the adventure movie lover, the period drama movie lover, and the intrigue movie lover. The film is hard to find nowadays, but be sure to check for it in your local video store and library. It is surprisingly not available at Barnes & Noble, but the original novel by Rafael Sabatini and the 1923 silent version of the film are. It is available as a DVD from Netflix and there a few copies for sale on eBay, but your best bet to find the film is at a local public library.

Happy watching!

The Lonely Alchemist

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