Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Did I really just write that in the title box?  To let you know what I was talking about I had to, m'dears, but in practice I usually refer to this as the-movie-that-shouldn't-be-called-what-it-is.

So I have to write a review of this movie?  Charmed, delighted, enchanted.....

How do I tell you what I really thought of this film?  How do I explain that if I didn't know anything else about TSP this would probably have been one of my absolute, absolute favorite movies?  How do I say that while Jane Seymour was perfect as Marguerite Merle Oberon still brought something else to the role?  And how can I talk about Leslie Howard as Sir Percy without exploding?

Well, since in a movie review you sort of have to talk about the lead, I'll try.  But I don't guarantee that I won't explode.


Note to Leslie Howard fans: You are not obligated to read this part.  These are only my opinions and my opinions have been known to be wrong before.  Not that they are now, but for the sake of agreement......

Leslie Howard would make an acceptable Sir Percy Blakeney to people who haven't watched Anthony Andrews amazing performance or read many of the books.  As I have, he just doesn't cut it.  Leslie Howard is NOT Percy.  End of story.

But in all seriousness, his performance is better than nothing and was useful for the thirty-eight years before Anthony Andrews would come and play it as it ought to be played. (Reality check, Maria, you're supposed to be talking about Leslie Howard, not Anthony Andrews.  Really? I'll try.)

Leslie Howard is quite tall, which is excellent for the role, and rather good-looking, but not as much as he could be. I'll try to blame it on the black and white movie. They may be nice, but they don't make people any more good-looking.  He also says 'sink me' which makes me wonder if the makers of this movie were the first ones to think of that.  Something to thank them for, I guess.  But I won't thank them for calling him Percival.

Sir Percival is a random weird knight, Sir Percy is, well, Sir Percy. Understood?

One thing that wasn't as good as it could be was his inane remarks.  Occaisionally he came up with a witty comment, but most of the time he was the foppish fool, instead of the foolish fop. And yes, there is a difference. 

Oh wait, I said that when I meant it, but now I think his inane remarks were very good indeed.  So see, my opinions can change.

But when his mask is off Leslie Howard's performance is quite emotional, which didn't strike me as quite right.  I suppose Sir Percy sometimes shows a little of what he feels to someone like Sir Andrew, but I don't think he'd be parading his feelings to the rest of the League and certainly not to Chauvelin.  If he has an extreme in his self-control it's too much, not too little, peoples.  And I'd expect him to show a little bit more feeling to Marguerite - y'know when they're reunited and all that?  But he doesn't.  At least, not as much as I could like. And I would like a LOT, so maybe the problem is me, not him. 
And besides SPOILER ALERT after Marguerite has betrayed him he stands over her and pulls everything out of her bit by bit.  No 'why couldn't she trust me?' but instead "What happened?  What did you do?  Who did you betray?"  Ugh. END OF SPOILER

But, now that I've vented my feelings and not quite exploded I'll say that Leslie Howard's performance was quite enjoyable to watch.  If you can stop making comparisons (I can't; comparisions are my one weakness!) and especially if you haven't watched the TSP with a certain somebody else you should find it actually delightful.  And I mean REALLY delightful.  Some of the scenes are done just to a T.

After I heard that Baroness Orczy disapproved of Merle Oberon's casting, I didn't expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised.  While Jane Seymour is 'my' Marguerite, Merle Oberon shows her from a slightly different angle.  Her Marguerite is vivacious, delicate, actressy, and even a little bit childish.  Too childish, in my opinion.  After she says the only heroic thing she probably says in her life she faints, leaving Percy holding this silly, desperate woman. (Disclaimer (said quickly, before Alexandra comes after me): that is not my opinion of Marguerite in general, or Marguerite in this movie, just how she comes across in that particular scene.)

But I had no problem accepting her as Marguerite.  She is absolutely gorgeous and (bonus points!) has a beautifully, curled updo while not making it look like an afro. A few of the scenes are done almost better than Jane Seymour's, while the scenes not done as well as they could be are the ones with Leslie Howard in them. I protest, that fellow's a public nuisance.

*catches herself quoting that fellow.*
Well, it is quotable.

What do I have to say about this Chauvelin?  Well, he's ugly.  Did I hate him?  Did he vex me?  Well, of course.  He's Chauvelin, so he's vexing and I hate him.  That's all.  He was adequate for the part, although perhaps a little too... um, physically repulsive.  But they kept the abbe scene!  Yippee! (unfortunately they didn't keep the "nasty, awkward thing, soup . . . er . . . a friend of mine died once . . . er . . . choked . . . just like you . . . with a spoonful of soup." But then, you can't have everything.)

Suzanne de Tournay isn't that much of a main part, but it was beautifully cast.  Pretty, rather quiet, and with some of the best dresses in the whole film.

The storyline was interesting.  It followed the first book rather closely, although for unexplainable reasons there were occaisonal sidetracks.  Granted, the sidetracks were very good ideas and many of them were reused in the 1982 version.  I almost get the impression that that one is saying to this one, "Sink me, it's good.  Quite good, indeed.  But the deplorable casting of that character!  And the sad state of those quotes!  No, no, no.  But with a tweak here, and a twist there.....

You have the cleverest heads in the world. The trouble is, you all seem to go to pieces round the neck.
But then, in my 'umble opinion it can't be compared to the 1982 version, so let's just not compare them, 'kay?

It had a soundtrack, too.  I didn't know before that movies made in the 1930s had any kind of music at all in them, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The scenery was tolerable, but, being a black and white movie, it was not as see-able as it could have been.

That cravat.  Excuse me while I go and gag.

"Yes, now look at that thing.  Sink me, what a mess. If you really want to know how to tie a cravat I'll tell you.  But it isn't easy, mind you.  It takes all my brains."

"I'm sure it would."

"Yes, well you see, first of all the thing goes twice round the neck.  And then the front folds back to allow the back to come to the front.  Otherwise the front would be all behind as well as before..."

"Percy, what are you talking about?"

"You don't follow me, my dear?  That's exactly what I say.  It takes brains, doesn't it?"

Especially that line, "those Frenchies seek him everywhere."

Yes, I like that too. Because you see, I hear that they do. And that gives the line a sort of - something - it sort of gives it a - something, if I make myself clear.

Clear as crystal, Sir Percy.
The men's costumes reminded me of... something.  Not something I think real men would be wearing, fortunately.  Some of them look pretty good, but too angular and fake.  It's the ladies' costumes that are the real delight.  I can only imagine how amazing they'd look in color.  And all the hairstyles...

That hair, m'dears...
This movie is completely free of the inappropriate scenes that plagued TSP 1982.  It would be totally perfect except for the language which persists in plaguing TSP.  But we can't change that, unfortunately.

If you are a fan of That Other One with That Other Guy I wouldn't recommend using this film to introduce anybody to TSP. (I did, bad idea.) Because it's delightful, but not quite what the books and the other ones are. And if you are an excessive fan of That Other Guy I would recommend self control and a good notebook to rant about Leslie Howard during watching so as to not annoy the people who are watching it with you. (I did that.  You can see my notebook.  It tells rather an interesting tale.)

But all in all, I loved The Scarlet Pimpernel 1934.  Loved, loved, loved.  Taking into account everything that I said I didn't like, it was still a splendid bit of adventure and romance with beautiful, ridiculous, glorious humor.  Which, being TSP, it kind of couldn't help.  :)


Hayden said...

I've never seen this version, but I am interested in it.

I do think that Merle Oberon does look like Marguerite. Her hair is gorgeous :)

That cravat of Sir Percy's!!! *shudder* Perhaps the single ugliest piece of neckwear ever caught on camera...

Alexandra said...

I feel like as a good TSP fan I should see it. I almost make up my mind to. I hold it in my hand at the library.

But oh, man. When The Other Guy *is* Sir Percy (and I'm terribly loyal to him and all, being my favorite actor) and when The Other Film was what made me a Leaguette in the first place...I throw the film across the room (well, not actually. I place it quietly back on the shelf :-P).

I like Leslie Howard. I really do. But he was NOT Percy (the few clips I saw). The Other Guy can be completely ridiculous and yet be perfect (not to mention that I have yet to see an actor who's his equal...Ally, you may stop gushing and get back to your point...), something that I've yet to see with any other adaptation, from the musical to this version. I have agonized trying to explain it so many times...but they're all too silly, too stupid, too...ack. But that's not right, because so was The Other Guy. But yet his Percy was spot on and the others fell short. Someone help me out.

The guy's costumes are apalling. Simply apalling. Percy would be *most* distressed (I'm hearing The Other Guy's voice speaking my comment as I type. A bit creepy, but also Very Nice. Ahem).

While JS is and always will be Marguerite in my head, Merle looks lovely, must say that for her. The hair is lovely...oh! Side track. Ok, so she's a brunette. And in every adaptation since then, Marguerite's been a brunette. Which makes me think...combining that and the "sidetracks" you mentioned (hehe, I went on Wikipedia and read the plot) like you said makes me wonder how much the 1982 films was inspired by (I didn't say stole. Because such an Epic Movie as this one is would never steal. Besides...good writers copy and great writers steal. Anyhooz.) Random side-trail.

Ian McKellan did the most deliciously slimy Chauvelin (and perfect description - every time I read the book's description I think of him) that who can compare? Really now.

I'm sure that someday I will see it. But I just can't quite do it yet. :-), so I would love to read your notebook ramblings. :-P Seriously. As in seriously-seriously. Would you consider emailing them to me? Because I really would love to read the rant. :-D

The Other Guy forevah and evah. Hehehehehe.

Anne said...

Sink me, I'm sunk!
Yes, his costumes are not very good (ok, they stink), especially compared with the Other guys gold waistcoat, but the Other Guys hair is deplorable! Both, I think, are examples of current fashions influence on period drama?

And yes, there are quite a few similarities between the two. "Let me introduce my firing squad", for example, was in both, but I do not remember ever reading that one. (If it is in one of the books, do tell, because I love that part.) I do not think Percy would give away the names of him men so freely, even if Ffoulkes and Tony always get off scot-free.

‘Tis poor thanks for letting me join, but I am mailing off my rebuttal forthwith…

Anonymous said...

Hello - first time poster, but long time Pimpernel fan! (In fact, where on earth was this blog during my mad crush on the Pimpernel, a couple of years ago?!)

You have convinced me to dig out my DVD of the 1934 film - I'm already re-re-re-reading Eldorado - but can I also recommend the 1938 sequel, The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel? No Howard or Oberon, but a fantastic film nonetheless (based on Orczy's final Pimpernel novel, The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel).

Loving the blog - keep on posting!

Miss Dashwood said...

I'm wishy-washing back and forth. I do think I'd like to see this movie-- but wouldn't it be sacrilege to The Other Guy???

I really would like to see Merle Oberon as Marguerite, though. I loved Jane Seymour in that role, but I wouldn't mind seeing someone else playing the part, too. Hahaha, Leslie Howard being useful for the 38 years before someone REAL came along... heeheehe. "Sir Percival is a random, weird knight." You are ridiculously witty, m'dear.

AND YES THERE IS A DIFFERENCE between the foppish fool and the foolish fop. *applause* Well put, sir (er, madam). Very well, put.

There is NO WAY Percy would interrogate Marguerite like that. Nuh-uh. Cold and unwilling to give her a second chance? Yes. Barking questions like a drill sergeant? NO.

And Merle Oberon's hair is simply gorgeous. But fainting during a heroic scene? Badly done, Marguerite, badly done indeed. Percy's fainting is one thing. (See El Dorado.) Marguerite's fainting comes across as Wimpy.

So they kept the abbe scene? YAY! "I didn' know you were in holy orders." Heehee. Did they include the snuff-and-pepper? And I LOVE the choking on a mouthful of soup line. Classic Percy.

Hahahahaha, the sad state of those quotes. I love how you take Real Percy quotes and use them in any situation. And I second Ally's motion--- we want to see the notebook!!

And yes, I agree-- if it bears the name of TSP, romantical and adventurous and glorious it will be. (You see I'm a bit of a poet--and you did not know it, what?)

(Oh, and Ally, I'm helping you out here: the reason The Other Guy IS Percy is because he manages to be awesome and lik---er, lovable---even when he's being absolutely ridiculous. And his eyes communicate seriously EVERYTHING. And he wears capes. And eyeglass-thingies. And his cravats are a picture. And he duels amazingly. And he's Anthony Andrews ... Shall I go on? :P)

Gabrielle Renee said...

I loved this film. The only problem I had with it was that the actors still retained a lot from silent films. One thing I like about Leslie Howard is that no matter what he is in you can see he loves his country.

Marguerite's hair is my favorite! She looks fairly similar to what I imagined.

Raymond Massy (Chauvelin) I can take because I saw numerous other films with him as the villain but he was NOT how I imagined him at all.

Marguerite fainting. Um, I didn't like that at all! In the book she is strong (mentally and physically) fighting to save her husband. I like to read the first book after the ball to the end. I am always in tears. Why couldn't they have that ending in either films? Just curious. Besides when Percy is carrying her to the boat is so romantic.

I actually preferred the Lux Radio Theater adaption of the film to the film itself (maybe because it has Olivia de Havilland...). It is funnier than the film. Especially when Percy returns from being "dead."

Still AA is a better actor. In the yearly 30s, they hadn't mastered the art of saying what they were feeling without words. And I agree Sir Percy is a little too hard on Marguerite in this film. A little too judgmental, but that was not Leslie Howard's fault it was the writer's and director.

Ok, my longest comments are always related to TSP. :) I am a helpless fan.


lottie said...

I didn't like Leslie Howard as Sir Percy, but I thought he did a *much* better job of playing The Scarlet Pimpernel than Anthony Andrews. His head looked a little small, and Anthony Andrews had a much better drawl.
I loved Sir Andrew in it, while I thought they Failed (with a capital "F") with Sir Andrew in the Anthony Andrews ... and Sir Andrew was one of my favorite people in the whole series! ...Sooo to not be able to tell Sir Andrew from Lord Tony was a *huge* disappointment (in the Anthony Andrews). *sigh* I, overall, liked the black and white one best. :)

The Rush Blog said...

"But I had no problem accepting her as Marguerite. She is absolutely gorgeous and (bonus points!) has a beautifully, curled updo while not making it look like an afro."

You're the second person who has commented on Jane Seymour's hairstyles in the 1982 movie. What is this big bigaboo over the "afro" style of Marguerite's hair?

Lottie G. said...

Her hair was to big for me...It WAS an afro...:P She was gorgeous, and an amazing Marguerite, and I loved that hair when it hid the kissing, but it WAS too big. *sigh*

Joanna Marie said...

I just found this blog... as I just watched both the 1934 and 1982 TSP movies for the first time in a 2 day period last week. *runon* Anyways! I love this blog, almost as much as I love Anthony Andrews' foppish accent and Ian Mckellen's eyes.

I watched the 1934 version first, and I loved it. I read the book over a year ago and had nearly forgotten why I loved it... but then I remembered as I watched the movie! and then... then I saw 1982. It was all over for me, and has been ever since.

I do agree, 1982 is the better film for many reasons, but I still have a special place in my heart for 1934... and I must disagree, I think Leslie Howard did an astounding job as Percy. But AA still has my heart...

In any case, I love this blog. :D I love TSP so much I'm doing a whole blog series on my NON-TSP centered blog!

RosieP said...

Her hair was to big for me...It WAS an afro...:P She was gorgeous, and an amazing Marguerite, and I loved that hair when it hid the kissing, but it WAS too big. *sigh*

Seymour's hairstyle as shown in the 1982 movie was common for upper-class women of the 1790s. You're complaining about nothing. And it WASN'T an afro.

Lottie G. said...

"You're complaining about nothing." Do you understand what you just said??

I am so complaining about something. About her big hair..
I do understand your point, but that doesn't mean I like her hair *any* better.

Lottie G. said...

Hey, I just reread what I wrote...That sounded really rude. I'm sorry.

I understand your point, though I don't completely see eye-to-eye on the matter, and am fine with agreeing to disagree. Sorry if I sounded rude!


Lady Alathea said...

Wonderful,I found a blog about "The Scarlet Pimpernel"!I'm very happy!
I didn't watch the 1982 movie,but I watch the movie with Leslie Howard and the tv series with Richard E. Grant.
I watched tv series dubbed in italian.I think is the only "Scarlet Pimpernel" broadcast in Italy.
I watched 1934 movie with english subtitle(and three dictionaries),because I was curious...and because I wanted improve my english.I like it and I like Leslie Howard as Sir Percy :),although ,the only Percy that I love,is in my mind :)