Just some fun trivia I found about the 1935 movie:
Alexander Korda (the producer) was Hungarian, and had been born in a town not far from Baroness Orczy’s family’s farm.
Korda had recently had great success with the actor Charles Laughtonin 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.
I think I was confusing the book with the 1982 film, where AA finds out about Marguerite immediately after the wedding, and dead-eyes her through their first dance ;) Will have to read the novel again (or listen to the lovely Ralph Cosham narrate on my iPod!) And oh yes,…
I admit that I had to go back and find the passage in the book too. I’ve been focusing on the sequels lately, and with the movies and the musical in my head too, it all gets a bit muddled. Thankfully it didn’t take long, as my book is underlined and highlighted so much that there’s barely a clean page. lol.
Personally, I don’t know which version I like better. The AA movie/musical version definitely makes their relationship more strained, especially when Marguerite has no idea why Percy’s changed. They both make it seem like she doesn’t even know that the St. Cyrs have been executed, let alone that Percy considers her responsible for it. He doesn’t confront her about it, he just changes his attitude towards her. In the novel, however, Marguerite is fully aware of her actions, is trying to fight to get the St. Cyrs released even up to their execution, and when Percy confronts her about it, both of their stubbornness and pride get it the way of them rationally explaining their feelings, and that’s where the conflict stems from. They know why the other one resents them, but neither one is willing to cave in and change it. I think that adds a whole new level to their characters that the adaptations are missing (except maybe the Leslie Howard one. That comes closest to it.)
What do you guys think? Which do you like better?
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935)
Percy - Leslie Howard: Leslie Howard does a fantastic job in this movie. He’s not really tall, and he is features are more soft than Percy’s, but what he lacks in physical characteristics he makes up for in his acting. He nails the foppishness. One doesn’t quite get the sense of his overwhelming passion for Marguerite, but there is a definite difference in the way that he looks at her when she is looking at him, and the way he looks at her when he is sneaking those glances. You can actually see the mask of the fop coming on and off.
Marguerite - Merle Oberon: I like her performance very much. You can see that she really loves and longs for Percy, and it’s obvious how much his foppish mask annoys her. She’s not tall, or fair, but she is beautiful. She has that french fire in her, but, sadly, no french accent.
Chauvelin - Raymond Massey: I like his Chauvelin. He brings out a quality that is very apparent in the books; that Chauvelin loves what he does. He gets so much pleasure out of the mental anguish of his victims. My only problem with Massey is he’s a very intimidating looking man. He’s a bit taller than LeslieHoward, and he’s a bit scary looking (although, maybe I just can’t look at him without seeing him in Arsenic and Old Lace). He has the teensiest trace of a french accent at the beginning, but it fades to only a few words here and there.
This movie stays pretty true to the key elements of the novel until the end, with one exception. In this version, St. Cyr’s son proposes to Marguerite, and St. Cyr has her arrested and sent to prison. I think that doing this makes Marguerite and Armond’s relationship lose something.
The ending is different from the novel’s (no adaptation that I’m aware of has ever used the original ending. I wonder why). In this one, Marguerite arrives in France at the Lion D’ore, where Percy is supposed to be coming. But Chauvelin gets there before he does and catches Marguerite there. When Percy does arrive, Chauvelin uses Marguerite as a bargaining chip, making Percy agree to walk out in front of a firing squad!
The costumes in this movie are good. Nothing that makes you gasp at the gorgeousness of it all. I will admit though that it can be hard to tell how opulent something is in black and white.
Hair is one thing that always annoys me about movies from this period. From the dawn of motion pictures through the early 40s, stylists seemed to not care about what hair actually looked like in the period. Go watch any silent movie, and I guarantee you the heroine will have a finger wave, no matter what. The same is true for this move. Merle has a finger wave, and all the men have short, regency style hair.
Overall, I’d say this movie is a classic for a reason. Strong performers who know their characters inside and out, and a good, novel based script. My only complaints are the styling and Massey’s look. So… I’ll give it an A-