Saturday, July 15, 2017

Scaramouche ( 1952 )

"He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad"

Raphael Sabatini's classic 1921 novel "Scaramouche" was made into three film adaptations over the years, including a 1956 television series, but hands down this Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer version starring the engaging English actor Stewart Granger tops them all. Why? Because the film accomplished that rare feat of improving upon the novel it was based on. Scaramouche ranks as one of the best swashbuckling films of the 1950s, and even boasts the longest and most intricate fencing duel in Hollywood's history. 

Stewart Granger stars as our dashing hero Andre-Louis Moreau, a young lawyer who dedicates years of his life to avenge the death of his best friend ( Richard Anderson ) who was killed in a duel by the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr ( Mel Ferrer ), a master swordsman. He joins a traveling theatre group where he dons the mask of Scaramouche, the star comedian, in order to hide from the Marquis' soldiers who have ordered Andre arrested as a revolutionary. Even with his dogged determination to pin down the Marquis, Andre takes time off from his fencing lessons to woo Lenore ( Eleanor Parker ), a flaming red-headed actress and Aline de Gavrillac ( Janet Leigh ), the pretty young ward of the Marquis. 

"But who is Scaramouche? And why does he hide his face behind a mask?"
Scaramouche plunges the audience right into the action from the on-start, packing a lot of story in its 115-minute run time. It features a marvelous cast, excellent cinematography, stunning costumes and sets ( credit Gile Steele and Cedric Gibbons, respectively ), and a lovely Victor Young score ( the end music is especially apropos ). In short, it's a rousing good swashbuckler! 

Veteran director George Sidney, who was especially adept at filming musicals ( Anchors Aweigh, The Harvey Girls, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate ), took the helm of this classic, staging all of the sword-fighting sequences as though they were dance numbers. These fencing "ballets" are a highlight of this colorful film and the climatic eight-minute duel sequence between Granger and Ferrer is justly famous for it took these actors eight weeks of training to get their fencing movements precise. 

"Scaramouche, you have just given your last performance!"

European fencing champion Jean Heremans provided Stewart Granger with fencing lessons and he delighted in doing all of his own stunts. Granger was ideally cast as the rakish lad born with the gift of laughter. He brought a playful exuberance to the character which was a key element in bringing Sabatini's novel to life. 

Granger had seen the original 1923 silent version ( starring Ramon Navarro and Lewis Stone ) as a child and when he was offered a contract by MGM, he signed it on the condition that Scaramouche would be developed as a project for him. 

The studio had toyed with remaking the film for years, first in 1938 with Fernand Gravet, and then as a possible musical version with Gene Kelly or Fernando Lamas in the starring role, so when Granger suggested the book as a vehicle for himself it was swiftly put into production. Since MGM studios always treated novel-based films with reverence, Scaramouche went to the top of their release schedule as an A-picture. 
Elizabeth Taylor was originally slated to play the part of Aline de Gavrillac, but had to turn down the role because she was already signed for another picture. Ava Gardner was also to have been in the film, in Eleanor Parker's role. However, this was a fortunate swap for Eleanor Parker is excellent as the feisty Lenore. 

Rounding out the cast was Henry Wilcoxon, Nina Foch ( as Marie Antoinette ), Lewis Stone, Robert Coote, and Elisabeth Risdon. 


This post is our contribution to The Swashathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to head on over to Movies Silently site to check out other great reviews of classic swashbuckling films. 

5 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for joining in! Just goes to show how much what we see as children affects us later on. :-D

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  2. Thanks for the post. I'm a great fan of swashbuckling movies, and Scaramouche is a favorite literary character. Now I have to watch this movie again.

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  3. Eleanot Parker is perfect in as Lenore! And she looks gorgeous with her colorful clothes, make-up and red hair. And I love how George Sidney made the "fenincg ballets" - they were beautiful to watch.
    Great review!
    Kisses!
    Le

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  4. Stewart Granger is a guy I really wish I had more experience in watching. North to Alaska and King Solomon's Mines and thats pretty much it. I need to look for this version of Scaramouche.

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  5. I enjoyed this version, but I also liked the 1923 version when I was lucky enough to see it in a theater with a live organ accompaniment. Stewart Granger and Eleanor Parker were both great. Thanks for the nice review.

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