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Revenge: An Essay on the 1952 Adaptation of Scaramouche

by Michael Cummins

"MGM presents Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche", quoth the poster. "Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche", quoth the lobby cards. "MGM presents Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche", quoth the movie itself. This film is not Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche.

Revenge is a very old theme in fiction, especially in swashbuckling fiction; MGM want to make a nice big entertaining swashbuckler, so they choose Scaramouche. Why not? In a certain way Captain Blood is about revenge as is The Sea Hawk. Revenge not against one individual but revenge against society, Christianity and in some respects Blood is avenging himself.

The comic asides, the hero hiding out in a fictional character, the hero becoming that character in reality or at least realising that he was always that character is fascinating and highly original. The novel provides MGM with enough material to make a picture that is superior in plot to your average swashbuckler. However, unlike the novel, this is only a swashbuckler; Andre Louis hides out in the theatre but he does not become Scaramouche.

The Scaramouche disguise and the avenging of a friend's murder is about all that ties the movie to the book.

Even though Scaramouche might not be Sabatini's greatest piece of writing, though it is close to it, it is certainly his greatest work. Scaramouche is Sabatini's Hamlet, if you follow me. It is also great novel.

"A Romance of the French Revolution," if you will, but the only reference to revolution in the picture is a "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" pamphlet. It is clear that for their swashbuckler, MGM wanted a plot device or two and the power of the recently deceased Sabatini's name. His name is prominent on the advertising as we have seen and it is rather comforting for Sabatini admirers to realise that the name meant something. It meant quality and a good time.

This picture is typical of its studio's output at the time, big, colourful, lavish, ornate, full of stars and devoid of life.

All the performances are adequate, good even but no one performance stands out above the rest. The actors used are of the moderate category; they're not at all bad but none are special. None of these actors have the ability or star vitality to rise to the material.

The score is good, the photography is good, the acting is good, everything is good. Everything is terribly 50%. But it's just another lifeless MGM swashbuckler. It isn't a bad swashbuckler, it's a good swashbuckler, it's a 50% swashbuckler. If one likes that sort of thing, and I do, one will enjoy it. But Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche it isn't.

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Last updated 29 March 2008. Copyright 1999 Michael Cummins. Illustration of Pantalone in the Public Domain. Any concerns or problems about this site, please contact Rimfire.