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Scaramouche: A Review

by Michael Cummins

Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger), Lenore (Eleanor Parker), Aline deGavrillac (Janet Leigh), Noel (Mel Ferrer), Chevalier deChabrillaine (Henry Wilcoxon), Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch)

Adapted by Ronald Millar & George Froeschel from the novel by Rafael Sabatini.
Photographed by Charles Rosher
Music by Victor Young
Directed by George Sidney

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad". Thus Sabatini's greatest sentence heralds a filming of his greatest novel. Alas it is by no means his greatest film.

It is not my intention to go into any great depth with regards to the plot, my reason being that I look upon the novel as being a romance, not a swashbuckler, and consequently the conclusion of the book is not quite so obvious and predetermined as it might be, say, in Captain Blood: His Odyssey, for example.

We are introduced to Andre Moreau, whose "very paternity was obscure". Our hero, needless to say, has an enemy or two and a love or two. The backdrop for it all is the unsettled days prior to the setting of the French monarchy's sun. If you believe that I mock the plot, I don't; it's marvellous, but it's also very easy to give too much away.

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, either. None of these actors have the ability or star vitality to rise to the material.

Vitality is the key word here. Captain Blood (1935), which is the yardstick by which we measure all Sabatini adaptations, was produced on a comparatively small scale in Black & White and with a rather limited budget. The result, a slightly creaky film when viewed today, but one which abounds with life and enthusiasm. Michael Curtiz's direction gave us towering performances and action sequences full of spirit.

While Scaramouche is a much bigger production, it is also a much less entertaining. The blame, I believe, lies for the most part with director, George Sidney.

Sidney's mistake is that he fails to inject any urgency into the action. Thus it is lifeless, and the dog in the street knows that lifeless action is pointless, especially when the picture is being sold as a swashbuckler. At one point early on in the film as horses galloped frantically across the French countryside, I was confident that it was about to take off, but unfortunately, it didn't. On the other hand, the romantic scenes and the comic scenes depend largely upon slapstick. Alongside the other more solemn goings on, it all seems rather inappropriate. Incidentally, Sidney handled the 1948 film The Three Musketeers in a similarly comic manner.

The famous fencing finale isn't quite the highlight it ought or is supposed to be. Again this is because of rather sluggish pacing. In swashbuckling terms the 1935 Captain Blood duel between Blood and Levasseur only hints at what can be achieved in terms of screen duelling, but it is still a great deal more entertaining than the six and one-half minutes presented here. The duel is supposedly the longest ever filmed without breaks, the close-ups were filmed and inserted later.

If you have read Scaramouche there is still plenty to enjoy here (albeit with a slightly altered ending). Its neat photography, pleasant score, and high production values give one a fine visual sense. The performances are more than serviceable, and there are one or two fine moments. As a whole, it is an enjoyable romp and an accurate filming of the great novel. But Captain Blood (1935), it isn't.

A separate review page on the novel Scaramouche is available for you to share your comments about the book.

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Last updated 29 March 2008. Article copyright 1999 by Micheal Cummins. Illustrations in the public domain. Any concerns or problems about this site, please contact Rimfire.