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SCARAMOUCHE (director: George Sidney; screenwriters: Ronald Millar/George Froeschel/based on the book by Rafael Sabatini; cinematographer: Charles Rosher; editor: James E. Newcom; music: Victor Young; cast: Stewart Granger (Andre Moreau), Eleanor Parker (Lenore), Janet Leigh (Aline de Gavrillac de Bourbon), Mel Ferrer (Noel: Marquis de Maynes), Henry Wilcoxon (Chevalier de Chabrillaine), Nina Foch (Marie Antoinette), Richard Anderson (Philippe de Valmorin), Lewis Stone (Georges de Valmorin), Robert Coote (Gaston Binet), John Dehner (Doutreval, sword master), Curtis Cooksey (Fabian); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carey Wilson; Warner Home Video; 1952)
“It’s best remembered for the longest sword duel in cinema history at 6 1/2 minutes.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A remake of the Rex Ingram 1923 silent version that starred Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone (he has a minor role here as Georges de Valmorin). It’s adapted from the Rafael Sabatini classic swashbuckler novel set during revolutionary times in 18th century France. George Sidney (“Annie Get Your Gun”/”Show Boat”/”Kiss Me Kate”) directs by keeping things cheerful to the max and the action stirred by frequent sword play and chases; the screenplay by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel simplifies the complex novel to a point where it just becomes simplistic, romantic and swashbuckling and not worth much as a history lesson. It plays out as a fanciful costume drama with unfulfilled designs on spoofing the genre with a wink and a nod (if you can believe, one of the ditched heroines mysteriously winds up in a room romancing Napolean!). It’s best remembered for the longest sword duel in cinema history at 6 1/2 minutes.

In eighteenth century France, ne’er-do-well playboy nobleman Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger) doesn’t know who his father was and is supported by an unknown benefactor. When Andre learns that his honey bunny actress girlfriend Lenore (Eleanor Parker), wearing a flaming red wig, is to tie the knot in Paris with a wealthy sausage manufacturer, he breaks up the marriage by promising to marry her instead. Their marriage plans are postponed however when Andre learns that his best friend, the aristocratic Philippe de Valmorin (Richard Anderson), is being hunted by the king’s army for writing under a phony pen name the revolutionary pamphlet calling for “equality–liberty–fraternity.” His kindly father Georges de Valmorin raised the born out of wedlock Andre in his home, and the grateful Andre is prepared to do anything to help these benevolent souls.

This radical pamphlet from a liberal aristocrat upsets Queen Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch) so much that she asks her devoted and sadistic cousin, the noted swordsman, Noel, the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer), to do away with the culprit. From his lawyer Fabian, Andre forces out of him that his real father is the Count de Gavrillac of Normandy. When he meets Philippe in their hiding place, they journey to Normandy only to learn his father just died and the lovely Aline (Janet Leigh) he just met on the road and fell immediately in love with is his sister. When Noel succeeds in killing Philippe and Andre witnesses the killing, he grits his teeth, forgets about committing incest and dedicates himself to getting revenge. In the meantime Andre hides out as a masked clown in a vaudeville troupe run by Gaston Binet, taking the name of Scaramouche. Being a poor swordsman, he studies with expert swordsman Doutreval (John Dehner). It leads to the climactic duel with Noel in a packed theater, and after defeating him he learns from Georges de Valmorin that his father was really the Marquis de Maynes and therefore Noel is his brother and Aline is not his sister. With that new knowledge, Andre marries Aline.

The acting by Stewart Granger and Mel Ferrer is adequate but not great. They shine best in the dueling scenes, having fully learned their fencing lessons. They studied for eight weeks with European fencing champion Jean Heremans and amazingly memorized eighty-seven individual sword passes and performed twenty-eight stunts. The female stars exude Hollywood glamor, and the screen is kept lush with gaudy set designs. My problem is that outside of the centerpiece dueling scene, this blockbuster spectacle didn’t thrill me that much.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”