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Warner Home Video
1952 / color/ 1:37 flat full frame / 115 min. / Street Date July 1, 2003 / 19.98
Starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer, Henry Wilcoxon, Nina Foch, Richard Anderson, Robert Coote, Lewis Stone, Elisabeth Risdon, Howard Freeman, Curtis Cooksey, John Dehner
Cinematography Charles Rosher
Art Direction Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters
Film Editor James E. Newcom
Original Music Victor Young
Written by Ronald Millar & George Froeschel from the novel by Rafael Sabatini
Produced by Carey Wilson
Directed by George Sidney

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Made in the years of desperation, when replacement studio chief Dore Schary was trying to brace a failing, old-fashioned studio system, Scaramouche was one of MGM's more entertaining features. Big glossy Technicolored movie stars breathing heavily and fighting with swords still worked, mainly because the original story (filmed before as a silent) is a good variation on the 'royal rascal' kind of theatrical capers lampooned by Freed's musical unit the year before in Singin' in the Rain. Good direction, spirited playing, and gaudy color do the rest.


Revolution is in the air, and Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch) asks sadistic duellist the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) to stop slaying liberal notables long enough to find the pamphleteer Marcus Brutus. He does, in the person of young Phillipe de Valmorin (Richard Anderson), who he slays in a trumped-up duel of honor. Witness to the murder is Phillipe's adopted brother Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger), who drops his playboy habits of chasing the skirts of actress Lenore (Eleanor Parker) and Aline de Gavrillac de Bourbon (Janet Leigh) to devote himself to de Maynes' destruction. A poor swordsman, he studies with Doutreval (John Dehner) to master new skills, and when the King's spies come to arrest him, takes on the disguise of Scaramouche, the masked star of a variety show.

It's difficult to flub anything written by Alexandre Dumas or Rafael Sabatini, writers who surely would have become bigtime action producers if they lived today. Scaramouche is a core swashbuckler, that dependable subgenre requiring a dashing carefree hero, several wilting damsels, an exciting historical setting and lots of furious fencing.

This George Sidney production lays on the talent and the glamour just as if the Golden Age of Hollywood were still going strong, and succeeds. The plot is just sober enough to work, with a comedic attitude that can turn serious whenever the hero furrows his eyebrows. Stewart Granger was no great actor or romantic star, but he's serviceable and certainly up to the demands of the action. It's just that he doesn't generate enough heat to motivate the mademoiselles played by shy but drop-dead gorgeous Janet Leigh, and the more directly sensual Eleanor Parker.

Janet Leigh is the favored actress, and is given choker closeups that fill the screen with her flawless pink flesh and giant eyes. She must have begged director Sidney to give her the treatment George Stevens gave Elizabeth Taylor in the previous year's A Place in the Sun. Eleanor Parker is every bit as appealing, but is let down by a script that needed an extra brush-up - most of her dialogue isn't as clever as it wants to be. A few lines are properly provocative (Suitor: "I give you this priceless bracelet to honor your eyes" Parker: "We'll have to get you interested in the rest of me") but Parker has to work too hard most of the time.

The old story still plays like a gem, with Scarmouche given no end of amusing chases, confrontations, and humorous moments with the leading ladies. There's a neat section where various members of the National Assembly are eliminating each other in after-hours duels. The cynical delight when the winners announce that the losers won't be returning - permanently - is nicely done.

Andre Moreau is a rogue consumed by a vendetta, and thus is too busy to seduce Lenore. In a clever twist of 'who's related to who', he also finds out he's Aline's half brother, just as he's making some major moves on her. Both romances are frustrated, and the interest rises accordingly.

Mel Ferrer became stiff as a board in his later work, but in both Scaramouche and the next year's Lili he shows great promise. Granger and Ferrer never make it to the status of Flynn and Rathbone, but they aren't bad.

The highlight of the film is an exciting sword battle in the middle of a fancy theater, with Moreau and de Maynes balancing on the edge of the balcony while trading fancy fencing moves. It's nicely blocked and does indeed often look dangerous. It fits just under the best battles in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, The Mark of Zorro, The Duellists, and Rob Roy. Technically, the fencing in Scaramouche is said to be very fine, and that's what counts.

Nina Foch is a purring, pampered Marie Antoinette. Richard Anderson seems to be aboard to keep the contract players working. John Dehner, notable as a rough type in later Westerns like Man of the West, is smooth and convincing as a master sword instructor. Barrie Chase is said to be in there somewhere, and we get a chance to see actor Rex Reason (This Island Earth) in a short bit where we can hear his strange, too-perfect voice.

Warner's DVD of Scaramouche looks great, with Technicolor hues that hang together very well. I only noticed some inadequate encoding, on a door early on behind Nina Foch. Some odd scenes with fringing around the actors are a side-effect of imperfect travelling mattes; those and a few forced cutaways to the femme leads during the Assembly scenes (where no women seem to be present) attest to possible last-minute editorial reorganizing.

The main extra is an interview with an elderly but focused Mel Ferrer, who talks about the film mostly in publicity terms. He perhaps overstates the dangers in filming the swordfights, but one has to admit that it must be all too easy to lose an eye or get a nasty gash while filming that stuff. The best thing he tells us is how actor Lewis Stone, playing an old man here, was Andre Moreau in the original silent. We get to see a couple of clips from the old version, too.

Also included is a text rundown on fencing movies, that's mostly a list of titles. There's a curious animated trailer for the movie with a tuxedo'ed Leo the MGM Lion, that's both odd and not very effective. The show comes with a French track that turns it into an instant French film, and subs in English, French and Spanish.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Scaramouche rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Interview with Mel Ferrer,text essay on swordfighting in movies, trailer, animated TV spot.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June, 2003

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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