By Mike Derderian
Watching Lenore (Eleanor Parker) bite Andre Moreau’s (Stewart Granger) hand over and over again thanks to the rewind button on my VCR’s remote-control is what I call a non-stop non-ending movie magic experience.
I also, of course, owe it to a vintage VHS cassette of George Sidney’s period masterpiece Scaramouche. After trying to steal a kiss from the feisty redhead actress, the sharp-tongued vivacious Moreau realized that he was no match for Lenore’s teeth. The on and off love and hate relationship between the two is part of the momentum that formulates the plot of the 1952 Granger picaresque classic.
“Who is that handsome man mother,” a young boy, transfixed in front of the television, inquired while pointing his finger at Granger. “Well that is Scaramouche son… ssh now and watch how will the woman hit him with an exploding stick,” answered the boy’s mother.
Based on a historical-romance novel by Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950), Scaramouche, was Written around 1921. It recounts the exploits of Andre Moreau, a bourgeois rouge turned slapstick comedian and prominent politician, in France prior to the French Revolution. “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony,” Sabatini wrote explaining his title character.
Sabatini is probably sitting atop some cloud laughing his heart out at the state of the world. The place that was, still is and will always be mad and a dozen Scaramouche won’t be able to help us change it. Make us laugh maybe but help us fix it no way.
In addition to Parker and Granger this highly enjoyable period piece also starred Mel Ferrer, Henry Wilcoxon, Nina Foch, Richard Anderson, Robert Coote, Lewis Stone, John Dehner and Janet Leigh as Aline de Gavrillac, the would-be-love-interest of Moreau.
Set in a period engulfed in madness and ruled by upheaval Moreau’s gradual but quick metamorphoses from a frolicking womanizer to a renowned masked comedian and then to an outstanding politician and fencer was not brought on by personal choice. Like many of us Moreau is the byproduct of circumstance but instead of yielding to his fate he decides to fight for a better future.
The film opens with a cavalry rushing through the lush woods of France (the film was mostly shot in the United States of America so go figure). The soldiers seek a French aristocrat named Noel also known as the Marquis de Maynes (Ferrer). The Marquis is notorious for having itchy-sword fingers and is known for taking up anyone who dares insult him for a duel.
Upon learning that the Marquis is dueling with two consecutive opponents the Chevalier de Chabrillaine (Wilcoxon) heads out to the hill, where Noel is about to kill his second opponent. “Stop, in the name of the Queen,” yells out de Chabrillaine, after placing the blade of his sword between the quarrelling noblemen.
“An unfortunate accident he run through my sword,” Noel sarcastically tells his queen and cousin Marie Antoinette (a very charming Foch) about his victim. Antoinette in return answers, “you got to stop killing my noblemen.”
The Queen, who decides that it is time for France’s most eligible bachelor to get married, orders Noel to chose one of the noble girls under her care for a wife. Noel, who is in love with the queen asks her to choose.
She chose Aline de Gavrillac (Leigh who was certainly at the height of her cuteness). Aline now is an ingénue with every meaning of the word. Though Leigh’s character was the lead heroin, Parker’s brilliant portrayal of Lenore was the film’s fire-starter from beginning to end.
In the meantime back in Paris Andre looks up the love of his life Lenore only to learn that she is about to marry a sausage tycoon. After foiling Lenore’s plan to become a rich woman and promising her eternal love Andre heads out to the home of the noble family that raised him as their own. There he learns that Philippe (Anderson), who is like a brother to him is a revolutionary figure wanted for treason and is known among the people as Marcus Brutus.
Georges de Valmorin (Stone) and his wife ask Andre to help Philippe leave Paris. On their way both men come across a broken carriage carrying Aline, who was heading home. Sparks fly but thanks to an old hidden lie Granger believes that Aline is his sister.
They unfortunately meet up with the Marquis de Maynes, who is hunting for Marcus Brutus. Maynes gets on Philippe’s nerve and the latter slaps him. Can somebody shout out duel? So Maynes murders the inexperienced Philippe in front of Andre’s eyes.
Driven by revenge Andre, a refugee now, is forced to assume a different identity and this is where fortune intervenes. He becomes Scaramouche, who is a comedian, a philosopher, a lover and a member of Lenore’s comedy troupe. Scaramouche wears a mask to hide his mutilated face and this give Andre the best cover a fugitive could ever want—a mask that nobody wishes to take off.
Packed with horse chases, entertaining and hair raising fencing sequences, vengeance, flirtatious love, heartbreak and a revolution Scaramouche is 115 minutes movie that will thrust anyone seeking a classic Hollywood adventure out of a theatre balcony.
Must-see-scenes: the carriage scene when Andre pretends to be a fortuneteller just to impress Aline; when Andre meets drank Scaramouche; the scenes involving Scaramouche and Lenore and the Gaston Binet comedy troupe; Andre’s fencing lessons with Doutreval of Dijon (John Dehner), who happens to be Noel’s private instructor; and the 6-7 minute theatre fencing scene between Scaramouche and Noel near the end.