The Dizzying Delights of Scaramouche (1952)


In January of 2018, I began keeping a journal of my first-time viewings as a way to remember what new films I'd watched and how I felt about them at that moment. I can be a pretty lazy person, to be honest, so this journal isn't exactly meticulous, but I've been able to keep it up for over a year now and it's nice to look back and read my first impressions. Especially when I decide to revisit a movie I've recorded, like the 1952 swashbuckler Scaramouche.

While my journal seems to be filled with more misses than hits, Scaramouche was an unexpected joy. Its mixture of wit, romance, and adventure bowled me over, causing me to jot down in surprise, "I think I may have loved this film." Based on Rafael Sabatini's 1921 novel, which had been adapted to the silver screen before in 1923, Scaramouche is set a few years before the French Revolution. Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger) leads a carefree life, his only worry being his tempestuous relationship with a feisty actress named Lenore (Eleanor Parker). After finally agreeing to marry Lenore, Andre finds his world thrown into chaos when his best friend Philippe (Robert Anderson) has to go into hiding after printing pamphlets criticizing the aristocracy. This puts in motion three major events:

1) Born out of wedlock and raised by Philippe's parents, Andre has been living off of an allowance from his unknown father for years. While asking his lawyer for money for Philippe, he learns that his father is the Count de Gavrillac.

2) On the way to the count's estate in the country, Andre meets Aline (Janet Leigh), a lovely young woman whose carriage is being repaired on the side of the road. There is an instant, overwhelming attraction between them -- until Andre realizes that Aline is the count's daughter, thus making her his half-sister.

3) Upon discovering his father is dead, Andre is drowning his sorrows at a tavern with Philippe when the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) encounters them. Tasked by the queen, Marie Antoinette (an underutilized Nina Foch), with getting rid of revolutionary Philippe, de Maynes goads him into a duel and quickly kills him, causing an anguished Andre to vow revenge. He decides to do this by playing the comedic character Scaramouche in Lenore's acting troupe to evade capture while secretly training with de Maynes's sword master.

First things first: I love this story. I should briefly mention that I haven't read the novel or seen the silent film, so I don't know how the 1952 version stacks up against them, but Sabatini's story is just so entertaining. The script by Ronald Millar and George Froeschel is really wonderful, too. Everything flows beautifully. For example, in the first scene we meet de Maynes. We learn about him and watch as the queen pairs him up with her protégé, Aline. We then leave this storyline and are introduced to Andre and his world. Then, as Aline and de Maynes reappear, the storylines converge, creating a fascinating entanglement of different relationships and situations. Although it could feel coincidental, it's great the way things progress and characters become connected. And amazingly enough, these connections and developments never become confusing -- we always know what motivates the characters, even if they are in a small supporting role.

Of course, driving this whole thing is Andre and the man who portrays him, Stewart Granger. Having idolized the 1923 version since he was a child, Granger wanted a guarantee that MGM's new adaptation, which was originally a musical for Gene Kelly, would be developed as a vehicle for him before signing with the studio. The film's success made him MGM's go-to swashbuckler, and it's easy to see why. Scaramouche is the only Granger film I've seen so I'd like to see more before fully assessing him as an actor, but I have to admit that he is excellent as Andre. Every time I watch a swashbuckler that doesn't have Errol Flynn as the lead, I ask myself, "Would this be better with Flynn?" The answer is usually "yes," but in this case, Granger is perfect. (Do I still think Flynn would have been marvelous? Always.)

In the beginning, life is just fun and games for Andre. Yes, he grew up without knowing his parents, but Philippe's parents obviously love him like he was their own and he gained a brother in Philippe. When he finds out his father's identity only to lose him all over again, we start to see the cracks in his jovial persona. He silently mourns the man, although he admits to Philippe that he doesn't know how he can grieve someone he never knew. After witnessing Philippe's murder, Andre experiences true loss; he is further tormented by his feelings for Aline. (More on that in a bit.) Still, Andre is a funny, quick-thinking, romantic, swaggering man. As one character astutely notes later in the film, he is "as quick with his sword as his tongue," all of which makes him an ideal hero that we can gladly cheer for.






What also helps us like Andre is his relationship with Lenore. Whether embracing or arguing, they are fantastic to watch together. No one goes toe-to-toe quite like these two do. In one scene, their relationship is neatly summed up when their loving, erotic canoodling quickly turns vicious:

Lenore: I ought to be burned at the stake for loving you. *passionate kiss* Burned to a cinder. *another passionate kiss* Take me to Paris.
Andre: No. *she bites his arm and storms out*







Lenore and Andre's prickly relationship wasn't just acting, according to Parker, who later claimed that Granger was the only person in her entire career that she did not get along with: "It wasn't a conflict between the two of us. Everyone disliked this man... Stewart Granger was a dreadful person, rude... just awful. Just being in his presence was bad. I thought at one point the crew was going to kill him. Jean [Simmons, his then-wife] visited him on the set and would leave his dressing room in tears. He humiliated her. It was terrible."

With costumes by Gile Steel (who was often in charge of men's costumes for such varied films as The Wizard of Oz, Boom Town, Strike Up the Band, Mrs. Miniver, and The Heiress), Parker and Leigh look stunning throughout. George Sidney obviously agreed as he often gives the ladies many divine close-ups, his camera pushing in during pivotal and sometimes emotionally vulnerable scenes while the male characters are kept at a medium close-up.













Aside from looking breathtaking, Parker and Leigh give superb performances; their characters are good, but they make them seem great. When the film first became a project for Granger, Elizabeth Taylor was cast as Aline and Ava Gardner was Lenore. While I love both of those women, Leigh and Parker are, like Granger, perfectly suited for their roles.

Initially introduced to us as a golddigger, Lenore's complicated feelings for Andre outweigh her love for the finer things in life. She worries about him and feels frustrated that they've never settled down, but she also has a good head on her shoulders and helps keep him safe, sometimes without his knowledge.


Lenore's appearance and personality reminds me a lot of Kathryn Grayson's Lilli Vanessi from Kiss Me, Kate (pictured on the left), which director George Sidney did a year after Scaramouche. Both women are strong and temperamental actresses who are in love with difficult yet dashing men, and Lilli's stage look is a direct copy of Parker's Lenore. Fun fact: Sidney wanted Parker to dye her hair red since her character was "fiery," but Parker said, "I'm blonde and I'm going to stay that way." She wore wigs throughout production, but a few weeks after the film wrapped, Sidney ran into her at a restaurant and found she had recently dyed her hair red. "I thought I looked so good in the wigs, I decided to become a redhead," Parker explained. That just confirms to me the Kiss Me, Kate connection since Lilli is also a blonde who wears red wigs, even though Grayson was a brunette in real life and it really wasn't necessary for her to be a blonde in the film.


Whereas Lenore is audacious and sensual, Aline is much softer and sweeter. However, Leigh ensures that that doesn't mean the character has to be bland. She brings a warmth and a sense of humor to the role that allows you to understand why Andre and de Maynes are so charmed by her. As I mentioned earlier, Scaramouche excels at introducing characters, and Aline is no exception. Wishing de Maynes to marry, the queen has him meet Ms. de Gavrillac and he is pleasantly surprised, as are we, to see that the girl has spirit as well as beauty:

De Maynes: "You dance delightfully. You sing, too, no doubt."
Aline: "A little, sir."
De Maynes: "And you play some instrument?"
Aline: "The clavichord."
De Maynes: "And I imagine you're skillful with the needle and thread."
Aline: "Oh, yes, sir, I knit and sew. I also embroider here and there. I have read the plays of Corneille, Racine, Moliere, and Voltaire. I did not understand a word of them. I ride a little and fall off a lot. I don't cook too well, but I'm quite good at chess, although I prefer snakes and ladders. I have a nodding acquaintance with geography, geometry, astronomy, philosophy, and botany. I'm afraid I gave up algebra when I was twelve."

Later, when de Maynes catches Andre with his trainer, Doutreval, and they duel, Aline saves Andre's life by walking in and enabling him to escape. De Maynes realizes his enemy and his betrothed share a bond, but instead of becoming angry, he tries to understand it.

De Maynes: "My dear child..."
Aline: "I am not a child. Nor am I a chattel. I'm a woman who wants to be loved for her own sake or not at all."

Aline explains how Andre was a friend in her time of need and accuses de Maynes of only caring about her
because his beloved Marie Antoinette required it. In a rare moment of vulnerability from the marquis, he admits that although being with Aline started as a duty to the queen, he has fallen in love with her. This honesty seems to convince her to continue with their relationship, which proves advantageous as Andre becomes more determined to kill de Maynes. Lenore and Aline conspire to keep the man they love alive, Aline's position as the queen's friend and de Mayne's betrothed allowing her to have the marquis sent away on royal assignments and out of Andre's grasp. While Lenore fails to distract Andre from his focus on vengeance, Aline cleverly guilts de Mayne into taking her out on the town when she overhears him planning to attack Andre. She even successfully fakes illness to get de Maynes to leave the theatre after discerning who Scaramouche is, although it is too late and Andre has already spotted them.

Beware: the rest of my post contains spoilers!

The trickiest aspect of this film is the relationship between Andre and Aline. For starters, Andre declares that he loves her within minutes of meeting her. They only have one scene together before Andre realizes who she is and keeps her at arm's length; I struggle to decide if that scene is strong enough to justify Andre and Aline quietly pining for one another for the majority of the film. We're forced to rely on the subtleties of their words and actions, which is in sharp contrast with the brashness of Andre's interactions with Lenore.

For example, during a conversation between Aline and de Maynes, we hear that she fell for Andre when he was there for her when her father died, when she felt the most alone in her life. His ability to cheer and comfort her without any expectation of anything in return touched Aline, who already felt lightheaded by her charming first encounter with debonair Andre. For his part, Andre doesn't really explain why he loves Aline, probably because he would rather forget it than explore it since he believes they share a father. In one scene, Lenore accuses Andre of having an affair with Aline, to which he replies with a hint of sadness, "I couldn't love Aline de Gavrillac if she were the last woman on Earth." He would gladly pursue Aline, but, fortunately, he tries his best to stay away from her and, we surmise, forces himself to move on by resuming his relationship with Lenore.




When I first saw this film, I rooted for Andre and Lenore to end up together. When Philippe's father (Lewis Stone) reveals at the end that he is actually de Maynes's brother and not Aline's, I was relieved that Andre and Aline's love for each other was no longer, to be frank, incestuous, but I was also a little upset that it caused him to ultimately choose Aline. Because of this twist, I made a note to myself to keep Andre's decision in mind on my next viewing, which encouraged me to pay more attention to his relationships with both women and changed how I felt about the ending.

For one thing, although Andre and Lenore's fighting is hilarious, I began to wonder if their constant bickering was toxic rather than cute. They are definitely crazy about each other, but the foundation of their relationship is jealousy, lust, and antagonism. Lenore herself seems to be aware of this. Having overheard the truth about Andre's paternity and realizing that that's what stopped him from being with Aline, Lenore encourages him to be with the other woman: "Oh yes, I know she loves you. Not the way I did, but then, she's not like me. ... She's the marrying kind. Which somehow, I don't seem to be." She confesses that she likes Aline and gives Andre her blessing, but the sacrifice noticeably breaks her heart.

We cut from Andre and Lenore saying goodbye to the final scene, which opens with her gazing at a bouquet with cheers in the background. We then watch from Lenore's balcony as Aline and Andre approach in a carriage in their wedding finery. Lenore tosses the bouquet into Andre's lap and gets one last jab in when it explodes black powder into his face. He and Aline burst into laughter and happily wave at Lenore, who then walks off with a man we're led to believe is Napoleon, signalling that she is back to chasing after wealthy, powerful men.







The film's love triangle (or quadrangle, if you include de Maynes) brings me to my biggest quibble with the film: Andre doesn't tell either woman about Count de Gavrillac, Philippe's murder, or his hope for revenge against de Maynes. When Andre first believes he and Aline are siblings, he tells Philippe that he'll keep the count's secret because that is what the man definitely wanted, but once Aline starts declaring her love for him, why wouldn't he tell her the truth? Not only does she deserve that right, it feels queasy hearing Aline tell her supposed half-brother that she could never want another man.

Also, by not telling Lenore what's going on, Andre leads her to believe that his clandestine sword practice is an affair with another woman. When she connects the dots that he knows Aline, she is even more convinced that that's who he is cheating with, which in turn makes her think that Andre's hatred for de Maynes is because of Aline. I have to think that Sabatini's novel, or even the silent film, explains this better, because Andre's silence makes zero sense and feels very selfish.


A smaller issue is with the ending. I love the twist about Andre's true father, especially since it comes after his and de Maynes's epic duel. Although Andre has finally bested his rival, he finds himself inexplicably unable to kill the marquis. Thanks to Philippe's father, he understands that it is because he felt a connection with de Maynes that prevented him from murdering his own sibling. However, the ending feels slightly unresolved since we don't see the result of this news. I mean, what happened to de Maynes? He couldn't have known about Andre, right? And will they still go after each other?

A lot about this film surprised me, in particular the sword fighting. Classic Hollywood isn't exactly known for being gory, which I appreciate, but sometimes it can feel silly when a character has a gruesome death that somehow avoids spilling any blood. Scaramouche has people actually bleed, which is important because it makes the sword fighting feel more visceral and dangerous. De Maynes loves to toy with his opponents, delivering cut after cut until he goes in for the death blow. This makes Philippe's murder even more brutal, as well as ratchets up the tension in de Maynes's three duels with Andre.






Part of what I appreciate about Andre's characterization is that he isn't initially a good swordsman. We see his skillset go from wildly swinging at de Maynes to struggling to learn how to fight to finally being so good that he is even better than the marquis. As he learns, he is chided for fighting emotionally instead of intellectually, an evaluation that separates him from de Maynes, whose cruel and calculating style gives him a prowess others lack. Funnily enough, in real life Granger was the better swordsman than Mel Ferrer, due to the well-rounded training he received as an actor in Britain. Ferrer pointed out to MGM that he was a dancer, not a fencer, but he approached his training like it was choreography and learned how to fence seven completely different duels in six weeks. Granger and Ferrer insisted on doing their own stunts as well, which the latter admitted "almost killed both of us," like when Ferrer narrowly missed Granger's head after a long, tiring day of dueling.

The film's famous six-and-a-half-minute sword fight is a sight to behold. Set at a luxurious theatre, Andre and de Maynes use almost the entire building for their duel as they go up and down stairs, across balconies, down aisles, and all over the stage. Ferrer recalled that there was no safety net for the part on the balcony railings, remarking that in retrospect he and Granger acted foolishly. What I like about the scene is that it isn't picture-perfect -- it shows the men stumbling and having difficulty, and even lets us see them literally sweat. Fighting with swords is tough, complex work and the film doesn't let us forget that.
















Composed of eye-catching color, a solid script, splendid direction, non-stop adventure, and brilliant performances, Scaramouche is a vibrant spectacle you really don't want to miss. Its effervescent spirit carries you away on such a fun, exciting journey, leaving you giddy and wishing for more time with Andre and his universe. To quote Mel Ferrer, Scaramouche was certainly "Metro at its best."
















 
 












 


 




























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This is my contribution to my Janet Leigh Blogathon, a celebration of one of my favorite actresses. Please check out the other tributes to this wonderful woman here!

Comments

  1. Over time, I have come to accept Andre's decision to be with Aline over Lenore; the hubby never will. We both agree with you that Nina Foch was woefully under-utilized. Richard Anderson charmed me as Philippe.

    I think you will enjoy the 1923 version of Scaramouche. It is grand entertainment as well, and you will enjoy Lewis Stone of our Technicolor extravaganza as the villainous Marquis.

    PS: I know you had the most fun putting together those screencaps!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure your husband isn't alone in his feelings. And yes, Richard Anderson! I was going to write more about him, but it got to the point where I just wanted to be done with the post, sadly.

      Thanks for your recommendation of the '23 version. I'll be sure to look out for it on TCM in the future.

      You know me and my screencaps! There were actually about a dozen more, but I thought I should restrain myself, haha.

      Delete
  2. What are some other Janet Leigh movies that you like? I like LITTLE WOMEN, HOLIDAY AFFAIR with ROBERT MITCHUM and its not a movie but I really like the COLUMBO ep titled FORGOTTEN LADY with JOHN PAYNE, MAURICE EVANS and SAM JAFFE. Classic TV Fan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love Holiday Affair, Words and Music, Psycho, My Sister Eileen, Bye Bye Birdie, The Manchurian Candidate... I'm sure there are more. She had a great filmography!

      Delete
  3. Speaking of dizzying heights, I've just nominated you for a Sunshine Blogger Award! Congrats!!!

    https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/more-2/my-blogging-awards/sunshine-blogger-award/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, wow, thanks! I'll try to find time this week to respond to it. :)

      Delete
    2. No problem, your blog is a great treat to read and always adore your pics and blogathons.

      Delete
  4. I'd like to see both versions of these to compare and contrast. The MGM film looks spectacular.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm curious, too. Granger did a '50s remake of another great swashbuckler, The Prisoner of Zenda, that I'd like to compare with the '30s version as well.

      Thanks for reading!

      Delete
  5. Great analysis! Too bad to know that Stewart Granger was an awful person, because he is so good as Andre. I love both Leigh and Parker in this film, but I think Lenore is the one who just sweeps us from our feet.
    Interesting to know about the close-ups for the ladies and medium shots for the men. I hadn't noticed that.
    Thanks for hosting this fun event!
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, and it was my pleasure! Lenore is quite spectacular, isn't she? I have never heard good things about Stewart Granger, which is part of why I haven't been interested in his films. And I hadn't noticed that about the close-ups, either! There are some interesting shot choices in this film that I didn't delve into more.

      Delete

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