Cast & Crew
In 1792, the Prince of Wales reviews his palace guards. Upon hearing the news that dozens of French aristocrats have been executed by the new French Republican government, the prince expresses his pride that a group of British royals, led by a man known only as "The Scarlet Pimpernel," have perplexed the French with their daring rescues. In a French prison, the Count de Tournay and his family prepare to be taken to the guillotine. The count is separated from his family and sent to Robespierre, the leader of the French government. His family, however, is rescued by their cart driver, who is none other than the Scarlet Pimpernel, disguised as an old hag. Safely outside Paris, the de Tournay family is met by the Pimpernel's men and spirited away to England. The Pimpernel's newest exploit enrages Robespierre, who offers the count his life if he helps capture the Pimpernel. Refused by the aristocrat, Robespierre then assigns the task to his ambassador to Britain, Chauvelin, and threatens him with the guillotine if he fails.
Back in England, the Pimpernel removes his disguise and becomes Sir Percy Blakeney, an English gentleman who appears to be nothing more than a "fop." Percy warns his friends that they must keep their band small and secret or its effectiveness will be lost. Percy's beautiful French wife, Marguerite, is unaware of the Pimpernel's true identity. Through his spies, Chauvelin discovers a note which implicates Marguerite's brother, Armand St. Just, in the Pimpernel's actions. Upon his arrival in England, Chauvelin offers Marguerite her brother's life if she assists in the capture of the Pimpernel. Meanwhile, Percy and Armand meet to discuss their future actions, and Armand questions Percy about his estrangement from his wife. Percy tells Armand that Marguerite testified against the Marquis de St. Cyr, the first aristocrat sent to the guillotine, and though he still loves her, he cannot forgive her this action. At the Granville Ball that night, Marguerite feigns illness to acquire a note from Sir Andrew ffoulkes, one of Percy's associates, which states that the Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. With the note in his possession, Chauvelin goes to the library, only to find the sleeping Percy. Disgusted, Chauvelin then sits down and falls asleep himself, only to awaken and find a note from the Pimpernel. Though he suspects the still-sleeping Percy, Chauvelin cannot believe that such a foppish man is the hero he seeks. Later on, Marguerite tells Percy of her betrayal of the Pimpernel to Chauvelin.
When Percy questions her on her denouncement of St. Cyr, Marguerite tells him that St. Cyr had unjustly sent her to prison because his son had fallen in love with her, and that she would have died there if she had not been freed by the Revolution. While Percy can finally understand his wife's actions and the two become close once more, he still does not disclose to her his secret identity. That evening, Marguerite looks up at a family portrait, only to realize that the mark of the Pimpernel is part of the family crest. She rushes to foulkes, who tells her that Percy has already sailed for France in an attempt to rescue both her brother and the Count de Tournay.
Meanwhile, Chauvelin learns from a French prison guard that Percy has already freed Armand and de Tournay, and that his band plans to meet at the Brogard's Inn before sailing for England. Marguerite arrives at the inn before Percy, only to be captured by Chauvelin, who is there disguised as a priest. Percy arrives at the inn, and though he avoids Chauvelin's initial trap, he is forced to surrender to the French ambassador when he learns of Marguerite's plight. After saying goodbye to Marguerite, Percy is led off to face a firing squad. Chauvelin's exultation at the sounds of rifle shots is short-lived, however, as Percy returns to the inn unharmed, only to tell Chauvelin that the French soldiers were actually his men in disguise. Leaving the outwitted Chauvelin behind, Percy and Marguerite sail back to England, and Percy reminds his wife that she will never be free as long as he is alive, which will be a very long time.
O. B. Clarence
S. N. Berhman
David B. Cunynghame
Baroness Emmuska Orczy
B. J. Simmons & Co., King Street, Covent Garden
A. W. Watkins
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935)
The "auteur" theory of film authorship may apply most often to directors, but other artists can certainly acquire the label, be they writers, actors, cinematographers or composers. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), one of the great costume adventure films of its time, is the work of an auteur producer, Alexander Korda. His stamp is simply all over the movie, beginning with the script's overall wit and humor - two qualities which were in short supply in the original source material.
The Scarlet Pimpernel began life as a 1905 play by Hungarian Baroness Emmuska Orczy and Montagu Barstow. Three years later it was novelized by Orczy as the first of a series of novels. The story is set during France's Reign of Terror. Innocent French noblemen are being guillotined daily, but a mysterious man heroically rescues many of them, always leaving behind a small red flower - a pimpernel - as his trademark. The Scarlet Pimpernel, as he is called, is revealed to us to be Sir Percy Blakeney, a British aristocrat who pretends to be a foppish and ineffectual dandy in order to throw off suspicion. Even his disgusted French wife is unaware of his secret identity. The French, however, figure out that the Pimpernel is English and send an emissary, Chauvelin, to London to find him.
Korda originally had Charles Laughton in mind for Blakeney, but luckily he ended up with Leslie Howard, who became a huge star because of this picture. As Blakeney's wife he cast the beautiful Merle Oberon (who later became Mrs. Korda), and playing the villain Chauvelin was Canadian actor Raymond Massey.
Two more production members imported from America were cinematographer Harold Rosson and editor William Hornbeck, both among the finest in Hollywood at their professions. This was a sign of Korda's extravagance - bringing over such craftsmen was definitely not the norm for British movies at this time. Assembling the right crew, however, is one of the chief jobs of a producer, and Korda knew how to hire a winning combination of people to achieve what he wanted. In the case of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Korda wanted to fully and lavishly recreate the French revolution, and these were the people to pull it off in style. (Both Rosson and Hornbeck stayed to work on a few more Korda pictures as well.)
The Scarlet Pimpernel's original director, Rowland Brown, was famously fired on just the first day of production after butting heads with Korda. According to Raymond Massey's autobiography A Hundred Different Lives, Korda watched Brown direct a scene and then told him disapprovingly that he was shooting it as if it were a gangster film. Brown replied that he would direct it his way or walk out. Korda said, "Please walk," and Brown was gone. Korda directed the scene himself and by that afternoon had hired a replacement, Harold Young. Korda kept Young on a tight leash, however. As Massey wrote, "The next day Young ostensibly took over, but the direction throughout the months of shooting remained an unofficial but smooth collaboration."
While acting in The Scarlet Pimpernel, Massey was also starring in and directing the play The Shining Hour on London's West End, following a 125-performance run on Broadway. He managed to handle both the play and the movie even though it meant consistent 15-hour days. Korda accommodated him by providing a car and driver each day, thereby allowing Massey to catch up on sleep during the one-hour drive to and from Elstree Studios. It also helped that during each performance of The Shining Hour, Massey ate two full hot meals on stage as part of the play itself. (In theater circles, the play was known jokingly as "The Dining Hour.")
"I never had such fun working in a movie as I did on The Scarlet Pimpernel," Massey would later recall. "Of all the heavies I have played on the screen, the most wicked and the most fun to do was Chauvelin. There was a spirit in that company, a feeling of confidence, a sort of élan which I have often found in the theater but never sensed in any other movie."
The Scarlet Pimpernel has been a popular source for moviemakers over the years. It was made into several silent films and remade countless more times for film and TV. Korda himself oversaw two further versions - a sequel, Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937), with a different cast, and a remake, The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Leslie Howard directed an entertaining modern-day version of the story in 1941 called "Pimpernel" Smith (also known as Mister V), in which he plays an effete academic who rescues victims of Nazi Germany.
Producer: Alexander Korda, Grace Blake
Director: Harold Young
Screenplay: Emmuska Orczy, Lajos Biro, S.N. Behrman, Robert E. Sherwood, Arthur Wimperis
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Film Editing: William Hornbeck
Music: Arthur Benjamin
Cast: Leslie Howard (Sir Percy Blakeney), Merle Oberon (Lady Marguerite Blakeney), Raymond Massey (Citizen Chauvelin), Nigel Bruce (Prince of Wales), Bramwell Fletcher (Priest), Joan Gardner (Suzanne de Tournay).
by Jeremy Arnold
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1935)
They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!- Percy Blakeney
The original play opened in London on 5 January 1905, three years before it was novelized.
The onscreen credits mistakenly spell actor Morland Graham's first name as "Moreland." Although onscreen credits list Walter Rilla as "Armand St. Just," studio publicity materials spell his name Walter Rillso. Onscreen credits list the character played by Edmund Breon as "Colonel Winterbottom," but the Variety and New York Times reviews list the character as "Rene de Grammont." The Scarlet Pimpernel opened at New York's Radio City Music Hall on February 7, 1935, and was reissued in 1942 and 1947. According to the pressbook, publishers Grosset and Dunlap issued a special edition of the novel with a cover illustrating the movie. The Scarlet Pimpernel was first written as a play, then upon its stage success transformed into the first of a series of novels by Baroness Orczy. Onscreen credits incorrectly spell well-known playwright S. N. Berhman's name "Sam Bermann." According to modern sources, S. N. Behrman was employed for three weeks to write a treatment, of which only the scene in which "Percy" gives instructions to his tailor was used. The script was based on an adaptation of the novel by Robert Sherwood and Arthur Wimperis. A pimpernel is a type of flower. The poem that "Sir Percy Blakeney" composed in his "fop" mode reads: "They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he from heaven is he from hell-that damned elusive Pimpernel."
The following information was obtained from modern sources: Alexander Korda himself conceived the ending as "Percy" and his wife see England from their ship. Korda intended Charles Laughton to play the role of "Percy." Shooting began in September 1934, under the direction of Rowland Brown, who was replaced after a few days by producer Korda before Harold Young was assigned to take over direction. Modern sources add to the cast Roy Meredith (Viscount de Tournay), Billy Shine (An aristocrat), Brember Wills (Doman), Kenneth Kove ('Codlin,' a fisherman), Renee Macredy (Lady Q), Philip Strange, Carl Harbord, Philip Desborough, Hugh Dempster, Peter Evan Thomas, Derrick De Marney (Members of the Pimpernel League), Harry Terry ('Renad'), Douglas Stewart ('Merieres'), Arthur Hambling (Captain of the Guard) and credit Bernard Browne as assistant photographer.
In 1941, Leslie Howard starred, produced and directed an updated version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, entitled Mr. V, but released in the U.S. as Pimpernel Smith. Korda later oversaw two other films of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a sequel, The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel in 1938 with Barry K. Barnes and directed by Hans Schwartz, and The Elusive Pimpernel in 1950, starring David Niven and directed by Michael Powell, who had wanted to make it into a musical.
Other film versions of The Scarlet Pimpernel include a 1917 Fox picture starring Dustin Farnum and directed by Richard Stanton (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20), and its sequel, The Elusive Pimpernel, a 1919 British production by Stoll Pictures, directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Cecil Humphreys. A 1928 British and Dominions production starring Matheson Lang and directed by T. Hayes Hunter was entitled alternately The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Scarlet Daredevil and The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Television versions have included a 1955-56 British series, The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, staring Marius Goring; a 1960 CBS telefeature on Family Classics titled The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Michael Rennie and Maureen O'Hara; Battle of Wits, a 1973 British Anglia production for Great Mysteries, with Ian Bannen and Brewster Mason; and a 1982 CBS production The Scarlet Pimpernel, directed by Clive Donner and starring Anthony Andrews.