The Fighting Pimpernel
Cast & Crew
In 1792, the French Revolution has swept through Paris, endangering the lives of all of the ruling-class Royalists. Some of them, however, are saved in daring last-minute rescues by mysterious Englishman The Scarlet Pimpernel, so named because of the red floral symbol he leaves behind. In reality, The Scarlet Pimpernel is Sir Percy Blakeney, who poses as a fop at court while secretly leading The League, his coterie of noblemen. After Percy disguises himself as a hag to free a doomed French family, he returns to England, where he annoys the older gentlemen of the court with his apparent cowardice and frivolity, and remains in favor with the Prince of Wales by offering fashion advice. That night, however, he travels again in secret to Paris with his closest friends, Lord Anthony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew ffoulkes, to rescue the Comtesse de Tournai, her son Philippe and daughter Suzanne. The men transport the family, hidden in a wine barrel, to the nearby abbey of Mont St. Michel, where the Abbot grants them shelter. The Abbot explains to Percy that each night the tide sweeps in so rapidly that the beach is flooded, allowing a ship to slip in close to the abbey walls. Although Percy had hoped that his brother-in-law, Armand St. Just, had also managed to escape Paris, Armand is not among the fugitives. Percy travels separately from the rest, who sail to Dover and take cover at an inn. Before Percy arrives there, his wife, the former Marguerite St. Just, enters and embraces the de Tournais, her family friends. She receives a chilly welcome from the Comtesse, however, who believes that the St. Justs are revolutionaries. Later, Percy arrives and hides in the inn's attic office, where he obtains a message via carrier pigeon from Armand, who writes that Chauvelin, the head of the revolutionaries, is detaining him in Paris. Downstairs, Percy greets his wife coldly, and then feigns cowardice when Philippe offers to duel over Marguerite's honor, which the Comtesse has attacked. That night, Marguerite visits Percy's room, where she pleads to know why he stopped loving her, but receives nothing but platitudes. Later, however, Percy reveals to Anthony that, although he still loves his wife, he has learned that it was her testimony that condemned the Marquis, the first murdered royalist in France, and so he can no longer trust her. Percy sends Anthony to London with a message stating that The Scarlet Pimpernel will attend an upcoming party at the Grenvilles', but Chauvelin's men ambush Anthony and seize the note. Days later, Chauvelin sails to London for the party, at which Percy signals Anthony to interrupt the prince's lascivious dance with Marguerite by enticing him to play cards. Meanwhile, Chauvelin tells Marguerite that he has intercepted an incriminating letter from Armand to The Scarlet Pimpernel, but will withhold it in exchange for Marguerite discovering the hero's identity. Marguerite tells Percy about the conversation, and although he feigns ineffectuality, he later disguises himself as a beggar and gains entry into Chauvelin's rooms. There, he is almost caught stealing the letter, and must flee without it. Back at the party, Andrew retrieves a note and ring from Percy asking him to use the floral stamp hidden inside the ring as an official mark to gather the League. Marguerite sees the letter, and, hoping to discover its purpose, urges Andrew to perform a magic trick with her ring, which is identical to Percy's. After she manages to read the note, a flustered Andrew hands her Percy's ring by mistake. Later, by threatening to have Armand tortured, Chauvelin forces Marguerite to reveal the letter's information. A distraught Marguerite informs Percy, who by that time has returned to the party, and when he turns away, she demands to know why he hates her. He asks about the Marquis, prompting her to confess that the Marquis imprisoned her to keep her from marrying his son, and after Chauvelin befriended her, she revealed the Marquis' Royalist leanings, not knowing that this would endanger his life. Realizing his beloved wife has been innocent, Percy embraces her. He plans with his men to stage a horse race the next morning, during which he can slip away to Paris to rescue Armand. When Marguerite hears that he has left for a race, she despairs of his frivolity, but in her room, she discovers the stamp inside Percy's ring and deduces that he is The Scarlet Pimpernel. She confronts Anthony, who agrees to escort her to Paris, but unknown to them, they are followed by Chauvelin's men. In Paris, meanwhile, Chauvelin has captured Andrew, but Percy calmly enters Chauvelin's office and, after revealing his true identity, secretly stuffs his snuff box with pepper. Although Chauvelin is sure he has bested the Englishmen, when he tries his snuff, his ensuing sneezing fit allows Percy to imprison him and escape with Andrew. When they reach Mont St. Michel, however, they discover that Chauvelin has followed Anthony's carriage there and captured Anthony and Marguerite. Using their lives as currency, Chauvelin convinces Percy to give himself up. Minutes later, however, Percy is rescued by his League, who are disguised as Chauvelin's guards. Not realizing the tide is about to come in, Chauvelin still believes himself to be victorious, but his soldiers are soon swept off the beach. Percy leads his men, his wife and a new group of rescued Royalists to the waiting ship, which sets sail for England.
George De Wartaz
Jane Gill Davies
George R. Busby
W. Percy Day
W. S. Robinson
Sydney S. Streeter
Originally planned as a musical, and was to have been co-produced by Samuel Goldwyn which would have helped its distribution in the United States. When he pulled out, Alexander Korda (the executive behind London Films) sued him. The movie was finally distributed in the States by Carroll Pictures in black and white only.
The schooner called The Daydream in the film was really The Nellie Bywater, owned and operated by Richard England who plays the schooner captain in the film.
The film's opening and closing cast credits vary in order. The opening credit reading "A Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger Production" appears over an image of an arrow hitting a bullseye, which was the logo for their company, The Archers. The opening credit for Powell and Pressburger reads: "Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger." The onscreen credit for Baroness Emmuska Orczy, who wrote the novel on which the film was based, reads: "From a romance by Baroness Orczy." The film begins with a written foreword stating that although the French revolutionaries terrorized their country, a mysterious Englishman called The Scarlet Pimpernel became a ray of hope for the condemned. The closing credits include the following written statement: "Scenes for the film were made in Touraine in the Châteaux of the Loire, on the Mont St. Michel, at Dover, in the Royal City of Bath, in Savernake Forest and on the Marlborough Downs. The producers most gratefully thank the corporation of the City of Bath in England and in France the Ministère de L'Education Nationale. Also many private owners of châteaux and houses for their generous help." According to the onscreen credits, the film was also photographed in England at the National Studios in Elstree and at the London Film Studio in Shepperton. Although according to an onscreen copyright statement, the picture was registered to London Film Productions, Ltd. in 1951, the film is not included in the Copyright Catalog.
As noted in the Variety review, the film was co-funded by Samuel Goldwyn and British producer Alexander Korda. It was shot in England and released in London in November 1950 under the title The Elusive Pimpernel. Numerous modern sources, including director Michael Powell's autobiography, assert the following: Neither Powell nor David Niven wanted to be involved in the film, but both agreed under threat of a contract suspension. Although Powell planned to shoot the film as a musical, he was not allowed to do so, nor was he allowed to choose the lead actress he preferred. After he delivered the finished picture to Goldwyn, the financier denounced the project and refused to make the final payment, even after Powell made numerous additions and revisions based on Goldwyn's notes. Korda sued Goldwyn, but the disposition of that suit has not been determined. On July 21, 1953, Hollywood Reporter announced that Caroll Pictures had acquired North American distribution rights to the Technicolor film, which that company released in black-and-white in 1954. The viewed print was in color.
Other film adaptations of Orczy's story include the 1935 Korda film The Scarlet Pimpernel, which was directed by Harold Young and starred Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey. Korda also made a sequel to that version in 1938 entitled The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, directed by Hans Schwartz and starring Barry Barnes, Sophie Stewart and James Mason (for both, see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). In addition, a 1917 Fox film, The Scarlet Pimpernel, was based on the Orczy novel. It was directed by Richard Stanton and starred Dustin Farnum and Winifred Kingston (see AFI Catalog of Feature FIlms, 1911-20). In 1998, the A&E and BBC networks co-produced a three-part television film entitled The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern. Patrick Lau directed the first two parts, which aired in 1998 and 1999, and Edward Bennett directed the third, which aired in 2000.