The Mask of Scaramouche
To show my ignorance, but I am sure I won't be alone, my only real knowledge of Scaramouche came from the lyrics "Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango" from Queens brilliant "Bohemian Rhapsody". As such when I decided to watch the 1952 movie "Scaramouche" the only things I sort of knew were that it was a swashbuckler starring Stewart Granger and a variety of other notable names. The lack of knowledge doesn't matter because "Scaramouche" is simply a triumph, a simple movie to follow, one full of light hearted entertainment and brilliant action culminating in what was and probably still is the longest swashbuckling sword fight in cinema's long history. To put it simply "Scaramouche" is entertaining from start to finish and for a movie made in the 1950s not only captures the Golden Age of the swashbuckler but is still one hell of an entertaining movie.
Noel, Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) is the most notorious swordsman in the whole of France, legendary for being the best and most ruthless with the sword. He is also the cousin of the Queen who asks him to track down and kill Philippe de Valmorin (Richard Anderson) who is behind revolutionist literature placed in the Queen's bedroom to antagonise her. It brings him face to face with Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger - Secret Mission), a nobleman who is without knowledge of his father, who is also the best friend of Philippe who when is killed by the sword of the Marquis de Maynes vows to have his revenge and kill the Marquis in the same way he killed Philippe. Hiding out with a group of travelling performers where he dates the feisty Lenore (Eleanor Parker - Detective Story), Andre trains to be a swordsman learning from the man who taught the man who taught the Marquis but he also finds himself coming close to Aline de Gavrillac (Janet Leigh - Master of Lassie) a young woman whose guardian is the Marquis de Maynes.
There are many great things about "Scaramouche" and the first of which is the storyline, adapted from Rafael Sabatini's 1921 novel. Now I haven't got a clue how authentic this adaptation is, to be frank I don't care because what the writers have come up with in adapting it works. It works because whilst we have a lot going on from complex relationships to the backdrop of French revolution it is very simple as at its heart it is the journey of Andre as he sets about getting revenge for the murder of his best friend Philippe. All those relationship complexities be it between Andre and the women or that of the Marquis and the Queen just add substance to an easy to watch movie.
But that is the first thing and just as important is that the direction from George Sidney is pitch perfect. It's perfect because he paces the movie brilliantly, balancing out the storyline and action as we watch Andre grow as a swordsman till eventually we get the spectacular final battle. Now that final battle is the epitome of what a swashbuckler should be, daring stunts, a sword battle which takes us up and down stairs, across balconies and chairs and on and on never becoming dull for a split second. But before we get to that the smaller moments of action, are introduction to he Marquis as he kills a man whilst practicing to horse chases are just as exciting and beautiful choreographed.
Add to this we have the wonderful light-hearted nature especially as the story has Andre masquerading as the clown Scaramouche. It is full of visual slapstick but also the humour of Andre being a flagrant flirt, turning on the charm when he is around a beautiful woman. It simply is wonderful and adds to that sense of this being an old fashioned swashbuckler where men were heroic and charming when it came to getting the woman.
What this means is that whilst "Scaramouche" has a lot of fine performances be it Eleanor Parker as the feisty Lenore or Janet Leigh as the beautiful Aline it is Stewart Granger who grabs your attention and keeps it. From the first time we meet Andre, Stewart makes him likeable, a lovable rogue who is a dashing, cocky charmer with a glint in his eye. But then we also have the hero and watching him progress as a swordsman is wonderful especially when it comes to the big climax which starts with a breathtaking rope swing followed by balcony leaps and so much more. People may think Errol Flynn was a great swashbuckler but in "Scaramouche" Stewart Granger stakes his claim for the title.
What this all boils down to is that "Scaramouche" is a stunning movie and exactly what you expect from a true swashbuckler. And whilst we are talking about a movie which is now 60 years old there is little which feels dated about it and in fact for entertainment and excitement it gives modern movies a run for their money.