Hello, my darlings, yes it is true, I have Blogathon madness this autumn! It is fun to share a subject with my fellow bloggers.
From November 7-9th, Fritzi from Movies Silently hosts Swashathon! A blogathon dedicated to swashbuckling adventure! I am joining in the fun and covering Leslie Howard’s heroic performance in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934).
Based on the play and novel by Emma Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place shortly after the French Revolution during “The Reign of Terror” or “la Terreur”. Shortly after the French Revolution, over 16,000 people were executed (deemed enemies of the Revolution), The British aristocracy sympathetic to their French counterparts, worked to rescue French nobility from “Madame Guillotine”.
During the Reign of Terror, The Guillotine influenced fashion. As hair was cut prior to execution, fashionable women cut their hair short à la victime.
Guillotine blades embellished jewelry, and red ribbons were fashionable the color mimicked blood. While the red ribbons showed support for the revolution, the nobility wore black ribbons in solidarity with the nobility, demonstrating mourning for the executed.
In The Scarlet Pimpernel, Leslie Howard plays Sir Percy Blakeney a British nobleman married to a French actress Marguerite St. Just (Merle Oberon). Following the French Revolution, Marguerite testified against Marquis de Saint-Cyr leading to his family’s execution.
Do not think ill of Marguerite, note, she is not acting at will, the nefarious French Ambassador, Citizen Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) is manipulating her.
Her husband, Sir Percy is a fashion plate, who could shame the starch from Beau Brummel’s cravats! Compared with Sir Percy, the Prince of Wales is downright clumsy. Sir Percy advises His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales (Nigel Bruce) on proper sleeves:
SIR PERCY. Open up your sleeves, man. Let your ruffles take the air. Let them flow. Let them ripple.
Sir Percy’s wardrobe is gorgeous, deserving a separate post. Here is a lovely Sir Percy themed fashion parade:
He’s definitely a Swish-Buckler, but is he a Swashbuckler?
Sir Percy is a foppish and unaffectionate husband who lounges in social salons and composes poetry:
SIR PERCY. 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!
As a Swashbuckler film, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) has minimal action, none of the typical hallmarks, acrobatics, rope swinging, sword fighting. In other words, Sir Percy is closer to Oscar Wilde than “Wesley” from The Princess Bride.
For the Swashathon event, our charming hostess Fritzi defines it as “Whatever you think a swashbuckler is!”
I define Swashbuckler as a “gentleman adventurer” who fights for good, and while Sir Percy may seem silly and certainly not the type, do not let appearances deceive you.
But of course, knowing me as well as you do my dear reader, my humble opinion is never sufficient, so naturally, it is time to hit the books!
Chapman James in his book, Swashbucklers: The Costume Adventure Series provides this definition,
Regardless of its period and location, however, the swashbuckler features archetypal characters and situations. It is characterized by narratives of adventure, political intrigue and romance. Swordplay is also an essential ingredient: a literal definition of a swashbuckler is ‘one who makes a noise by striking his own or his opponent’s shield with his sword’ (James 4).
There are no sword fights in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), yet James defines The Scarlet Pimpernel as a Swashbuckler. While the film lacks swordplay, it is filled with “adventure, political intrigue, and romance”.
Sir Percy as “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is the hero of the aristocracy! Sir Percy after witnessing the Saint-Cyr family execution and atoning for his wife’s actions, channels his energies rescuing the French nobility. His actions are treacherous to the French Government, so his identity is a secret, even his wife does not know.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is a daring and often masked adventurer who harbors a secret and complicated affection for his “traitor” wife!
As a leader of a secret society, comprised of 20 men, “1 to command, 19 to obey” Sir Percy completes a series of daring adventures, becoming the toast of England and the bane of the French plebeians.
He is the ideal man for the job, for he is a man absolutely no one would suspect, and can easily move through social gatherings discussing fashion and gathering intelligence.
While Sir Percy seems foppish, he is a hero, there is a striking difference between Sir Percy and his alter ego “The Scarlet Pimpernel”! I adore Leslie Howard as Sir Percy but when he becomes The Scarlet Pimpernel his gaze intensifies, his posture changes, he is ready for action.
And while some may feel there is a lack of swordplay in The Scarlet Pimpernel, there is another type of Swashbuckling, verbal Swashbuckling and here Sir Percy is the King!
Howard’s delivery makes his little “isms” absolute perfection, so rather than endlessly quoting every hysterical little witticism, I suggest watching the film.
You can watch The Scarlet Pimpernel film through Hulu and Amazon Video.
My only critique, for some bizarre reason the entire cast pronounces “Zounds!” to rhyme with “Hounds!” (The correct pronunciation is “Zoonds!” it’s short for “God’s Wounds”).
Be sure you visit darling Fritzi at Movies Silently and enjoy the rest of The Swashathon! If you are not following her blog, start! She is a doll with a mission, to reintroduce contemporary audiences to silent cinema, and she makes it fun!
Ciao for Now, my dearies!
Chapman, James. Swashbucklers: The Costume Adventure Series. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2015. Print.