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The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934, UK)

In director Harold Young's film, it told about the double-life of an 18th century aristocrat who disguised himself to save French nobles from Robespierre's Reign of Terror in France. It became one of the greatest historical-adventure films ever made. First written as a stage play produced in 1903, it became the first novel (published in 1905) in a series of historical fiction novels written by Hungarian-born English novelist and playwright Baroness Orczy:

  • in the year 1792, during the time of the bloody French Revolution (with the Reign of Terror led by Robespierre), Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard) posed as a mild-mannered, chivalrous and rich English aristocrat. He was newly married to a beautiful French woman, Lady Marguerite (Merle Oberon). As an English nobleman, he was deeply concerned by news of the slaughter of the aristocratic French, including the deaths of the Marquis de St. Cyr and his family
53 Persons Guillotined by Robespierre in One Day - in Paris, 1792 - Article
The French Revolution's Bloody Guillotine
Sir Percy Blakeney in Disguise as an Old Hag During a Guillotine Rescue
  • the devious French Republic's ambassador to England, Monsieur Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) led a Revolutionary tribunal that condemned members of the aristocracy to death
  • to rescue innocent but condemned French noblemen who faced the guillotine, Sir Blakeney adopted a new mysterious identity - as a dashing and mysterious hero known as "The Scarlet Pimpernel"; Sir Percy often repeated or recited a poem about the notorious figure: ("They seek him here. They seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in Heaven? Is he in Hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel")
  • he took his name from the symbol on his family crest - a deep-red colored English primrose. The Pimpernel's trademark was to leave behind a small red flower - a pimpernel, sometimes in the form of red wax with a floral design (created by the imprint of his signet ring)
  • Blakeney was the organizer of a daring band of conspirators in a 'secret society' who saved imprisoned French aristocrats, noblemen, and royalists from death (from "Madame Guillotine") by smuggling them out of France to England. He took many expeditions to Paris with his fellow compatriots, including his wife's brother Armand St. Just (Walter Rilla), to secretly rescue condemned individuals, while mocking the French Revolutionaries
  • Blakeney was unable to reveal his secret identity to his new wife when he feared she would be endangered, or that she would divulge his hidden mission. Because of long absences, his costumed attire, his indolence, and his vapid, foppish 'gay' or 'dandy' mannerisms and affectations (to hide his true identity), Blakeney lost the respect of his beloved wife, who remembered him as he used to be before he became limp-wristed and weak (she told him: "I scarcely know you"). Ironically, she became enamoured and infatuated with her husband's romantic, charming alter-ego
  • Robespierre became enraged by the Pimpernel's activities, and dispatched villainous Chauvelin to Dover, England, to target members of his arch-enemy's underground movement. In England, Chauvelin learned that Lady Blakeney's brother Armand was allied with the Pimpernel, and coerced her into cooperating in his search, in order to save Armand (she was told he had been captured and arrested by French spies). However, the clever escape artist Sir Percy Blakeney eluded a trap in a library at midnight that was set by his would-be captor during a fancy ball held at Lord Grenville's (Allan Jeayes) home; however, Chauvelin only found Percy sleeping in the library at around midnight, and then fell asleep himself; when he awoke, he found a message from the Pimpernel mocking him (with the scarlet rose insignia): "You looked so comfortable, I hadn't the heart to disturb you"; Percy also awoke beside him, looking bewildered

Note For a Sleeping Monsieur Chauvelin Left by the Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel's Design on His Signet Ring
Lady Blakeney's Sudden Discovery of Husband's Identity
  • shortly later, Lady Blakeney was astounded to learn that the Pimpernel was her own husband. The clue to his real identity was hidden in a huge family portrait of a Blakeney ancestor (Percival Blakeney, the 1st baronet) in her husband's private study; the painting showed him wearing a carved signet ring in the shape of a red primrose (or scarlet pimpernel flower) on his right hand; as the startling revelation came over her, the camera slowly zoomed toward her face; she called out: "Percy. Percy!" and raced from the room
  • she rushed to her husband's side at a French seaside rendezvous site (a tavern known as "Lion d'Or"), hoping to save him or die with him. There, after arriving ahead of her husband, she was captured and arrested by Chauvelin (who planned to be disguised as a priest) and she was forced to lure Percy to the inn at 10 pm with a lighted candle from a window as an "all-clear" signal; there, Percy was forced to surrender to Chauvelin (in exchange for Lady Blakeney's release)
  • during this climactic confrontational sequence, Sir Percy merged himself into his 'Scarlet Pimpernel' disguise, and was able to outfox, outwit and fool Chauvelin, thus defeating him. The French soldiers in a firing squad that were ordered to execute Blakeney were actually his own men in disguise

Percy Was Reunited with Lady Blakeney Before His Threatened Death by a Firing Squad

An Exalting Chauvelin Grinned at the Sound of Gunfire from Firing Squad

Percy Introduced His Own Men in Firing Squad to the Outfoxed Chauvelin
  • Blakeney and his wife were finally reunited and set sail across the Channel back to England (the film's last line: "Look Marguerite, England!"

Monsieur Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) - The Villainous French Ambassador to England

Sir Percy Blakeney's (Leslie Howard) Proposal to Adopt a New Identity as "The Scarlet Pimpernel"

The Foppish Blakeney Reciting the Poem about 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'

French Woman Lady Marguerite (Merle Oberon) - Percy's Estranged and Unhappy Wife

The Final Confrontational Scene Between Blakeney and Chauvelin at the Lion d'Or Tavern in France

Ending: Percy Sailing Back to England Through the Channel with Lady Blakeney


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