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Monday, March 18, 2013

SCARAMOUCHE (1923)

Knockout entertainment. Rex Ingram brought back the three principles from THE PRISONER OF ZENDA/’22 (Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry, Lewis Stone) for this adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s French Revolution swashbuckler. Novarro is superbly manly & glamorous as the young lawyer who spits at the aristocracy and winds up hiding with a band of traveling players as Scaramouche. But when his old flame (Terry) shows up at his Paris theatre, with evil aristo Stone as escort, he misreads the situation, causing one thrilling complication after another. Tru-love takes a beating while the revolution boils over. Ingram, with his ace cinematographer John Seitz, lays out a sumptuous production, allowing just enough gravitas to keep the story from tipping over into silliness. (George Sidney’s much-liked 1952 remake with Stewart Granger overdoes things, pouring on a faux-rollicking spirit and trimming too much eccentricity out of Sabatini’s storyline. Sidney also hides a subplot about long-lost parents that winks in the direction of real-life Revolutionary dramatist Beaumarchais.) Alice Terry (Mrs. Ingram, off-screen) is a bit matronly for her role, but Novarro & Stone, swapping places from their ZENDA roles, are just about perfectly cast. And look fast to catch a surprise cameo from a young & hungry Napoleon, a rare acting appearance from Slavko Vorkapitch, Hollywood’s master of narrative montage transitions. The Warners VOD-DVD features a fine original orchestral score from Jeffrey Mark Silverman, and a print that does real justice to Seitz’s spectacular visuals. Check out that depth of focus on the profile-portrait of Novarro at the Paris Commune as crowds of spectators mass in the background. It's the kind of glamor shot that can make a career.

DOUBLE-BILL: The obvious choice (assuming the remake mentioned above doesn’t appeal) would be D. W. Griffith’s French Revolution drama, ORPHANS OF THE STORM/’21. (Compare the Dantons of Monte Blue, George Siegman with . . . Gérard Depardieu in DANTON/’83.) But a better idea is the next Rafael Sabatini adaptation, THE SEA HAWK/’24 with a striking perf from a buff Milton Sills, unexpectedly vigorous helming from Frank Lloyd and a plot that has nothing at all to do with the famous Michael Curtiz/Errol Flynn version of 1940.

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