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Thursday, September 11, 2014

SCARAMOUCHE (1952)

George Sidney’s second shot at swashbuckling was a big step up from THE 3 MUSKETEERS/’48, his relentlessly peppy first try at the genre. Especially, the spirited fencing scenes which are long, gracefully edited & generally much admired. But the tone remains coarse & corny, with tiresome comic business, period sets built on the cheap (lots of drapes) and jarring Bois de Culver Citie exteriors. Stewart Granger (as a vengeance seeking near-noble) & Eleanor Parker (as his Commedia dell’Arte partner) overwork their Kate & Petruchio routine, but Mel Ferrer’s deadly aristo shows style & menace as he falls for his court-appointed bride-to-be Janet Leigh, ravishing under Charles Rosher’s lens. (Her close-ups alone make a self-justifying case for the old squarish Academy Ratio frame.) But too much of the Rafael Sabatini novel goes missing, with basic romantic intrigue making a poor substitute for a rhymed narrative structure Alexandre Dumas might have signed off on.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The film’s not a patch on Rex Ingram’s 1923 silent beauty, grand entertainment that’s respectful of Sabatini and the whole damn French Revolution. Or . . . give Sidney his due as helmer with his follow up, YOUNG BESS/’53, an underrated Elizabethan drama with fine perfs, historical flavor & a sumptuous Miklos Rozsa score.

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