As Scaramouche Stewart Granger was allowed the rare opportunity to play the “ass.” Admittedly while masked. A stark contrast to the brooding character he becomes due to the events that unfold in this colorful MGM production.
Granger stars here as a poet, a Casanova of sorts who takes life’s pleasures as they come. He delivers a very lively performance in the films first half hour chasing his paramour Eleanor Parker. It’s an on again/off again love affair that is both playful and torrid. “I oughta be burned at the stake for loving you,” Parker purrs between kisses. “Burned to a cinder.”
Parker is part of an acting troupe touring around France with the leading character Scaramouche as it’s central figure. It’s during this carefree part of his life that Granger meets up with beautiful Janet Leigh and a hint of what is to come.
The film’s tone and Granger’s character are about to take a sharp turn when his best friend Richard Anderson is “murdered” in a duel against pompous Mel Ferrer. Ferrer is an expert fencer leaving Anderson little chance of actually winning the contest let alone surviving it. Granger swears vengeance and makes himself an enemy to Ferrer and the aristocracy. During his escape he comically ends up behind the mask of the title character on stage opposite Parker. A star is born.
On one hand the film maintains it’s serious tone with the arrogant Ferrer and Granger’s passion for revenge. On the other it’s comedy quotient remains at a high level while the troupe performs and Granger plays the ass against the extreme beauty of Parker.
While not on stage Granger is learning to master the sword despite the jealous nature of Parker. The adventure leads them to France where both Parker and Leigh vie for his affections while Ferrer condemns him. There’s swordplay coming and the climatic duel ranks with some of the greatest captured on film.
While sounding like a straight forward plot there are a few twists and turns along the way and a few surprises for the first time viewer. This MGM technicolor production from director George Sidney is practically begging to be restored on blu ray. Should we be so lucky I’ll have to add it to my collection and replace my VHS version. Sidney directed a number of films including working with Granger the following year on Young Bess.
Mel Ferrer is an actor I have never warmed to. Perhaps it’s because he plays the pompous villain so well and I have a hard time separating the actor from his character. That in itself should be a credit to the performer I suppose.
Eleanor Parker is not only beautiful but could hold her own opposite stars like Granger and seemed to do best playing the feisty woman of their dreams. Dare I say mine too? Janet Leigh was just getting started and films like these gave her an opportunity to be seen as more than just a damsel in distress. She has a playfulness that comes through despite her mixed feelings for the two men at odds.
Lewis Stone appeared in the 1923 silent version opposite Ramon Novarro and here plays the father of Anderson. His final 3 films before his death are this, The Prisoner of Zenda and All the Brothers Were Valiant. All three were opposite Granger and remakes of silent films. Two of which Stone starred in.
This was a role well suited for Granger’s talents at this point in his career. He’d come to MGM and along with Robert Taylor headlined many of their costume adventures in the fifties. Scaramouche allotted him a role that gave him a wide berth in playing it broadly in one scene and tightly knotted the next with vengeance on his mind. He’s both playful and brooding. While I haven’t seen Granger’s entire catalogue of titles I can’t recall him playing such a physical role in a comedy vein. The masked character of the title gives him that chance.
If for no other reason than Stewart Granger in fine form this is a title worth seeking out from MGM’s glorious years of costume adventures. Just don’t overlook the contribution of Eleanor Parker.