blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937, Hanns Schwarz)

A scene from RETURN OF THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, directed by Hanns Schwarz for United Artists.

As Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel enters its third act, there’s this startling suggestion… one of the good guys has been sleeping with Robespierre to get in his good graces. I’m unaware of such an overt implication in any Hollywood films of 1937.

Unfortunately, that singularity is about all Pimpernel has going for it. Otherwise, it’s substandard adventure fare, with Barry K. Barnes’s Pimpernel coming off as one of the stupider screen heroes. If he were actually observant, the film’s plot line would have run out after thirty minutes.

Some of the problem is the script–the three screenwriters frequently create minor crises to be resolved in a couple scenes, just to perturb the plot. It’s melodrama at its worst.

Barnes is fantastic when he’s supposed to be playing a dandy who prefers playing in a clubhouse with his male friends (they’re trying to save France from Robespierre). However, when he’s playing opposite wife Sophie Stewart… he’s a lot less convincing. Stewart’s all right, certainly better than Barnes, but never particularly good. Her affection for Barnes is never believable, regardless of his much-lauded but never shown heroism (his titular Return is only to save her).

James Mason’s small role occasionally shows his ability, but not often.

On the other hand, villain Francis Lister is frequently fantastic, playing the only well-written character in the entire film.

Schwarz’s direction is on the weak side of mediocre. He speeds up the film for action sequences, which looks silly (especially with Barnes).



Directed by Hanns Schwarz; screenplay by Lajos Biró, Adrian Brunel and Arthur Wimperis, based on the novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy; director of photography, Mutz Greenbaum; edited by Philip Charlot; music by Arthur Benjamin; produced by Arnold Pressburger; released by United Artists.

Starring Barry K. Barnes (Sir Percy Blakeney), Sophie Stewart (Marguerite Blakeney), Margaretta Scott (Theresa Cobarrus), James Mason (Jean Tallien), Francis Lister (Chauvelin), Anthony Bushell (Sir Andrew Ffoulkes), Patrick Barr (Lord Hastings), David Tree (Lord Harry Denning), John Counsell (Sir John Selton) and Henry Oscar (Maximilien de Robespierre).


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