JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Welcome to the February meeting of the Risky Regencies JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB!

Today, we’ll be discussing the 1934 version of THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon.

(And be sure to come back the first Tuesday of next month, when we’ll be discussing the Anthony Andrews version!)

To aid the discussion, the major credits on the film include:

DIRECTOR: Harold Young


Leslie Howard: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Merle Oberon: Marguerite Blakeney

Raymond Massey: Citizen Chauvelin

Nigel Bruce: The Prince of Wales

Bramwell Fletcher : The Priest

Anthony Bushell: Sir Andrew Ffoulkes

Joan Gardner: Suzanne de Tournay

Walter Rilla: Armand St. Just

Mabel Terry-Lewis: Countess de Tournay

So…what did you think?

In particular, is Leslie Howard how you envision the Pimpernel? If not, does he work, in his own way? Or is he your favorite Pimpernel?

Did you like the movie?

All answers welcome!

They seek her here, they seek her there…Those kitties seek her everywhere…

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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20 Responses to JANE AUSTEN MOVIE CLUB: Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

  1. Erastes says:

    Howard is definitely my favourite Pimpernel, his move from organised terrorist to eloquent fop is convincing and amusing. I disliked Merle Oberon in the part , hugely, though.

  2. Deb Marlowe says:

    Dang! I haven’t seen this version. I await all of your comments eagerly!

    I love me some Anthony Andrews though!

  3. Lois says:

    I loved it! πŸ™‚ Unlike most of the time, this one I didn’t read the book first — I was looking at the schedule for Turner Classic Movies and saw SP was going to be on. I wanted to get a general idea as to what it was about and like (I say general because hey, we all know movies don’t always equal the book). So I saw it, and just loved the movie! Loved his Percy.

    So then finally found the book, and was pleasantly surprised that the movie wasn’t all that far off. Sure, it’s a bit different, but not unbearably so or anything. It’s still the only version I’ve seen thus far, but at this point, can’t imagine topping Leslie Howard! LOL πŸ™‚


  4. Diane Gaston says:

    I have not read the book (no surprise: it is on my TBR pile) but I did order the DVD with full confidence that it would arrive by yesterday.

    It didn’t.

  5. I saw the movie yesterday. I like the Anthony Andrews version of the entire movie more, but I found Leslie Howard to be a great Scarlet Pimpernel. I agree with Erastes, that his change from SP to fop was very convincing as were the tender moments when he drops the fop mask and reveals his emotions to us, while Marguerite is not looking at him.

    I just couldn’t stand Marguerite. Her pouty/unhappy faces were annoying. The supporting cast of SP’s cronies were all too similar in looks, temperament, mannerisms. The movie didn’t try to distinguish them apart, which I thought was a loss to the story.

    This movie clearly has more talking than action, but the two talky scenes in the study between SP and M were superb.

  6. It’s been a long time since I saw this movie, but I do remember liking Howard’s portrayal a lot (and the costumes!). I think I will have a black and white movie evening soon, with this and the Shearer “Marie Antoinette”!

    I don’t think I have a version yet where I really liked the Marguerite, though. The latest series of movies, on the A&E channel (I think it was) was the worst.

  7. janegeorge says:

    I’m a huge fan of Richard E. Grant and loved him as the Pimpernel. Sorry I didn’t put this one on Netflix in time. I may be able to watch it on the computer. Leslie Howard looks great, but sometimes the stylistic dialogue of movies from that era grates on me.

    Cara, I hear ya on the kitties! They all demand their lap time before I can write. The older male displayed his displeasure with being ignored the other day by spraying the wall. So I’m making sure he gets his propers!

    I was disappointed in the novel and think the story works better on film.

  8. Howard in the Pimpernel convincinly switches modes from witty to hero. I’d love to see a remake of this movie.

  9. Cara King says:

    Lois, I’ve read the book (and several others in the Pimpernel series), and my take on it is that Orczy was excellent at coming up with characters, ideas, and situations, but not so good at plotting. πŸ™‚ I think the ending of the book doesn’t really work dramatically, which is why IMHO every adaptation has many similar scenes, but always a different ending — they are in eternal quest for an ending that actually works. πŸ˜‰

    And I do love Leslie Howard. His foppish version of Percy may not seem as sexy as certain other actors’, but then again, the whole point was disguise — and who would suspect Howard’s Percy of being intelligent??

    Except he is, very. His quick rejoinders, his perfect comic timing — heaven!

    For anyone who didn’t get a chance to watch it yet, here’s a great short clip on youtube!


  10. I’m gonna watch the clip when I get home from work, but I do remember the book that I read in my formative years and the HAWT! HAWT! scene (yes, really) where Percy (awful name) kisses the steps where his wife has trod because he’s so terribly English and stiff-upper-lipped and all that he can’t possibly tell her he loves her. Oh, and it’s at sunrise after a night’s partying and she’s wearing this great dress and all. Fabulous stuff.
    Needless to say I don’t want to read it again and recognize its essential underlying lameness.
    I’m sure I have seen the movie but I can’t remember much about it. I have the Richard E Grant series on DVD, yet to be watched.

  11. Santa says:

    Since this is the only version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I’ll say this is my favorite. And I’ll admit my ignorance and say I did not know this was a series of books.

    Guess that means I have some reading and movie watching to do. Ah, the sacrifices I make,lol.

    I’m so glad I finally clicked with Cara and have chosen my prize. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

    Thanks a million, Riskies!

  12. Kathy says:

    Howard is good. I agree you can see in that movie, era symbolism. The batty eyes, the pout, all early silent movie acting theatrics.

    Andrews is superb in the remake with Jane Seymore. He’s dashing, poetic, and bitterly enraptured. Seymore is perfect.

    Grant, on the other hand, has the verve. With a look, his amusing, daper, sassy, heroic. I love Grant but disliked his Marguerite, Elizabeth McGovern. πŸ˜‰

  13. Sheri Cobb South says:

    I absolutely adore Leslie Howard in The Scarlet Pimpernel, so much that I don’t think I could watch another version and accept another actor in the role.

    BTW, fans of this movie might also be interested in Pimpernel Smith, a WWII-era movie in which Leslie Howard plays a (then) modern-day Pimpernel freeing political prisoners from the Nazis.

  14. Todd says:

    It’s been a while since I saw this movie, but I think Leslie Howard is quite close to my idea of the Scarlet Pimpernel from the books. I certainly haven’t read the whole series, but I’ve read the first three or four…the early ones are available for free from Project Gutenberg, and I’ve been slowly working my way through all the ebooks.

    From what I recall, I liked this movie pretty well. I thought it kept close to the spirit of the book, and had some very nice comedy, and nice period detail as well (for example, there’s a boxing scene where they show the fighters grappling as well as hitting, which is right for the period).

    I haven’t seen the Andrews version, so I guess I will have to watch it before next month. πŸ™‚ I have seen the series of TV movies with Richard E. Grant. In many ways those are a lot further from the Pimpernel of the books (fewer disguises, more running and fighting), but I liked them nevertheless.

    Don’t really remember Merle Oberon’s performance much…which probably isn’t a commendation. πŸ™‚ But she was very pretty. (For whatever that’s worth.)


  15. There is also a sequel to the 1934 film, made in 1938 with Barry K. Barnes (who?) and Sophie Stewart as Percy and Marguerite. It’s based on the novel Triumph, the last in the series, and is very well made, although not as well known. It’s available on DVD with the first film.

    Howard is my favourite ‘fop’, but Anthony Andrews has my allegiance as the Pimpernel!

  16. Cara King says:

    Sheri, I agree — I found Pimpernel Smith quite interesting & entertaining, both as a movie and as period piece! And it’s just extra interesting to see Leslie Howard play the same character, but during World War II…

    Madeleine, I don’t believe I’ve seen the 1938 movie — I’ll definitely keep my eye out for it. Thanks for the tip!

    Speaking of other versions, my notes on once long ago seeing the 1950 “Elusive Pimpernel” starring David Niven were “don’t bother.” πŸ˜‰


  17. Anonymous says:

    “I’m gonna watch the clip when I get home from work, but I do remember the book that I read in my formative years and the HAWT! HAWT! scene (yes, really) where Percy (awful name) kisses the steps where his wife has trod because he’s so terribly English and stiff-upper-lipped and all that he can’t possibly tell her he loves her.”

    My favorite, favorite scene! But it’s not a stiff-upper-lip thing, it’s because he thinks… well, I dunno, maybe I shouldn’t spoil it? But oh, the awesomeness!

    I haven’t seen the movie since I was 15 or so, but I remember loving it. Should rent it and see if it holds up. — willaful

  18. Tracy Grant says:

    Sorry to be chiming late! I love the Scarlet Pimpernel and have blogged about the stories several times on my own website. I first saw the Howard/Oberson version with my parents when I was seven or eight (at a movie revival theater, I’m not quite that old :-). I remember being fascinated by the fact the heroine wasn’t the ingenue Suzanne (who appears on film before Marguerite, I think), but Marguerite, a glamorous, married woman with a past (of sorts).

    I think Howard makes a wonderful Pimpernel. He seems slightly tormented and driven by deep convictions. Anthony Andrews (who I also love in the role) seems driven by convictions as well but also to be caught up in the risk and daring of the game. The Andrews/Seymour version is my favorite, partly I love the way they combined the plot of the “The Scarlet Pimpernel” with “Eldorado,” one of the later books in the series, to make a more complicated story. I actually like Richard E. Grant in the role too (his Percy had an interesting edge and lots layers), but I don’t like what they did with the plots as well.

    Janet, I love the scene on the terrace that ends with Percy pressing his lips to the steps too (my agent frequently brings it up as an example of romantic intensity beneath the surface). I think it’s interesting that none of the film versions have included that scene.

  19. Cara King says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, willaful!

    Should rent it and see if it holds up.

    And if you do, you can always stop back here and let us know if it does for you. πŸ™‚

    Tracy — love the observation about Marguerite not being an ingenue…I think it’s this sort of thing that one can lose due to having seen a film young and many times: the surprises!


  20. LadyDoc says:

    I’m late to posting but here goes!

    I’ve seen all three versions mentioned in the above posts. Jane Seymour I preferred to Merle Oberon- I find myself yelling at Howard/Percy to stop being an idiot, she’s not worth it. As for Percy, only Leslie Howard really “got it” for me. I’ll say nothing about the other version.

    I love the story and LOVE the Leslie Howard version best. I’m a total addict for the old fashioned historical romance movies from those great old books- all of Dumas, The Prisoner of Zenda, that kind of book and movie.

    Although it is not Regency, I’d love to see a discussion of the various versions of The Count of Monte Cristo.

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