1952 feature film
The "greatest fencing film ever made," this MGM
historical adventure offers one of Mel Ferrer's most attractive and successful roles, and
includes the longest (and possibly most famous) sword fight on screen, a
rip-roaring 7 minute duel between Ferrer as the fascinating villain and
Stewart Granger as the titled hero.
Based on a famous novel by Rafael Sabatini and directed by the great George
Stevens, the story centers on Granger's Andre Moreau,
the illegitimate ward of the titled Valmorin family, who hides behind the
hideously scarred jester named Scaramouche when he finds himself the sworn enemy of
France's greatest swordsman - the charmingly haughty and highly accomplished Marquis de Maynes (Ferrer),
who's also a special favorite of Queen Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch).
Andre's hatred for de Maynes begins when the Marquis
goads Philippe de Valmorin, the son of the couple who raised him, into a politically motivated duel and
then flippantly kills the lad. But his hatred escalates when he finds
himself in love with the Marquis' fiancée, the beautiful and recently
orphaned Aline de Gavrillac, played with sweet defiance by a very
young Janet Leigh.
Incorrectly believing himself to be Aline's illegitimate brother, Andre
continues his long time affair with his occasional girlfriend, an actress
named Lenore, played deftly for laughs
by Eleanor Parker. But the two women join forces when they begin to
understand Andre's purpose is to fight the Marquis de Maynes and beat him at
his own game. Their intrigues are crushed at last when the performing Scaramouche spots Noel in the audience one night with Aline. Their
showdown takes place in the filled theater as Moreau leaps from the stage to
the Marquis' box swinging from a curtain wing and the duel concludes more than 7
minutes later on the cluttered stage with Moreau outlasting the winded and
wounded Marquis. Face to face and with his sword ready for the kill, Andre
grimly discovers he cannot kill this man whose death has obsessed him for
months. Befuddled and angry with himself, his adopted father tells him that
Noel de Maynes is actually his brother, a fact he subconsciously must have
known. He's joyfully free now to marry Aline, as Lenore begins a romance with her newest
conquest - the young Napoleon de Bonaparte.
An utter delight with nonstop action, fabulous sets and costumes, clever
dialogue and brilliant performances from all four protagonists, this film is
so very good, it's surprising to discover it was not a huge hit when it
first came out. Though reviews were generally favorable, criticism seemed to
center on the film's failure to explain its political context and it was
compared unfavorably across the board to its silent predecessor, which had
been a blockbuster for MGM in the 1920s. There was also some mild criticism
that de Maynes was altered from Moreau's illegitimate father to become his
illegitimate brother, which differed from both the book and the original
movie. None of this would seem to matter
and the film's popularity has hugely increased over the intervening years
with many fans believing this to be Mel Ferrer's finest role.
It is without doubt Mel Ferrer's most glamorous role. Contemporary news
reports from the set indicate his costumes were the most anticipated by
the entire cast and the crew waited anxiously each day to see what new
creation he was to wear. He was ideal in every way for the heartless but
charming marquis - his
tall thin build and bearing proved perfect for the elaborately detailed costumes, his cultured voice
dripped appropriately with Noel's snarling sarcasm yet softened as
he spoke to Aline or the Queen, his atypical good
looks sneered distastefully at life's lesser beings and his dance
training set him up for dazzling displays of extravagant swordplay.
Indeed, he is the only participant in all seven of the staged sword
Stewart Granger is absolutely superb as the amusing and somewhat promiscuous
Andre Moreau, but though never verified by Ferrer himself, rumors
persisted then and later that Granger insisted Ferrer's role be cut
back. There is some verification of this in that romantic scenes with
Janet Leigh's Aline were definitely eliminated as was Noel's final death
scene, which is evident in the original script. In fact, the only criticism that might be leveled at the film is that Noel's storyline is
never satisfactorily concluded.
One historical fact of great interest to Mel Ferrer himself was the
casting of Lewis Stone as Count de Valmorin, the man who raised Andre
Moreau. Stone had been the Marquis de Maynes (an older adaptation of
Ferrer's role ) in the silent version filmed some 25 years before and
was an emotional connection to the past for the actor.
The film is readily available in both the VHS and DVD format, but fans
will want the DVD version, which includes a 2003 introduction by Mel
Ferrer, whose memories are clear, incisive and amusing, as well as
generous to all participants.