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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 mask of a 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 much, 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 fights.

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.

Mel Ferrer (left) as the greatest swordsman in France; (center) as himself in 2003 doing commentary for the soon to be released DVD; and (right) the eliminated death scene

Additional photo captures can be found in the Gallery

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