Home Video Reviews
Ramon Novarro played the title role in the silent 1923 version with Lewis Stone as his archrival. It faithfully followed the novel and made a huge impression on future swashbuckler Stewart Granger who saw it as a child. When Granger was later offered a contract by MGM, one of his stipulations was a guarantee that Scaramouche (1952) would be developed as a project for him and not as a musical for Gene Kelly as originally planned.
Granger got his wish and the resulting film - now available on DVD from Warner Home Video - established him as MGM's resident swashbuckler. Originally, Granger was going to play both the hero and his archrival with Elizabeth Taylor in the role of Aline and Ava Gardner as Lenore. That concept was scrapped and Janet Leigh was hired to play Aline (she had to learn to ride sidesaddle for the part) and Eleanor Parker, in her first film as a MGM contract player, got to wear a flaming red wig as the fiery Lenore.
In preparing for his role in Scaramouche, Granger took fencing lessons from Jean Heremans, the European champion, and performed most of the stunts himself. The justly famous eight-minute climactic duel in the theatre between Granger and Mel Ferrer (as Noel, the Marquis de Maynes) required eight weeks of training in which both stars had to memorize eighty-seven individual sword passes and perform twenty-eight stunts. As a result of filming this sequence Granger suffered several injuries like a wrenched knee, a damaged shoulder, and an injured back. There were other mishaps along the way: an iron chandelier that snapped its chain and obliterated a mattress where Granger was supposed to be lying, a fencing sequence where trainer Heremans almost lost an eye, and an incident where Granger's wife, Jean Simmons, was visiting the set and almost received a flying sword in the face.
In spite of the physical challenges that faced the cast and crew of Scaramouche, the completed film succeeds as a grand, witty and colorful entertainment and a definite bright spot in the careers of Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh, Mel Ferrer, cinematographer Charles Rosher, and director George Sidney.
The Warner Home Video DVD of Scaramouche looks spectacular, conveying the same eye-popping Technicolor hues of the original film. The extras include an interview with Mel Ferrer in which he describes the dangerous stunts he and Granger performed in the course of the film, supplemented by production stills. There is also an animated version of the trailer offered in addition to the original theatrical preview and an informative essay, "En Garde! Great Screen Swordfights."
To order Scaramouche, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeff Stafford