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The Fighting Pimpernel

The Fighting Pimpernel(1954)

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In 1792, the French Revolution has swept through Paris, endangering the lives of all of the ruling-class Royalists. Some of them, however, are saved in daring last-minute rescues by mysterious Englishman The Scarlet Pimpernel, so named because of the red floral symbol he leaves behind. In reality, The Scarlet Pimpernel is Sir Percy Blakeney, who poses as a fop at court while secretly leading The League, his coterie of noblemen. After Percy disguises himself as a hag to free a doomed French family, he returns to England, where he annoys the older gentlemen of the court with his apparent cowardice and frivolity, and remains in favor with the Prince of Wales by offering fashion advice. That night, however, he travels again in secret to Paris with his closest friends, Lord Anthony Dewhurst and Sir Andrew ffoulkes, to rescue the Comtesse de Tournai, her son Philippe and daughter Suzanne. The men transport the family, hidden in a wine barrel, to the nearby abbey of Mont St. Michel, where the Abbot grants them shelter. The Abbot explains to Percy that each night the tide sweeps in so rapidly that the beach is flooded, allowing a ship to slip in close to the abbey walls. Although Percy had hoped that his brother-in-law, Armand St. Just, had also managed to escape Paris, Armand is not among the fugitives. Percy travels separately from the rest, who sail to Dover and take cover at an inn. Before Percy arrives there, his wife, the former Marguerite St. Just, enters and embraces the de Tournais, her family friends. She receives a chilly welcome from the Comtesse, however, who believes that the St. Justs are revolutionaries. Later, Percy arrives and hides in the inn's attic office, where he obtains a message via carrier pigeon from Armand, who writes that Chauvelin, the head of the revolutionaries, is detaining him in Paris. Downstairs, Percy greets his wife coldly, and then feigns cowardice when Philippe offers to duel over Marguerite's honor, which the Comtesse has attacked. That night, Marguerite visits Percy's room, where she pleads to know why he stopped loving her, but receives nothing but platitudes. Later, however, Percy reveals to Anthony that, although he still loves his wife, he has learned that it was her testimony that condemned the Marquis, the first murdered royalist in France, and so he can no longer trust her. Percy sends Anthony to London with a message stating that The Scarlet Pimpernel will attend an upcoming party at the Grenvilles', but Chauvelin's men ambush Anthony and seize the note. Days later, Chauvelin sails to London for the party, at which Percy signals Anthony to interrupt the prince's lascivious dance with Marguerite by enticing him to play cards. Meanwhile, Chauvelin tells Marguerite that he has intercepted an incriminating letter from Armand to The Scarlet Pimpernel, but will withhold it in exchange for Marguerite discovering the hero's identity. Marguerite tells Percy about the conversation, and although he feigns ineffectuality, he later disguises himself as a beggar and gains entry into Chauvelin's rooms. There, he is almost caught stealing the letter, and must flee without it. Back at the party, Andrew retrieves a note and ring from Percy asking him to use the floral stamp hidden inside the ring as an official mark to gather the League. Marguerite sees the letter, and, hoping to discover its purpose, urges Andrew to perform a magic trick with her ring, which is identical to Percy's. After she manages to read the note, a flustered Andrew hands her Percy's ring by mistake. Later, by threatening to have Armand tortured, Chauvelin forces Marguerite to reveal the letter's information. A distraught Marguerite informs Percy, who by that time has returned to the party, and when he turns away, she demands to know why he hates her. He asks about the Marquis, prompting her to confess that the Marquis imprisoned her to keep her from marrying his son, and after Chauvelin befriended her, she revealed the Marquis' Royalist leanings, not knowing that this would endanger his life. Realizing his beloved wife has been innocent, Percy embraces her. He plans with his men to stage a horse race the next morning, during which he can slip away to Paris to rescue Armand. When Marguerite hears that he has left for a race, she despairs of his frivolity, but in her room, she discovers the stamp inside Percy's ring and deduces that he is The Scarlet Pimpernel. She confronts Anthony, who agrees to escort her to Paris, but unknown to them, they are followed by Chauvelin's men. In Paris, meanwhile, Chauvelin has captured Andrew, but Percy calmly enters Chauvelin's office and, after revealing his true identity, secretly stuffs his snuff box with pepper. Although Chauvelin is sure he has bested the Englishmen, when he tries his snuff, his ensuing sneezing fit allows Percy to imprison him and escape with Andrew. When they reach Mont St. Michel, however, they discover that Chauvelin has followed Anthony's carriage there and captured Anthony and Marguerite. Using their lives as currency, Chauvelin convinces Percy to give himself up. Minutes later, however, Percy is rescued by his League, who are disguised as Chauvelin's guards. Not realizing the tide is about to come in, Chauvelin still believes himself to be victorious, but his soldiers are soon swept off the beach. Percy leads his men, his wife and a new group of rescued Royalists to the waiting ship, which sets sail for England.