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There is no better description of a swashbuckling hero than the famous opening of Rafael Sabatini's 1921 novel, Scaramouche: "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." There have been several film versions of the book, which one critic called "probably the best swashbuckling novel of the twentieth century." MGM's 1952 film, starring Stewart Granger, emphasized the laughter, with plenty of comedy, and an audaciously improbable swordfight set in a theater.
The 1923 version, more faithful to the novel, focuses on the mad world of the French Revolution. Andre, a law student, joins the revolutionaries after his friend Philippe is killed by a cynical nobleman. Andre hides out with a troupe of actors, playing the role of Scaramouche, the clown. He also becomes a famous swordsman, and a member of the new government. In the climax, Andre faces his nemesis, the Marquis, in a duel.
Irish-born director Rex Ingram had an eye for talent. Stars Ramon Novarro and Alice Terry (Ingram's wife) both shot to stardom in Ingram films, Terry in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and Novarro in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922). Both earned high praise for their performances in Scaramouche. But it is Lewis Stone as the Marquis who steals the film, with his portrayal of a jaded aristocrat. Stone -- best known as wise Judge Hardy in the "Andy Hardy" movies -- would play a small role as Philippe's father in the 1952 remake of Scaramouche.
Rex Ingram is nearly forgotten today, but some film scholars consider him the equal of Griffith or Von Stroheim. Ingram was at his best with large-scale historical epics like Scaramouche. Working with his favorite cinematographer, John Seitz, Ingram showed great visual style, skill in handling crowds, and meticulous attention to detail.
Film historian Kevin Brownlow calls Scaramouche "primarily a work of art in the 18th-century tradition. The period has been so beautifully evoked that it seems inconceivable that the picture belongs to this century. It looks as though the combined efforts of several 18th century painters, sculptors, scenic designers, costumiers and architects have reached a climax of rococo glory on celluloid."
Director: Rex Ingram
Producer: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis (executive)
Screenplay: Willis Goldbeck, based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editor: Grant Whytock
Cast: Ramon Novarro (Andre-Louis Moreau), Alice Terry (Aline de Kercardiou), Lewis Stone (The Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr), Lloyd Ingraham (Quintin de Kercadiou), Julia Swayne Gordon (The Countess Therese de Plougastel).
by Margarita Landazuri