The Scapegoat


1h 32m 1959
The Scapegoat

Brief Synopsis

A man is tricked into trading places with a look-alike nobleman with murderous plans.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Aug 1959
Production Company
Du Maurier-Guinness, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Boreham Wood, Elstree,England; Elstree, Boreham Wood,Great Britain England; France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier (London, 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
8,289ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

Englishman John Barratt, a French-language teacher at a small college, takes his annual holiday in France, where he reflects on his lonely, futile existence. Late in the evening of his first vacation day, John grows disconcerted when a man begins following him and ducks into a small pub. Moments later, he receives a shock when the man from the street appears and his features match John's identically. John agrees to have drinks with the man, who introduces himself as Jacques De Gué, a titled land-owner of the chateau St. Gilles, where he runs a failing family glass-making business. Unaccustomed to drinking, John soon reveals that he is single, with no family and frustrated with the purposelessness of his life. Learning that John has not arranged accommodations, Jacques suggests that he might find a room at his hotel. Upon reaching the hotel, Jacques tells John there are no extra rooms and invites him to share his accommodation. Although somewhat drunk, John agrees, then accepts champagne from Jacques who has, unknown to John, slipped a sleeping draught into the drink. The next morning, John awakens to find himself, dressed in unfamiliar pajamas and discovers that Jacques is gone. When Gaston, the De Gué family chauffeur arrives, John demands to know Jacques's whereabouts and upon discovering that his passport is missing, insists that Gaston summon the police to have Jacques found. Instead, Gaston telephones St. Gilles and on advice of Dr. Aloin, the family physician, Gaston tells John that Jacques has asked to meet him at St. Gilles. John agrees, but when he arrives at the chateau, is angered when Dr. Aloin does not believe his explanations about Jacques's disappearance and suggests that John is suffering from emotional duress. John is then flustered by the warm greeting from Jacques's young daughter, Marie-Noel, who believes him to be her father. When Marie-Noel reveals that her bedridden grandmother is anxious to see him, John follows her to Jacques's mother's room. There, he is surprised by the Countess De Gué's affectionate welcome, which gradually turns into an emotional outburst when the Countess demands a mysterious present from Paris. With the help of a maid, John goes through Jacques's suitcase and discovers several gifts, one of which holds several vials of morphine, which the maid promptly takes to the Countess. Uneasy, John finds his way to the drawing room where he is met by Jacques's wife, Françoise and his sister, Blanche, who have been advised by Dr. Aloin of John's story. John greets them pleasantly, but becomes alarmed when Blanche stalks out of the room and Françoise accuses him of cruelty. Confused, John flees outside, wondering how to deal with his predicament and is calmed by a chat with the precocious Marie-Noel. John spends the night in indecision, but, intrigued by the De Gué family, finally resolves to say nothing further of his true identity. At breakfast, John meets Jacques's brother-in-law, Aristide, who asks John about business discussions in Paris. Françoise, Blanche and Marie-Noel are confused by John's amiable, pleasant manner and interest in them. When John asks if he might inspect the foundry, the family members are bewildered. Marie-Noel then reminds John that he must drive her to her weekly music lesson in the nearby town of Villars and John plays a game with her in order to learn the directions there. Strolling in town, John wonders about Jacques's purpose for switching places with him, when he is nearly trampled by a horse ridden by an attractive woman, Bela. After speaking with Bela, John soon realizes that the affable woman is intimately acquainted with Jacques. John accepts Bela's invitation to tea at her small home and enjoys her company. Back at St. Gilles, John goes through Jacques's business papers and learns that Jacques has not visited the foundry in fourteen years. Later at the foundry, when pressed by the workers, John acknowledges that Jacques has not renewed their major contract. John then meets with the Countess to announce that he intends to renew the business contract even at unfavorable terms, rather than allowing the business to fail and put long-time employees out of work. Startled, his mother criticizes his decision and mentions a clause in a family contract that piques John's curiosity. John finds the contract, drawn up upon Jacques's marriage to the wealthy Françoise, which declares that should there be no male heir upon Françoise's death, her substantial wealth would pass to her daughter or her daughter's guardian, should she be underage. Françoise visits John and, disturbed to find him reading the contract, breaks down, declaring that Jacques has never loved her. Alarmed by Françoise's distress, John calms her by insisting the contract can be changed. John continues his masquerade at St. Gilles over the next several days and visits Bela again on his next trip to Villars. When John attempts to tell her the truth about himself, Bela admits she knew at once that he was not Jacques because his manner was so different. Relieved to find Bela sympathetic, John tells her about himself and the strange meeting with Jacques. Back at St. Gilles, John panics when he learns of a hunt set for the following day and of Jacques' reputation as a crack shot. To avoid participating, John deliberately burns his shooting hand at the foundry. One day some three weeks after the masquerade began, Gaston takes John aside to relay a summons from Bela. When John arrives at Bela's, however, she claims that she did not send for him but the two enjoy the afternoon together. Later, when Gaston drives John back to St. Gilles, they find a police investigator and Dr. Aloin there. The doctor informs John that Françoise has died after falling from her second-story window. At the inquest held at the chateau the next day, the Countess testifies that she was the last person to see Françoise alive. Blanche intercedes to declare that she overheard Jacques in Françoise's room and accuses him of murder. Gaston contradicts Blanche with his testimony of driving John to and from Villars. Realizing that Jacques intended John to be the scapegoat so that he could murder his wife for her money, John is not surprised when later he receives a call from Jacques to meet him that evening at the foundry. There, John berates Jacques for murdering his wife, then informs him that he refuses to give up his masquerade, believing he can help the family. Jacques scorns John's sentiment and at gunpoint demands that he depart. Unknown to Jacques, John has a gun and kills Jacques. The following morning, John goes to Bela to reveal that fate has decreed they remain together.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Aug 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 6 Aug 1959
Production Company
Du Maurier-Guinness, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Boreham Wood, Elstree,England; Elstree, Boreham Wood,Great Britain England; France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier (London, 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 32m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1
Film Length
8,289ft (10 reels)

Articles

The Scapegoat


The on-screen suspense in The Scapegoat, a 1959 tale of two look-alikes who switch places, was almost upstaged by the off-screen tension between dueling stars Alec Guinness and Bette Davis. Although these two could have made movie magic had they met as equals on the right project, when Guinness brought her into a pet project of his, the clash ended up contributing to the film's box-office failure. The pity of it all is that the two were perfectly cast, he as an English schoolteacher and the French nobleman he replaces, she as the nobleman's cigar-smoking, drug-addicted mother. And the film's best scenes suggest that it easily could have beaten Davis's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) to the punch with its aura of gothic decadence.

The story started with a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, whose suspense tales had inspired such classic films as Rebecca (1940) and Frenchman's Creek (1944). From the moment she conceived the story, she felt that any screen version would have to star Guinness, who had dazzled audiences playing all the members of an upper-class British family in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). The two formed a production company, then engaged one of England's top producers, Michael Balcon, to bring the story to the screen. MGM provided much of the financing, even after Du Maurier refused their suggestion that she cast the more commercial Cary Grant in the lead.

Bridget Boland, who had previously penned the screenplay for the 1955 Guinness film, The Prisoner, was initially hired to script The Scapegoat but after three unsuccessful drafts was replaced by Gore Vidal. When the young novelist/screenwriter turned in his version and Du Maurier read it, she wrote an agitated letter to Balcon stating "I was frankly appalled. And indeed, for a time, I almost wondered if the whole thing was a joke or leg-pull, just to see how the story would seem if it was played as a farce. Then I began to get angry. The whole point of the original story had gone...." (from Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography by Piers Paul Read, Simon & Schuster). Regardless of Du Maurier's reaction, however, the Vidal script was approved.

Although the role of Guinness's mother was definitely a supporting part, Davis accepted it because she wasn't being offered any better roles. Her one shot at a comeback, as the mother in the Broadway production of Look Homeward, Angel, had been dashed when she broke her back in a freak accident.

There were problems from the start on The Scapegoat set and some have suggested that she resented Guinness's success. He had recently won the Oscar® for Best Actor for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), followed by a knighthood. But others have suggested that Guinness was put off by her American brashness. In the Piers Paul Read biography of Guinness, the actor said Davis "refused all invitations to dinner etc and had no desire to chat. She despised all the British film crew...and she obviously considered me a nonentity - with which I wouldn't quarrel greatly. But she was not the artist I had expected. She entirely missed the character of the old countess, which could have been theatrically effective, and only wanted to be extravagantly over-dressed and surrounded, quite ridiculously, by flowers. She knew her lines - and spat them forth in her familiar way - and was always on time. What is called professional. A strong and aggressive personality. After the film was shown (a failure) she let it be known that she considered that I had ruined her performance and had had it cut to a minimum."

One major problem for Davis was a lack of faith in director Robert Hamer. Although she had been excited about working with the man who had directed Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, when she met him she realized he was an alcoholic. Although he had sworn to Balcon that he would give up drinking for the chance to work with Guinness and Davis, it was clear from his tremors and distraction on the set that his problems had taken a serious toll, which in turn made it hard for her to relax.

There also were problems with her costumes and makeup. Davis insisted on wearing a heavy white makeup with her eyes strongly outlined in black. Although some accused her of trying to draw attention to herself, and cinematographer Paul Beeson had serious problems lighting her, she felt it was the type of makeup the character would have worn. For the only scene in which the character leaves her bedroom, Davis insisted on wearing a duplicate of one of her costumes from The Little Foxes (1941), complete with a veiled hat with a bird perched on top.

The one thing Davis truly enjoyed about playing the role was the chance to do most of her scenes in bed. She even shocked the British crew, which had expected her to demand star treatment, by foregoing the use of a stand-in. She preferred to lie in the bed between scenes while the crew lit her. This caused one problem, however, when her chain smoking almost set the bed on fire.

Davis put a lot of work into her performance, but somewhere between filming and release, most of that work was cut, which gave The Scapegoat a choppy and unbalanced continuity. Davis always contended that Guinness had had her scenes (and some of the other actresses') cut to keep himself in the spotlight. She also joked that he had probably wanted to play her role as well as his own. Guinness was more circumspect in discussing their relationship, expressing disappointment that they didn't really get to know each other. But other sources suggested they had been forced to cut her scenes because she had overplayed them to a ridiculous extent. Du Maurier wasn't happy with either performer. She claimed Davis hadn't given the performance enough "zest," which doesn't quite jibe with claims that the star had overacted. Du Maurier also blamed Guinness for the film's box-office failure. None of them ever worked together again.

Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Robert Hamer
Screenplay: Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal
Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Art Direction: Elliot Scott
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Alec Guinness (Jacques De Gue/John Barrett), Bette Davis (The Countess), Nicole Maurey (Bella), Irene Worth (Francoise De Gue), Pamela Brown (Blanche), Peter Bull (Aristide).
BW-93m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Frank Miller
The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat

The on-screen suspense in The Scapegoat, a 1959 tale of two look-alikes who switch places, was almost upstaged by the off-screen tension between dueling stars Alec Guinness and Bette Davis. Although these two could have made movie magic had they met as equals on the right project, when Guinness brought her into a pet project of his, the clash ended up contributing to the film's box-office failure. The pity of it all is that the two were perfectly cast, he as an English schoolteacher and the French nobleman he replaces, she as the nobleman's cigar-smoking, drug-addicted mother. And the film's best scenes suggest that it easily could have beaten Davis's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) to the punch with its aura of gothic decadence. The story started with a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, whose suspense tales had inspired such classic films as Rebecca (1940) and Frenchman's Creek (1944). From the moment she conceived the story, she felt that any screen version would have to star Guinness, who had dazzled audiences playing all the members of an upper-class British family in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). The two formed a production company, then engaged one of England's top producers, Michael Balcon, to bring the story to the screen. MGM provided much of the financing, even after Du Maurier refused their suggestion that she cast the more commercial Cary Grant in the lead. Bridget Boland, who had previously penned the screenplay for the 1955 Guinness film, The Prisoner, was initially hired to script The Scapegoat but after three unsuccessful drafts was replaced by Gore Vidal. When the young novelist/screenwriter turned in his version and Du Maurier read it, she wrote an agitated letter to Balcon stating "I was frankly appalled. And indeed, for a time, I almost wondered if the whole thing was a joke or leg-pull, just to see how the story would seem if it was played as a farce. Then I began to get angry. The whole point of the original story had gone...." (from Alec Guinness: The Authorized Biography by Piers Paul Read, Simon & Schuster). Regardless of Du Maurier's reaction, however, the Vidal script was approved. Although the role of Guinness's mother was definitely a supporting part, Davis accepted it because she wasn't being offered any better roles. Her one shot at a comeback, as the mother in the Broadway production of Look Homeward, Angel, had been dashed when she broke her back in a freak accident. There were problems from the start on The Scapegoat set and some have suggested that she resented Guinness's success. He had recently won the Oscar® for Best Actor for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), followed by a knighthood. But others have suggested that Guinness was put off by her American brashness. In the Piers Paul Read biography of Guinness, the actor said Davis "refused all invitations to dinner etc and had no desire to chat. She despised all the British film crew...and she obviously considered me a nonentity - with which I wouldn't quarrel greatly. But she was not the artist I had expected. She entirely missed the character of the old countess, which could have been theatrically effective, and only wanted to be extravagantly over-dressed and surrounded, quite ridiculously, by flowers. She knew her lines - and spat them forth in her familiar way - and was always on time. What is called professional. A strong and aggressive personality. After the film was shown (a failure) she let it be known that she considered that I had ruined her performance and had had it cut to a minimum." One major problem for Davis was a lack of faith in director Robert Hamer. Although she had been excited about working with the man who had directed Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, when she met him she realized he was an alcoholic. Although he had sworn to Balcon that he would give up drinking for the chance to work with Guinness and Davis, it was clear from his tremors and distraction on the set that his problems had taken a serious toll, which in turn made it hard for her to relax. There also were problems with her costumes and makeup. Davis insisted on wearing a heavy white makeup with her eyes strongly outlined in black. Although some accused her of trying to draw attention to herself, and cinematographer Paul Beeson had serious problems lighting her, she felt it was the type of makeup the character would have worn. For the only scene in which the character leaves her bedroom, Davis insisted on wearing a duplicate of one of her costumes from The Little Foxes (1941), complete with a veiled hat with a bird perched on top. The one thing Davis truly enjoyed about playing the role was the chance to do most of her scenes in bed. She even shocked the British crew, which had expected her to demand star treatment, by foregoing the use of a stand-in. She preferred to lie in the bed between scenes while the crew lit her. This caused one problem, however, when her chain smoking almost set the bed on fire. Davis put a lot of work into her performance, but somewhere between filming and release, most of that work was cut, which gave The Scapegoat a choppy and unbalanced continuity. Davis always contended that Guinness had had her scenes (and some of the other actresses') cut to keep himself in the spotlight. She also joked that he had probably wanted to play her role as well as his own. Guinness was more circumspect in discussing their relationship, expressing disappointment that they didn't really get to know each other. But other sources suggested they had been forced to cut her scenes because she had overplayed them to a ridiculous extent. Du Maurier wasn't happy with either performer. She claimed Davis hadn't given the performance enough "zest," which doesn't quite jibe with claims that the star had overacted. Du Maurier also blamed Guinness for the film's box-office failure. None of them ever worked together again. Producer: Michael Balcon Director: Robert Hamer Screenplay: Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal Based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier Cinematography: Paul Beeson Art Direction: Elliot Scott Music: Bronislau Kaper Principal Cast: Alec Guinness (Jacques De Gue/John Barrett), Bette Davis (The Countess), Nicole Maurey (Bella), Irene Worth (Francoise De Gue), Pamela Brown (Blanche), Peter Bull (Aristide). BW-93m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Frank Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening and closing cast credits are presented in a slightly different order following Alec Guinness' name. According to biographies of Guinness and Daphne Du Maurier, M-G-M hoped to cast Cary Grant in the lead, but Du Maurier had always envisioned Guinness playing the dual roles. The Guinness biography also mentions that the actor directed portions of the picture. Hollywood Reporter casting charts add Gerald James to the cast, but his appearance in the film has not been confirmed. The film was shot on location in France and at M-G-M British Studios.
       According to information contained in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, there was concern over allowing the "Countess's" drug addiction to remain in the film, as well as "Bella" clearly being "Jacques's" mistress and the suggestion that she becomes intimately involved with "John" as well. The PCA insisted that "Jacques's" murder was to be implied as self defense and a scripted scene that called for "John" to dispose of Jacques's body in the foundry furnace was excised at the PCA's behest.
       The film adaptation of The Scapegoat differed from Du Maurier's novel in several ways: In the book John's impersonation of Jacques lasts only one week and Jacques does not kill "Francoise," her death is legitimately accidental. As in both the book and the film, Jacques is interested in gaining his wife's inheritance, but in the book John convinces Jacques to realize his potential and to embrace his family before they are lost to him. Similarly, in the book, Jacques provides John the opportunity to start his life over as he has impersonated John in England and caused several changes in John's life.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1959

Released in United States 1959