Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Scaramouche (1923)

Though produced by Metro, not Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Rex Ingram's Scaramouche, starring the upcoming Ramon Novarro, was released by MGM during their first year in business. Like Ingram's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, also rereleased by MGM, Scaramouche is an epic film, with huge, sixty-acre lot sets, seemingly hundreds of extras and immaculate, astonishing set design.

Scaramouche, though, is a much better film than The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It's a rousing, swashbuckling spectacle that's free of most of the mawkish tendencies of many later MGM epic films (Mare Nostrum, I'm looking at you).

Set during the time leading to the French Revolution, Scaramouche is based on Rafael Sabatini's enormously successful novel released only two years earlier. Though straining credulity (Novarro is an outcast aristocrat and a law student and a playwright and actor and a master swordsman and a leader of the revolution), the screenplay and directing are smooth and captivating, the actors entertaining and the choreographed scenes full of life.

Alice Terry is Novarro's love interest and Lewis Stone, who so wonderfully played cads during this period in his acting career, plays one you especially love to hate here.

Scaramouche is filled with half-shadowed knick-knacks, ornate costumes, kids playing games and other extraneous manifestations of life. I can describe it no better than historian Kevin Brownlow: Scaramouche is "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."

The compimentary and full-bodied orchestral score (commissioned, I think, by Turner Classic Movies) used for the Warner Archives DVD-R I watched is by Jeffrey Mark Silverman. While it may not have any memorable themes, neither does it detract from the film as so many composed or hodge-podged scores for silent films do.

The same print is shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and can also be ordered from Warner Archives here: http://www.wbshop.com/product/scaramouche+1923+1000179701.do

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