PIMPERNEL SMITH 1941 with Trailer
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PIMPERNEL SMITH (1941)
Updating his famous starring role from the 1934 film, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL - Leslie Howard (PYGMALION, GONE WITH THE WIND) plays the seemingly absent-minded Cambridge archaeology professor, Horatio Smith who secretly rescues intellectuals, artists and humanitarian opponents from the clutches of the Nazis. Traveling to Berlin under the guise of conducting an archeological dig for remnants of an ancient Aryan civilization. Armed with a band of students - Smith
cagily engages in a game of cat and mouse with the commandeering General Von Graum (deliciously acted by Francis Sullivan) while unexpectedly becoming smitten with the daughter (the strikingly lovely Mary Morris) of one of his rescues. Throughout the proceedings the always elegant Howard exudes intelligence, wit and a delightfully understated sense of humor. The film was an intensely personal project for Howard (who also produced and directed) and his portrayal of blundering, but nonetheless dangerous, top-level Nazis is nothing short of brilliant. His own exquisite performance ends with one of the most stirring monologues ever committed to film. And as tragic irony would have it, Howard met his demise just two years later at the hands of the antagonists he so strongly rallied against in this film. The theatrical trailer for PIMPERNEL SMITH is included on this disc.
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Leslie Howard believed in the movie and concept and it was obvious. It is worth a watch.
Berlin, during the spring of 1939, and rumors rage up and down the Third Reich, of an uncatchable mystery man who boldly rescues eminent artists and intellectuals from Gestapo persecution and concentration camps. This, even as the German propaganda machine engages in blustery denials. Meanwhile, Horatio Smith, prim and forgetful English professor of archaelogy, undertakes a seemingly innocuous tour of Germany with six of his students. Except that their first few stops coincide with daring prison break-outs which were effected near their vicinity. However, it takes the professor garnering a bloody wound before his students finally catch a clue...
Now introduce a beautiful girl who works with the Nazi against her will, and the tense cat-and-mouse games really begin.
Leslie Howard, in all the films I've seen him in, has never been less than very, very good (The Scarlet Pimpernel,Pygmalion - Criterion Collection,The Petrified Forest,Stand-In). PIMPERNEL SMITH, a movie Howard himself produced and directed, provides a grand and showy platform for his wonderful talents. His Professor Smith is very British and stiff upper lipped, but with a dose of unexpectedly sneaky humor. This movie meant a lot to Leslie Howard. A fervent advocate of the British war effort, he reportedly signed on for Gone with the Wind (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) 1939 so as to finance a personal propaganda project like PIMPERNEL SMITH, which, like IDIOT'S DELIGHT and Hitchcock's classic Foreign Correspondent, strived to warn the world about the ever-encroaching threat of Nazi Germany.
It helps a lot, of course, that the movie also serves as a taut and rousing adventure thriller, with plenty of sequences in which the unassuming, cerebral hero outwits his enemies silly. As his impulsive American student admiringly tells him: "I guess you're one of the goodest guys in Creation." But PIMPERNEL SMITH is also graced with many sly moments of Professor Smith tweaking the nose of his German foil, the cunning and bombastic General von Graum, who is this film's version of Citizen Chauvelin. The imposingly corpulent Francis Sullivan is terrific, lending a jaded flair to his von Graum, who makes it his mission to nab the very clever professor. Sullivan's battles of wit with Howard provide some of the film's best moments. Mary Morris is also quite good as the lovely and reluctant Nazi agent, Ludmilla Koslowski, who manages to ensnare the Professor's misogynistic heart.
Mood and lighting enhance the film. The film-noirish cinematography makes excellent use of light and shadow, two wonderful examples of which are when Professor Smith is revealed to his students to be the daring man of action and also near the end as Smith, in brooding shadow except for his gleaming eyes, defiantly condemns Nazi Germany to von Graum's sweaty face. The film looks very atmospheric, yet is enlivened by occasional moments of humor (Shakespeare apparently was German!). By the way, I totally dug the scarecrow scene (and, really, Howard should've expanded that sequence quite a bit more; you'll see what I mean). I'm not much of an expert, but I can't help but feel that Leslie Howard was well on his way to becoming a director of some note.
Except he wasn't with us for very long. He was 50 years old when, in 1943, his plane was shot down by German combat aircrafts. Some say, shot down purposely, with German Intelligence having knowledge of Leslie Howard, an indefatigable contributor to the British war propaganda, being onboard. If that holds even a germ of truth, it adds even that much more poignancy to this film. It bugs me a bit that Howard is probably best known for his role in GONE WITH THE WIND, because he's done so much more than that. In my eyes, the man has left an indelible mark in cinema. I thought he was simply fabulous in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and PYGMALION. But, even beyond that, his accomplishments in real life, for his people and his country, rank him as a patriot of the stiffest upper lip. Leslie Howard really is one of the goodest guys in Creation.