...And Now Mel Ferrer
All I know about him is he's terrific in this film. Scaramouche has Stewart Granger on a quest in Enlightenment-era France to revenge himself on the man who killed his best friend--the incredibly snide Mel Ferrer, who is such a great swordsman that he can kill anyone he duels with, and can therefore dispatch people simply by taking offense at them and demanding satisfaction. On the lam after his friends' murder, Granger becomes a commedia dell'arte performer (Scaramouche--a good choice, since Pantalone doesn't quite have the same adventurous ring) and polishes his swordplay skills by day while performing at night.
Everything about the film works, if you're willing to give it a little slack for being from 1952. The cast is uniformly terrific, with the always-alluring Janet Leigh paired as romantic rival with the stunning Eleanor Parker. Don't know her? Neither did I. A word about that. Eleanor Parker, who never seems to have come into her own as a star, is so gorgeous that, although it's tempting to call her the poor man's Maureen O'Hara--same flaming red hair, same stubborn jaw, and (here) the same tendency to swing pots at her man before he picks her up, kicking and flailing in standard 1950's retro-caveman style--I think she's actually even prettier than Maureen O'Hara...and this film doesn't actually require O'Hara-level acting anyway. She was a really good choice.)
The plot is chock-full of amiable melodrama--mistaken identities, mysterious births, folks leaping off of balconies or galloping like mad--and there really isn't a dull foot of celluloid to be found anywhere. And, as any reference will tell you, it's absolutely famous for its six-minute climactic fencing scene, which has to be seen to be believed. (And don't let that distract you: there are seven duels in the film, and they're all great and all different.)
But for me, what makes the film most fascinating is its obvious influence on that other famously great swordplay movie, The Princess Bride. There are so many parallels it'll make your eyes cross--the guy working to train himself to defeat a great duellist; the battle where the characters talk about strategy while they fight; the way the bad guy stabs his victim in the left and right arms in the beginning, and how this is mirrored in the final battle. Even Mel Ferrer's face seems to have been borrowed by Chris Sarandon in an attempt to work in yet another allusion.
It's not a feminist film, and the humor is at middlebrow 1950's levels, but as a representative of the swashbuckling genre, I'd rank this at the very top, right next to The Mark of Zorro and The Sea Hawk. So find it somewhere tonight and enjoy.
By the way, the next movie in line is 1948's The Three Musketeers, and it looks like everyone in the cast is already dead--Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Gig Young, etc.--with one exception: Angela Lansbury. Let's hope this connection between my Netflix queue and the Entertainment-section morgue notices is just a coincidence. If I wound up killing Angela Lansbury, I'd never forgive myself.
P.S. The DVD of Scaramouche has a little overview of the film given by Mel Ferrer, so that's not a bad bonus in light of today's news. He aged very nicely.