WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
Posing as a useless dandy, an English gentleman secretly risks all to save innocent lives from the guillotine of the French Revolution. Based on the Baroness Orczy novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. [Dir: Harold Young/ Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce/ 98 min/ Action-Adventure, Romance/ Britain/ Democide]
“I sent them to the guillotine for the future happiness of the human race.” So says Citizen Robespierre, expressing in a sentence the collectivist reasoning that was destined to leave in its path a worldwide series of genocides. This film dramatizes France’s early experience with revolutionary collectivism, focusing on the “Reign of Terror” during which the French government tortured and put to death tens of thousands, mostly its upper and educated classes.
Amidst this carnage enters our hero, snatching the innocent from the blood-soaked jaws of the state, as Wallenberg, Schindler, and unsung others would later do in real life. Under the code-name of the “Scarlet Pimpernel,” he and his band outwit the French authorities, rescue the doomed, and transport them to safety in England.
However, the Pimpernel himself is also in danger. Robespierre’s henchmen are determined to expose and capture him. As their net closes around our hero, his wife unwittingly aids in his capture and is captured herself in trying to undo the damage. After that, it takes all the Pimpernel’s cunning to get his wife, his band of men, and himself out of this, his last adventure.
This film has a tremendous script, including some of the campiest lines ever written. These are delivered with flair by Leslie Howard, who shines in his dual roles of comedic fop and classy gallant. Likewise, Raymond Massey is superb as an almost vampire-like evil agent of “The Terror.” Not a moment is wasted in this tightly directed classic film; and cinematography, set design, and music are used to good effect.
The 1934 recording looks its age, but in a way the oldness of the production actually gives it an additional historic quality. It’s not as slick as the more modern versions of this tale, but it’s my personal favorite. Leslie Howard later produced, directed, and starred in Pimpernel Smith, an adaptation of this story to the Nazi era.
How to See The Scarlet Pimpernel
Book: The Scarlet Pimpernel (Dover Thrift Editions)
Book: A French Genocide: The Vendee
Book: The September Massacres
Book: In the Reign of Terror: A Story of the French Revolution (Dover Children’s Classics)
Book: Reign of Terror in the French Revolution
Book: Death by Government
Audio Book: Reign of Terror