It’s the middle of the French Revolution and many French aristocrats are meeting their demise at the guillotine. But much to the dismay to the people of France, many of the aristocrats are being rescued from facing the guillotine with help from the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of 19 men. French leader Robespierre (Ernest Milton) is eager to put a stop to this and orders Chauvelin (Raymond Massey) to find out who the Scarlet Pimpernel is and arrest him.
The elusive Scarlet Pimpernel is none other than Sir Percy Blakeney (Leslie Howard), who is so good about keeping his identity as the Scarlet Pimpernel a secret, not even his wife Marguerite (Merle Oberon) knows the truth. He doesn’t want her to know, either, because she denounced one of the executed aristocrats, something he doesn’t agree with. Marguerite’s brother is also part of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s band of men and when Chauvelin finds this out, he forces her to help him find the Scarlet Pimpernel.
When Chauvelin gets word that the Scarlet Pimpernel will be at a ball, he makes a point to be there. During the party, Chauvelin finds out the Scarlet Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. When he goes to wait for him, he only finds Percy sound asleep on a couch. After dozing off himself, Chauvelin wakes up to find he’s been bested by the Pimpernel. But when Marguerite tells Percy about her brother being arrested and explains her reasons for denouncing the aristocrat, Percy has to do anything he can to save her brother. But when Marguerite realizes her husband is the Pimpernel, she has to try to save Percy.
The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t one of my absolute favorite movies, but it was well produced, well written, and very enjoyable. This is Leslie Howard’s signature film role with very good reason. He had the perfect demeanor for the role and does a fantastic job delivering his lines. Not to mention that seeing him disguised as an old woman is truly something to behold. Raymond Massey was a perfect fit as the villain Chauvelin. On the whole, I really liked The Scarlet Pimpernel a lot more than I expected to as, I just said in my review of The Lion in Winter, historical sagas aren’t always my kind of thing. But this is so smartly written, very witty, it still feels very fresh even over 80 years later. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch and I’d gladly watch it again someday.