The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934 film)

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The Scarlet Pimpernel
theatrical release lobby card
Directed by Harold Young
Written byScenario, continuity & dialogue:
Lajos Bíró
S. N. Behrman
Robert E. Sherwood
Arthur Wimperis
Baroness Emmuska Orczy (uncredited)
Alexander Korda (contributing writer, uncredited)
Based on The Scarlet Pimpernel
(1905 play) by
Baroness Emmuska Orczy and Montagu Barstow
and The Scarlet Pimpernel
(1908 novel)
by Baroness Orczy
Produced byAlexander Korda
Starring Leslie Howard
Merle Oberon
Raymond Massey
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by William Hornbeck
Music by Arthur Benjamin
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 23 December 1934 (1934-12-23)(UK)
  • 7 February 1935 (1935-02-07)(U.S.)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office£420,000

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1934 British adventure film directed by Harold Young and starring Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, and Raymond Massey. Based on the 1905 play by Baroness Orczy and Montagu Barstow and the classic 1905 adventure novel by Orczy, the film is about an eighteenth-century English aristocrat (Howard) who leads a double life, passing himself off as an effete aristocrat while engaged in a secret effort to rescue French nobles from Robespierre's Reign of Terror. The film was produced by Alexander Korda. Howard's portrayal of the title character is often considered the definitive portrayal of the role. [1] In 1941, he played a similar role in "'Pimpernel' Smith" but this time set in pre-WWII Germany.



Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel Scarlet-Pimpernel-Howard-Oberon.jpg
Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel

In 1792, shortly before the Reign of Terror, vengeful French mobs are outraged when aristocrats are saved from death by a secret society of 20 English noblemen known as the "Band of the Scarlet Pimpernel." The Scarlet Pimpernel, their mysterious leader, is Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English baronet and friend of the Prince of Wales. Sir Percy cultivates the image of a fop to conceal his identity. Not even his wife Marguerite, a former noted French actress, suspects the truth.

Citizen Chauvelin, the newly appointed French ambassador to England, discovers that Armand St. Just, Marguerite's brother, is one of the Scarlet Pimpernel's agents. Chauvelin orders Armand's arrest and uses the threat of his execution to force Marguerite into helping him discover the identity of the Pimpernel. He has discovered that his quarry will be at a forthcoming ball. At the ball, Marguerite intercepts a message stating that the Pimpernel will be in the library at midnight. She passes the information along to Chauvelin, who goes to the library to find Blakeney, apparently asleep. While waiting, Chauvelin falls asleep; when he wakes up, he finds a message from the Pimpernel mocking him.

The next morning, the Blakeneys travel to their house in the country. Marguerite breaks down and tells her husband of Armand's arrest and her deal with Chauvelin. Sir Percy, though still deeply in love with his wife, had cooled to her because he learned that she had denounced a French marquis, which had led to the executions of the marquis and his family. She reveals that the marquis had had her imprisoned for consorting with his son. After being freed by the French Revolution, she told her friend Chauvelin, who was the one who denounced them. Promising to help, Percy leaves for London. Afterward, Marguerite notices a detail on a portrait of the 1st baronet – a ring decorated with a pimpernel. Realising that she has betrayed her own husband, she rushes out of the room, only to be presented a letter from Chauvelin announcing that he has discovered the Pimpernel's true identity as well. Racing back to London, she warns Ffoulkes that Percy's life is in danger. Ffoulkes mobilises the band to warn Percy.

To lure Percy into his trap, Chauvelin has both Armand and the Count de Tournay transferred to Boulogne-sur-Mer. Despite the vigilance of Chauvelin's men, the Pimpernel frees the two men through bribery. However, one of the prison guards tells Chauvelin that the Pimpernel will be at a certain tavern that evening. Marguerite rushes there to warn Percy, only to be arrested by Chauvelin. Percy arrives at the appointed time and is met by a gloating Chauvelin. Percy distracts him long enough for Armand and the count to board the ship, but when Chauvelin informs him that he has Marguerite in custody, Percy surrenders on the condition that she be freed. He is taken away to be shot by a firing squad. Chauvelin exults at the sound of gunfire, but Percy returns to the tavern very much alive; the soldiers are in fact his men. After securing Chauvelin, Percy and his wife sail away to England.



Alexander Korda, a Hungarian who had been born in a town not far from Baroness Orczy's farm, had recently had great success with the actor Charles Laughton in the film The Private Life of Henry VIII , so he asked Laughton to play the role of Sir Percy. [2] When the announcement went out to the press, the reaction from the Pimpernel's many fans was negative; the pug-nosed Laughton was thought a poor choice to play the suave Sir Percy. Korda thus gave the role to Leslie Howard.


Andre Sennwald wrote in The New York Times that "'The Scarlet Pimpernel' is stirring to the pulse and beautiful to the eye, and it weaves the richly textured background of those tingling months of the French Revolution into an enormously satisfying photoplay. ... Did the narrative seem a trifle leisurely in places? No matter. It was a leisurely age and here is a succulent and captivating entertainment." [3] He also praised Leslie Howard's performance, and the movie itself premiered at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was the sixth most popular film at the British box office during 1935–36. [4]

Related Research Articles

<i>The Scarlet Pimpernel</i> 1905 novel by Emma Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is the first novel in a series of historical fiction by Baroness Orczy, published in 1905. It was written after her stage play of the same title enjoyed a long run in London, having opened in Nottingham in 1903.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baroness Orczy</span> Hungarian-born British novelist and playwright

Baroness Emma Orczy, usually known as Baroness Orczy or to her family and friends as Emmuska Orczy, was a Hungarian-born British novelist and playwright. She is best known for her series of novels featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel, the alter ego of Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy English fop who turns into a quick-thinking escape artist in order to save French aristocrats from "Madame Guillotine" during the French Revolution, establishing the "hero with a secret identity" in popular culture.

<i>The Elusive Pimpernel</i> (1950 film) 1950 film

The Elusive Pimpernel is a 1950 British period adventure film by the British-based director-writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. It was released in the United States under the title The Fighting Pimpernel. The picture stars David Niven as Sir Percy Blakeney, Margaret Leighton as Marguerite Blakeney and features Jack Hawkins, Cyril Cusack and Robert Coote. Originally intended to be a musical, the film was re-worked as a light-hearted drama.

<i>"Pimpernel" Smith</i> 1941 anti-Nazi thriller movie directed by Leslie Howard

"Pimpernel" Smith is a 1941 British anti-Nazi thriller, produced and directed by its star Leslie Howard, which updates his role in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) from Revolutionary France to pre-Second World War Europe. The British Film Yearbook for 1945 described his work as "one of the most valuable facets of British propaganda".

<i>The Scarlet Pimpernel</i> (musical) Musical by Frank Wildhorn and Nan Knighton

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics and book by Nan Knighton, based on the 1905 novel of the same name by Baroness Orczy. The show is set in England and France during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. The story is a precursor to the spy fiction and the superhero genres, where a hero hides under a mild-mannered alias.

<i>The Scarlet Pimpernel</i> (TV series) British TV series or programme

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a series of television drama programmes loosely based on Baroness Emmuska Orczy's series of novels, set during the French Revolution.

<i>Eldorado</i> (novel)

Eldorado, by Baroness Orczy is a sequel book to the classic adventure tale, The Scarlet Pimpernel. It was first published in 1913. The novel is notable in that it is the partial basis for most of the film treatments of the original book.

<i>The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i> 1919 book by Baroness Orczy

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a sequel book to the classic adventure tale, The Scarlet Pimpernel. Written by Baroness Orczy and first published in 1919, the book consists of eleven short stories about Sir Percy Blakeney's exploits in rescuing various aristos and French citizens from the clutches of the guillotine.

<i>Mamzelle Guillotine</i>

Mam'zelle Guillotine, by Baroness Orczy, is a sequel book to the classic adventure tale, The Scarlet Pimpernel. First published in 1940, it was the last novel Orczy wrote featuring the Pimpernel and is dedicated to those fighting in World War II.

"To all those who are fighting in the air, on the water and on land for our country and for our homes, I dedicate this because it is to them that we shall owe a happy issue out of all our troubles and a lasting peace." - Emmuska Orczy - Monte Carlo - 1939-40

<i>The Elusive Pimpernel</i> (novel) 1908 novel by Baroness Orczy

First published in 1908, The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy is the 4th book in the classic adventure series about the Scarlet Pimpernel.

<i>Sir Percy Hits Back</i>

Sir Percy Hits Back is (chronologically) the ninth book in the Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Orczy. It was first published in 1927.

Citizen Armand Chauvelin is the villain in Baroness Emmuska Orczy's classic novel The Scarlet Pimpernel and the various plays and films derived from the work.

<i>The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i>

The Way of the Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy, is another sequel book to the adventure tale, The Scarlet Pimpernel. First published in 1933, it is 6th in the series and one of the shorter Scarlet Pimpernel books. A French-language version, translated and adapted by Charlotte and Marie-Louise Desroyses, was also produced under the title Les Métamorphoses du Mouron Rouge.

<i>The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i>

The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel, first published in 1922, is a book in the series about the Scarlet Pimpernel's adventures by Baroness Orczy. Again Orczy interweaves historic fact with fiction, this time through the real life figures of Thérésa Cabarrus, and Jean-Lambert Tallien; inserting the Scarlet Pimpernel as an instigator of the role Tallien played in the Thermidorian Reaction in July 1794.

<i>Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i>

Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel is the second collection of short stories written by Baroness Orczy about the gallant English hero, the Scarlet Pimpernel and his League. Written in 1929 the stories, which are listed below, are set in 1793 but appear in no particular order. They occasionally refer to events in other books in the series and Orczy frequently reuses plot lines and ideas from the longer Pimpernel novels.

<i>The Scarlet Pimpernel</i> (1982 film) 1982 British film

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1982 British romantic adventure television film set during the French Revolution. It is based on the novels The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) and Eldorado (1913) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, and stars Anthony Andrews as Sir Percy Blakeney/the Scarlet Pimpernel, the protagonist, Jane Seymour as Marguerite St. Just, the love interest, and Ian McKellen as Chauvelin, the antagonist.

<i>The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i> British TV series or programme

The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a British television series based on the 1905 adventure novel of the same name by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. The series was created by writer Michael Hogan and produced by the Towers of London for Incorporated Television Programmes. It was first screened in Britain in 1955 to 1956 in an eighteen-episode run beginning on 28 September 1955. It was one of the first drama series shown on the fledging network, which had only begun transmission in London the week before.

<i>The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel</i> 1937 film

The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1937 British film directed by Hanns Schwarz and starring Barry K. Barnes, Sophie Stewart, Margaretta Scott and James Mason. It is a sequel to the 1934 film The Scarlet Pimpernel based on the stories by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.

The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a 1928 British silent costume drama film directed by T. Hayes Hunter and starring Matheson Lang, Juliette Compton and Nelson Keys. It was based on the 1922 novel The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy. It was made at Cricklewood Studios, with art direction by Clifford Pember.

The Elusive Pimpernel is a 1919 British silent adventure film directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Cecil Humphreys, Marie Blanche and Norman Page. It was based on the 1908 novel The Elusive Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.


  1. Richards, Jeffrey (2014). Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York. Routledge. p. 163.
  2. "The Scarlet Pimpernel". TCM. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  3. Sennwald, Andre (8 February 1935). "The Screen; Leslie Howard as the Scarlet Pimpernel in a Fine British Screen Version of the Famous Novel". The New York Times.
  4. "The Film Business in the United States and Britain during the 1930s" by John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny, The Economic History Review New Series, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 2005), pp. 79–112