The Sunday Intertitle: A sense that the world was mad

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Seems like I’m stuck in SCARAMOUCHE the way I got stuck in DARK PASSAGE. At least here we have two films to entertain us.

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Lots of strange and interesting intertitles in the Rex Ingram version, providing us with a gentle start. Both Ingram’s original and George Sidney’s somewhat garbled remake find a way to incorporate the dashing first sentence of Rafael Sabatini’s source novel. Neither star really embodies the sentiment, though: Ramon Novarro remembers to laugh cynically upon occasion, whereas Stewart Granger has been saddled with a role more befitting a summation like “He was born a colossal ass-hat.” Granger embodies the hell out of THAT sentiment.

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Sometimes you wonder what the hell the title writer is up to. But eccentricity is a hallmark of Rex Ingram’s work. I want to get into this guy more deeply — he’s peculiar.

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10 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: A sense that the world was mad”

  1. jeanette minor Says:

    “He was born with the gift of laughter. And the sense that the world was mad”. Is the opening line of the novel Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  2. I vaguely remember that the Granger version managed to misplace the French Revolution; it was foreshadowed but somehow forgotten. Like Laughton’s “Hunchback”, which went to bizarre pains to assume the big final battle was between well-meaning people on the same side, and NOT peasants against royalty.

  3. Yes, that’s crazy, but typical. Simplistic Hollywood movies always struggled to make sense of revolutions, since they’re against despotism but also against revolt, and that doesn’t fit neatly into a good-evil paradigm.

    The 50s version manages to have a happy ending by showing the royals attempting to compromise with the mob — and the film ends there, as if to imply the strategy was sincere and successful. Very MGM!

  4. Disney’s “Fighting Prince of Donegal” ends with the promise of no more troubles between the Irish and the Brits (circa Elizabeth I). “Rob Roy the Highland Rogue” insists likewise for Scotland and the first King George. Both insisted the real trouble was not the British per se but some lower-level SOBs. “Johnny Tremain” is reasonably scrupulous about history, but also makes a point of balancing bad guy British with more thoughtful ones who see the handwriting on the wall.

    Civil War movies, including “The General”, tended to ignore slavery and make it a battle between a poetic, doomed aristocracy and decent, common-sense egalitarians. Individual movies might demonize one or the other, or approach the conflict with more depth, but those broad outlines usually remained … except when making a point about brother against brother. Keaton, interestingly, made the war an abstract proposition: It was entirely about going to fight and winning glory because that’s what men do.

    Most (but not all) Robin Hoods end with Richard returning, presumably eliminating any need for a Magna Carta. They tend to gloss over how the Crusades worked out, although none show Richard returning in triumph, and Disney borrows “Ivanhoe’s” plot of raising the king’s ransom.

    “Man in the Iron Mask” offers a more interesting study. Expanding on a comparatively fleeting episode in Dumas, the Doug Fairbanks version is straightforward royalist: the Louis XIV on the throne is virtuous and rightful; all four musketeers unite to protect him from a usurping twin raised to be evil (which raises questions of free will and nature versus nurture, but never mind). Adaptations thereafter take the tact that the hidden twin, raised by the commoner D’Artagnan, is worthier and the happy endings put him on the throne; an invisible coup. And the implication is that everything in France is now Settled. The most recent movie offered the innovation that the twins were sired by D’Artagnan, lover of the neglected queen — so a morally rightful king needs peasant blood as well as peasant upbringing.

  5. As I trust you now, Rex Ingram was Michael Powell’s primary inspiration. He writes about him in both of his books. He saw Ingram shoot “Mare Nostrum.”

  6. Powell is IN several Ingrams, including The Magician. He shaved his hair for a “Travelaugh” film and it never grew back. And whenever he passed the LA parking lot which used to be Ingram’s sound stage at Metro, he would raise his hat.

    Robin and Marian is the exception for King Richard, who never makes it back to England alive.

  7. revelator60 Says:

    I might be misremembering, but many of the intertitles in the Ingram version may have been adapted from Sabatini’s novel, an old-fashioned but still captivating work, much like Ingram’s film, which is relatively faithful to the book, whereas the Granger version is a gleeful send-up of swashbuckling–its lushness and levity probably can be chalked up to George Sidney. I tend to bracket Ingram’s Scaramouche with his version of The Prisoner of Zenda, another handsomely-made and intelligent swashbuckler, though it has pacing problems.

    If you want more info on Ingram, the most recent book on him, “Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen” by Ruth Barton, is an excellent place to start. I’d really want to see The Arab (1924), which repatriated from Russia in 2010, and The Garden Of Allah (1927), currently in the MGM vault. A reconstructed version of Mare Nostrum occasionally airs on TCM and is still voluptuous. As it often happens with Ingram, the dramatic elements can feel slightly rote next to the visuals and mood.

  8. The novel is free on Kindle – I have grabbed it. Now I’m watching Wajda’s Danton, which amusingly begins where Ingram’s Scaramouche ends, at a post-revolution Parisian checkpoint.

  9. The late, great Patrice Chereau (my candidate for the greatest director in the history of the cinema) plays Camille de Moulins in Danton

  10. Yes, and he’s excellent! As is the whole cast. It probably set him up well for directing La Reine Margot.

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