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Andre-Louis Moreau (Ramon Novarro), a young law student of uncertain parentage, is in love with Aline (Alice Terry), the niece of country gentleman, Quintin de Kercadiou (Lloyd Ingraham), in whose home he was raised. Aline loves Andre, but her uncle is pushing her into the arms of the Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr (Lewis Stone), a high-ranking nobleman and a first-class jerk.
The Marquis is the kind of guy who kills poor people for poaching, gets girls in trouble, and makes duel-able mountains out of molehills with other gentry. In other words, just your average late 18th-century French aristocrat. All of these virtues are revealed in a beautifully crafted early scene in Rex Ingram's production: the corpse of some poor schmo is carried into a village barn, a victim of the Marquis's harsh poaching policies. A young divinity student, Andre's great friend, Philippe, prays over the body, outraged at the injustice. Just as he gets to the part about how greedy and immoral de la Tour is, the Marquis himself walks in and challenges the kid to a duel. On his way to kill Philippe (which he does, promptly), the Marquis stops to flirt with a pretty girl who looks familiar. She recognizes him too, bouncing her newborn baby up a little higher for him to see. (Lack of) Character established.
After witnessing the death of his friend, Andre vows to pick up where the pre-Revolutionary left off: seeking justice and equality for all. He tries the proper channels at first by petitioning the king's representative to prosecute Philippe's murderer, but once the magistrate learns the murderer is a nobleman, he calls for Andre's arrest.
This further injustice only deepens Andre's commitment to the cause. Well, that, and the milling thousands of angry non-noble French people gathered outside to listen to revolutionary speeches until one of the speakers is shot dead. Andre leaps up to address the crowd in his place. Riot ensues and Andre is officially on the lam.
Aline, ignorant of all the rotten things the Marquis has been up to, has decided to let him court and eventually marry her. She still loves Andre, but now that he's gone all Political and is on the run from the cops, she figures he's no longer much of a prospect.
Meanwhile, Andre (literally) falls in with a mediocre traveling theater company run by Challefau Binet and his hot daughter, Climene. Andre becomes part of the troupe and even helps elevate their status by writing plays and performing as the clown, Scaramouche. After a year, the company is playing Paris, where Aline happens to be staying with her friend, the Countess de Plougastel. Eventually, the Marquis, Aline, and Andre run into each other at a performance. Aline is engaged to the Marquis; Andre is engaged to Climene; the Marquis and Climene engage in some hanky panky on the sly. It comes to no good.
Meanwhile (again), in the National Assembly, the People are having their Paris Beaux handed to them by the Nobility and it isn't going well. The Marquis and his pals have started picking fights with the revolutionary representatives so that they can kill them off in legal duels, thereby chipping away at the opposition. When it is discovered that Andre is a master swordsman, he becomes the Assembly's best fighter and the tide turns.
Eventually, Andre and the Marquis get to fight it out, the outcome and consequences of which I will not spoil. Since the French Revolution is no secret, that happens, but there is a lot going on with our main characters in the midst of the upheaval that is better to see for yourselves.
Scaramouche (1923) is a pretty terrific historical drama. It's less swashbuckley and Freudian than its 1952 remake, but the costumes, set design, and cinematography are outstanding. The villagers are properly filthy, the mob scenes are terrifying, and the contrast between the classes starkly drawn. Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone, and Alice Terry are compelling, natural actors -- you really want things to work out.
If you've seen the Technicolor Scaramouche, be advised that this version is a tonal 180. The French Revolution was no picnic, and Rex Ingram got the memo.
This post is my contribution to the Swashathon! A blogathon of swashbuckling adventure, hosted by Movies Silently.
I'll do just about anything a movie tells me to do. Unless it tells me wrong...
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