Pimpernel Smith (1941)

Pimpernel Smith (1941), produced and directed by Leslie Howard.


Prof. Smith: No, I hate violence. It seems such a paradox to kill a man before you can persuade him what's right.


Prof. Smith: What do you do with yourself?

General von Graum: I hunt for the enemies of the Reich.

Prof. Smith: Do you? Do you get much shooting?

Bringing his own The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) up to date, Leslie Howard is an archaeology professor who secretly smuggles scientists and other notables out from under the nazis.

It can be shelved with The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940): defeating the fascists with wit and ridicule, a certain amount of light action, and even with time for a little romance, the hero rescuing the lady.

Much as I appreciate Howard's talents, as a director he's not Alfred Hitchcock or Carol Reed, so this is the least of the three and at 2hrs goes on a bit too long.

He deviates from the Pimpernel formula: in those stories our hero is a dim-witted aristocrat by day, action hero and swordsman by night. Here the professor is pretty much the same both times, maybe less befuddled when the chips are down. And still a master of disguises.

Howard has more nude art in the film than you would see in an American film of the time.

It is wartime patriotism and he gets serious and delivers the message in the end:


May a dead man say a few words to you, General, for your enlightenment? You will never rule the world... because you are doomed. All of you who have demoralized and corrupted a nation are doomed. Tonight you will take the first step along a dark road from which there is no turning back. You will have to go on and on, from one madness to another, leaving behind you a wilderness of misery and hatred. And still, you will have to go on... because you will find no horizon... and see no dawn... until at last you are lost and destroyed. You are doomed, Captain of Murderers, and one day, sooner or later, you will remember my words.

According to the wikipedia article:


The film helped to inspire Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg to mount his real-life rescue operation in Budapest that saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi concentration camps during the last months of the Second World War.

After languishing in public domain hell, available on very poor home video formats, Olive Films has produced a very decent Blu-ray, with subtitles! There is damage in some reels and I can't call it an "excellent" transfer, but it is really very good given the obscurity of the title, and far better than any edition I ever hoped to have.