Archive S

The Scapegoat (1958)

An Englishman is tricked into impersonating his French double - who's plotting a murder.

Odd drama which never comes together satisfactorily.

Script adapt.: Robert Hamer, Gore Vidal. (o.a. Daphne du Maurier)

Director: Robert Hamer

Players: Bette Davis, Alec Guinness, Irene Worth, Pamela Brown, Geoffrey Keen, Nicole Maurey, Annabel Bartlett, Leslie French, Noel Howlett, Peter Bull, Alan Webb, Maria Britneva, Eddie Byrne, Alexander Archdale, Peter Sallis 

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

When Baroness Orczy wrote the novel "The Scarlet Pimpernel" she couldn't get it published. It's exciting, but the plot has more holes than a colander. Her stage version got its premier in Nottingham before arriving in London to critical contempt. Audiences, though, loved it and it ran for over 2000 performances. It's been a winner ever since.  

The Scarlet Pimpernel is the pseudonym of a mysterious figure who's rescuing aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. A French former actress now married to an English lord, Lady Blakeney, is forced by the sinister French ambassador Chauvelin to help uncover the identity of the Pimpernel. What she finds is that he's her foppish husband and she has to travel back to France to try to rescue him.

There were three silent versions of the story but this production from Korda's London films will always be the definitive one.  All the iconography of the revolution is there: hags knitting at the foot of the scaffold, aristos in dungeons, Robespierre signing death warrants. In bringing the tale to the screen the scriptwriters shifted the emphasis away from Lady Blakeney and towards the battle of wits between Sir Percy and Chauvelin.

The three leads do well. Merle Oberon as Lady Blakeney has little to do other than look beautiful and worried but she does that well enough. Leslie Howard is great as the Pimpernel, fun as the fop and believable as the man of action. Raymond Massey is equally good as the sinister Chauvelin. The action sequences have faded but it's the tension between the two men that makes the film worthwhile.

It was popular enough to spawn two sequels: the disappointing The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel with Barry K. Barnes in the lead, and the modern dress Pimpernel Smith with Leslie Howard getting people out from under Nazi rule. This latter version is a wonderful film.

Script adapt.: S.N. Behrman, Robert E. Sherwood, Arthur Wimperis, Lajos Biro (Baroness Orczy)

Director: Harold Young

Players: Nigel Bruce, Bramwell Fletcher, Joan Gardner, Anthony Bushell, Walter Rilla, Melville Cooper, Gibb McLaughlin, Derrick de Marney

School for Scoundrels (1960)

Oneupmanship comes to the screen as Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas use the rules to win the hand of Janette Scott (or whichever part of Miss Scott that cad Terry-Thomas is after).

Plot-wise this is just a series of episodes loosely strung together, but it's such enormous fun who cares.

Script adapt.: Patricia Moyes, Hal E. Chester, Peter Ustinov, Frank Tarlcoff (o.a. Stephen Potter)

Director: Robert Hamer

Players: Alastair Sim, Dennis Price, Edward Chapman, Kynaston Reeves, Irene Handl, John le Mesurier, Hugh Paddick, Peter Jones, Gerald Campion, Hattie Jacques, Anita Sharp Bolster

The Scotland Yard Mystery (1933)

An insurance investigator asks his girlfriend's father, high up in the police, to investigate a series of large payouts on unexpected deaths.

Standard thriller only notable for Gerald du Maurier slumming it in a vehicle unworthy of his status.

Script adapt.: Frank Miller. (o.a. Wallace Geoffrey)

Director: Thomas Bentley

Players: Gerald du Maurier, Leslie Perrins, Belle Chrystall, George Curzon, Grete Natzler, Paul Graetz, Wally Patch, Henry Victor, Herbert Cameron, Frederick Peisley

Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

John Mills plays the ultimate stiff-upper-lipped hero in this wonderful re-creation of the doomed expedition. The visuals are grand and Vaughan Williams' score is one of the best in the movies.

Script: Walter Meade, Ivor Montagu, Mary Hayley Bell

Director: Charles Frend

Players: James Robertson Justice, Derek Bond, Harold Warrender, Reginald Beckwith, Kenneth More, John Gregson, Clive Moreton, Diana Churchill, Bruce Seton, Christopher Lee, Sam Kydd, Noel Howlett, Dandy Nichols

Scrooge (1935) 

Few literary works have been adapted as often as Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Within two months of its publication in 1843 there were eight stage productions. When cinema was in its infancy, film-makers were quick to catch on to the advantages of using a well-known text in their mime shows and, since A Christmas Carol was a natural story to use to showcase film's special effects, the first version was made in 1901 by R. W. Paul's company. Since then there have been many versions.

For many people, the definitive one is Alastair Sim's Scrooge, though there is a substantial minority of critics who reckon it's a poor film with a miscast star. No doubt the Albert Finney musical has its admirers, though it suffers from seeming like a desperate attempt to cash in on the success of Oliver!. My own personal favourite is A Muppet Christmas Carol which sticks closely to the plot but has enough novelty value and bad jokes to keep the story fresh. Besides, Kermit is the most memorable Bob Cratchit of them all, and Gonzo's Charles Dickens is a unique portrayal of a great artist. 

Before it was eclipsed by the Sim version, the definitive Scrooge was that of Sir Seymour Hicks. It's a role he played in straight theatre productions, music hall sketches, on radio and on film. I've no idea how his 1913 attempt stands up or even whether it still exists, but his 1935 talkie version survives, though in a rough-looking, truncated print.

Scrooge was made during the high point of Julius Hagen's Twickenham Film Studios, when the company was trying to move out of quota quickie production and into "legitimate" film making. Thus all the (limited) resources available were employed to make the recreation of Victorian England as convincing as possible. Here the faded print helps, giving an almost documentary-like feel to the Christmas Eve preparations.  

The supporting players do well without being outstanding. Donald Calthrop seems an unusual choice for Bob Cratchit since he's associated more with creepy villain roles in such films as Blackmail than cheerful innocence. Still, he makes a fair stab at it. The other actors, including Athene Seyler and Mary Glynne, are largely typecast.

The visualisation of the story is effective, if a little cheap. Marley's ghost is invisible which must have saved a lot on the costume budget, but the Ghost of Christmas Past is a brief spectral image wrapping itself around Scrooge. Most effort went into the Future sequence which owes a lot to German Expressionism. Scrooge is shown reflected in his own shadow throughout this part, and the other characters are mostly in shadow too.

Of course, the film stands or falls on the effectiveness of the lead actor and Sir Seymour rarely disappoints. Of all the Scrooges I've seen he is by far the most believable as a person. In the section where he is alone at home and strange things start happening, he's a frightened old man expecting burglars rather than the comic miser we're familiar with. Only in the Future section does he ham it up a little. 

If you only intend to watch one Christmas Carol then I'd still recommend the Muppet one, but if you're in the mood for a more serious version then check this one out.

Still from Scrooge

Script adapt.: Seymour Hicks, H. Fowler Mear (o.a. Charles Dickens)

Director: Henry Edwards

Players: Robert Cochran, Eve Gray, Oscar Asche, C.V. France, Marie Ney, Barbara Everest, Mary Glynne, Garry Marsh, Maurice Evans, Mary Lawson

Scrooge (1951)

A Christmas Carol must be Dickens' most adapted work. It's been parodied and animated and plagiarised many times and is now an inseparable part of the holiday season. Alastair Sim gives the definitive performance in the title role.

Script adapt.: Noel Langley. (o.a. Charles Dickens)

Director: Brian Desmond Hurst

Players: Michael Horden, Mervyn Johns, Kathleen Harrison, Hermione Baddeley, George Cole, Jack Warner, Rona Anderson, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesiger, Hattie Jacques, Noel Howlett, Peter Bull, Patrick Macnee