Kick-Back Friday: #193
Pimpernel Smith (1941) is Leslie Howard’s updated riff on his previous leading role in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), the classic espionage adventure of rescue set during the French Revolution. In the former movie, released just 2 years before Howard’s shocking and untimely death at the hands of the Luftwaffe, Howard is Horatio Smith, an absent-minded archeology professor at Cambridge who recruits his students for a summer trip to Socialist Germany. From the very beginning of the film, it is utterly transparent that the professor leads a double life as a smuggler of human cargo out of the terrorist state, but Howard consistently sustains the film with his nonpareil blitheness and comical faux obliviousness in the company of Nazi officers. In the end, the film is nothing but shameless Allied propaganda,* complete with a heavy-handed, proselytizing monologue; but by God, Howard’s unapologetic delivery at this point is truly energizing.
* Which is possibly why the Luftwaffe targeted Howard for death in 1943.
Poster for Pimpernel Smith, released as Mister V in the United States, from Wikipedia and reproduced under fair use law.