30 September 2008 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
The French are revolting.
"I Will Repay" is based on one of the numerous Scarlet Pimpernel novels by Baroness Orczy, which I haven't read. I don't know how faithful this film is to its source novel, much less how accurate either of them is in regard to the historic names and events that are freely mentioned throughout the proceedings.
We are in Paris, 1793: knee-deep in the Reign of Terror. Paul de Roulade (Pedro de Cordoba) is a hero to the Jacquards, who cry him 'Citizen de Roulade'. One evening he gets into an argument with the Vicomte de Marny over the virtues of a dancing girl; this leads to a fight (provoked by the viscount, of course), forcing Paul to kill the nobleman. (I'm astounded that any viscount would dare show his face in Paris in 1793 ... but don't mind me, scriptwriter.) The viscount's sister Juliette de Marny (Flora le Breton) swears revenge: to achieve this, she infiltrates the de Roulade household and beguiles Paul into falling in love with her.
Now get this, folks. The movie wants Paul to be the film's hero and earn the audience's sympathy, even though (as a Jacquard) he's really on the wrong side of history. So, just to keep things nice and tidy, Paul has secret Royalist sympathies. He decides to smuggle Marie Antoinette out of France ... and to do this, he enlists the aid of none other than the Scarlet Pimpernel (Holmes Herbert). How does the scriptwriter explain this complete volte-face on the part of the main character? By having actor de Cordoba flutter his hand languidly while a dialogue title has him moaning that he's weary of 'all this bloodshed'. Oh, yes!
Well, the fair (or unfair) Juliette learns of Paul's intrigue, and she realises that this is her chance to get revenge by betraying him to the Jacquards. Or will she fall in love with him as he has with her? Meanwhile, we get a few scenes of Charlotte Corday on trial for the murder of Marat.
Au secours! There was so much real-life drama going on during the French Revolution, there's really no need to invent fictional shenanigans like this. I'll at least give this European-made film credit for realistic sets and costumes, rather than the usual overblown glitz that Hollywood would have given this subject matter even as early as 1923. Still, my rating for this film is only 4 out of 10.