31 March 2006 | Flippitygibbit
I would wholeheartedly have to concur with the previous - and main, to date - reviewer of this mish-mosh remake: it's a hybrid of the 1934 Howard classic and Orczy's original novel, which does justice to neither. As a gesture of independence, the plot is given irrelevant twists, such as renaming the family betrayed (or not, once again) by Marguerite, introducing a London to Brighton carriage race, and switching Howard's 'Who, Sir? You, Sir' dialogue from a London club to a Turkish bath (a minor complaint of the latter detail being that Niven's physique in no way stands up to such scrutiny!)
David Niven's strongest moments are his flashes of 'Carry On'-style wit as the Pimpernel's various assumed personas, particularly the Cock-er-nee who baits Chauvelin's staff. As the foppish Sir Percy, he sounds, probably unintentionally, like a London bobby instead of a dandy from the ton; as the Pimpernel, sans disguise, he is rather forgettable, blending in with the rest of the confused sea of League characters. Margaret Leighton, with the aesthetic distinction of being the only blonde film version of the character, neither looks nor acts the part. She delivers Merle Oberon's lines - word for word, an annoying laziness on behalf of Powell and Pressburger - as though reading from a cue card, and does not spark with Niven. She also looks considerably too old for the role, and is not helped by the smearing of Technicolour-red lipstick she shares with every other woman in this production. Cyril Cusack as Chauvelin, however, is the real monstrosity - a cross between a stage Hamlet and Marlon Brando as the Godfather, he speaks with a lisping Closeau accent and somnolently glides through the film like the Prince of Darkness.
If this film had been allowed to continue as a musical, it would perhaps have been excusable as a light-hearted, brightly coloured spin on the earlier Howard-Oberon version (it is possible to spot where some of the songs might have slotted in, particularly when Sir Percy and the Prince of Wales recite the famous 'We seek him here' doggerel, and the 'chorus' burst into spontaneous mime to the tune of 'Little Brown Jug', as it sounds like!) The (intentional) comedy is quirky, if a little corny (the effeminate French captain who realises he has been duped into thinking the Pimpernel is Chauvelin), and the beautiful external locations add a touch of authenticity that would have boded well for any other film. But as it stands, this is only a shoddily constructed parody/remake, with inferior stars and unnecessary changes to the story. My final sentence on 'The Elusive Pimpernel' (I also have no idea why they chose this title): I think the 1998 series must have confused this with the 1934 material, when sourcing a 'modern' interpretation! Take that as you will.