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Elusive Pimpernel, The (1950, David Niven, Margaret Leighton)



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Samuel Goldwyn loaned David Niven to Alexander Korda’s London Films to play the title role in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s version of Baroness Orczy’s adventure. Niven, of course, doubled as foppish British nobleman Sir Percy Blakeney and his dashing alter ego, the Scarlet Pimpernel, the scourge of the French Revolutionaries, who daringly rescued many aristocrats destined to lose their heads on the guillotine.

Citizen Chauvelin (Cyril Cusack) is sent to London as French Ambassador to track down the Pimpernel and, meeting Niven, blackmails his estranged French wife, Margaret Leighton, into providing clues to the identity of the Pimpernel, unaware that she is betraying her own husband. Sir Percy leaves for Mont St Michel to resume his dangerous activities and his wife also arrives there, intent on warning the Pimpernel that he is in grave danger. She is seized by Chauvelin and held hostage. The Pimpernel agrees to gives his life for her safety…

The Elusive Pimpernel, released in the United States as The Fighting Pimpernel, cost £450,000, to which was added the cost of extensive retakes, at about £27,000. When a reporter asked Goldwyn and Korda at a press conference exactly how much had been spent on retakes, Korda told him. ‘Two per cent of the picture.’ Determined to establish a figure, the reporter queried, ‘How much did the picture cost?’ Korda was up to the occasion: ‘One hundred per cent,’ he responded helpfully.

production details
UK | 88 minutes | 1950

Writers and Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

David Niven as Sir Percy Blakeney / The Scarlet Pimpernel
Margaret Leighton as Marguerite Blakeney
Cyril Cusack as Chauvelin
Jack Hawkins as Prince of Wales
Arlette Marchal as Contesses de Tournai
Gérard Néry as Philippe de Tournai