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A Word Or Two About Pimpernel Smith - L' étrouche
A Word Or Two About Pimpernel Smith
The first time I've watched it , there were too many people into my living room.
I was at home, sort of strange miracle for I'm never at home. My mother was talking to my father and I could not catch a few lines. Adding the fact that I don't think no one has ever subtitled it in Italian, for in '41 movies like those one were strictly forbidden by Mussolini, than again at the end of the war Hollywood invaded everything and there wasn't space for Brit movies, especially for those who remembered the first years of war.

That's why I felt I haven't see it properly. Even if some images, some words kept flashing backwards in my mind, so that yesterday I deeply needed to watch it again. Alone, into my own apartment. It was 1.00 am. I felt like a pregnant woman, needing to eat an ice cream in the middle of the night.

Brief, I fell in love for the 100th time with Leslie Howard. Not only he was nearly 50 years old and it seemed he was 30, not only his acting was absolutely original and amazing, not only he was handsome as hell even when the part didn't request such a quality, but if you look at the construction of the movie you may see he was a true remarkable genius.

Horatio Smith holds a good resume of the main characters he had played. Very way to build up a character, for he results familiar to everyone who has watched his movie before. There's a little Higgins, a little Hamlet (..." alas poor Yorick, I knew him Horatio "), Percy Blackney of course, and something even from Phil Carey and Alan Squire, considering the story between prof Smith and Koslowsky's daughter (when Koslowsky happens to be the name of the dummy Russian  director in "Stand In") . But Anatole De Grunwaldt was pretty smart on adding something of what he knew about Leslie too. His lousy memory for instance ( Ian Colvin speaks about that in Flight 777) or that lovely lovely duet with Suzanne Claire- Violette Cunnington, full of tenderness, bitter sweet, if you know the story. She was so pretty and so fully alive at the time...

...and the incredible story of the German spy, lovely big-eyed Mary Morris, who weirdly looks like the story Colvin has written in his book about Countess Miranda. And his last words, which reminds me his death and a poem his son wrote:

"Would he, so developed, breathe and move, be warm
To an optic music, stride from the cul-de-sac
Of cradling ocean, heroic as in a fable,
And around my shoulder place his unforgotten arm."

"But I'll be back. We all will be back".

I think the most remarkable aspect of Pimpernel Smith is just that, Horatio Smith its not only a character to play, he's Leslie Howard's avatar. Through him, he was giving the English an injection of hope- as Churchill has already done with his speech which is in the beginning of "Spitfire". And through him, he finally confesses why he was so fascinated by Hamlet. And why the public didn't understand his own Hamlet in 1936.

We use to think about Hamlet as, as Freud wrote, a psychopathic who's hesitating in killing his uncle because of his Oedipus complex. I think Leslie Howard got it different. To him, Hamlet must have been the man who has an aim in his life, so important that  he doesn't care much about his life, all he cares about is that aim, and he tries to reach it using brain. That's why the critics' favorite Hamlet of 1936 had been  John Gielgud, not him, who showed an Hamlet who never lose his temper, calm, cleverly staring with his big expressive attentive eyes. Robert Sherwood if memory serves (the author of The Petrified Forest) described him as Howard acting as Howard trying hard to be Hamlet, or something like that. But I think he was wrong, and the reason why I think so is kept into Pimpernel Horatio Smith. Who's supposed to be a sort of new Percy Blackney, but that's not his true secret identity, no: he's Hamlet, that Hamlet Howard loved so much, that Hamlet he read days before his death. A weird Hamlet (who saves his Ophelia in time, who do not send his Rosenkants and Guildestern students to death...), but a remarkable one. And elusive, not only because the Germans who "search him everywhere" are not able to "Find him here and there", but because you can never guess what he's thinking or planning, or feeling. I remember someone spoke about Howard in these terms, elusive, you could never guess...

Horatio Smith. The secret of that mysterious fascinating man called Leslie Howard has always been in front of our eyes, like "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. Still I wonder what would he have done if ...
...no use. No use.
1 comment or Leave a comment
ginevradv From: ginevradv Date: June 15th, 2012 11:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I totally agree with you. I think Leslie Howard's Hamlet was maybe too innovative and "contemporary" to be fully understood in 1936. I've read in his son's book that during his last years Leslie had been working very hard to make a film of his idea of "contemporary Hamlet"... He saw so many similarities between Hamlet's story and the world at the beginning of the war. And he spoke mainly about Hamlet during his conference tour in Portugal and Spain. I too wonder what would he have done if...
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