TBT: Scaramouche (1952) Is Very Confused About the 18th Century


Scaramouche (1952) is a “classic” film that’s been on my list forever, since I saw images of their version of Marie-Antoinette (wearing a costume from the 1938 Adrian-designed film). I finally got a chance to watch it, and I was very entertained!

Here’s your short synopsis: Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger) is the illegitimate son of a nobleman in just-pre-Revolution France. His good friend gets all “liberté equalité ou la mort” and, yes “la mort” (death) is what happens to him. Stewie is pissed and vows to take revenge on the nobleman (the Marquis de Maynes, cousin and secret love of Marie-Antoinette) who killed his bestie. Life being complicated as it is, Stewie is in lurve with a hot redheaded actress (Lenore), but then meets the dewy young thing (Aline, played by Janet Leigh) who is engaged to the Marquis. As things play out, Stewie has to hide out with Lenore’s theater troupe, taking on the Commedia dell’Arte role of Scaramouche, in order to avoid the Marquis’s guards and buy time to train in swordsmanship. Cue film’s longest duel…

Scaramouche (1952)

Janet Leigh as Aline de Gavrillac

All this being said, it was clear that the filmmakers (including costume designer Gile Steele) were more than a wee bit confused when it came to the 18th century. To wit:

1. 18th century wigs were white because they were POWDERED

Okay, so Scaramouche is taking their cue from many, MANY other early and mid-20th century films when they put all their actors into shiny white wigs. But for one thing, 18th century people primarily used powder to achieve the desired color (which was frequently grey, not white), and so created a matte look — so shine is right out. Secondly, the production uses lace-front wigs, making it look like the actor’s real hair. I was thinking maybe their idea was that EVERYONE had white hair in the 18th century, but then in one (and only one scene) where Aline is shown in bed, she suddenly has blonde hair. There were no lace-front wigs in the 18th century, so, no.

Scaramouche (1952)

Marquis de Maynes: “My queen, your hair shines like the surface of my toilet after my butler has spent 10 hours scrubbing it!”
Marie-Antoinette: “Oh MARQUIS you do flatter a girl!”

Scaramouche (1952)

Aline looks like she has white hair (maybe everyone gets REALLY SCARED in the 18th century?)…

Scaramouche (1952)

But then when Lenore comes to visit Aline in the middle of the night, we find out she’s actually blonde (oh, and wears 1850s daycaps to bed, but whatever).

2. 18th century men’s pants were NOT the equivalent of leggings/yoga pants

SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. The Marquis de Maynes gets actual breeches, tight though they are. But Stewie wears what are essentially thick leggings (although, note, he is clearly wearing some kind of athletic cup/padding because there is no package in there). Yes, we know most people think of ye olde timey clothes as “men in tights,” but, no.

Scaramouche (1952)

Smooooth as a baby’s bottom…

3. Tabs on 18th century court bodices go UNDER the skirt

Okay, a minor nitpick. Nina Foch as Marie-Antoinette wears a costume from the 1938 biopic, and it’s lovely in a mid-century Hollywood sort of way. But those tabs along the edges of her bodice are meant to be worn UNDER the petticoat, and that’s just how it was done.

Scaramouche (1952)

4. Marie-Antoinette did not keep a stable of debutantes in the 18th century

The Marquis de Maynes needs to get married, because of the gossip about his and Marie-Antoinette’s LURVE. So what does MA do? Why, choose a nubile young noble girl from amongst the pack o’ white-Scarlett-O’Hara-dress-wearing debutantes who apparently hang out at Versailles taking dance lessons.

Scaramouche (1952)

Your great-aunt’s cotillion.

5. Lana Turner Veronica Lake hair did not exist in the 18th century

Lenore, the actress who is Stewie’s love interest, is fucking fabulous. She’s all tart and sex and red hair and you KNOW I love it. However, while it would be SO great in a film noir, there’s just nothing, nohow that’s 18th century about her long, red, perfectly waved hair. Lana Turner Veronica Lake, yes. 18th century, no.

Scaramouche (1952)

Lenore knows how to work it!

Scaramouche (1952)

Look at that perfect wave over her brow…

Scaramouche (1952)

“Next!” (the war cry of all redheads)

5. Blue eyeshadow did not exist in the 18th century

SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. Neither did cat’s eye liner or thick fake eyelashes, but COULD THEY SMEAR THE EYESHADOW ANY HIGHER??!!

Scaramouche (1952)

 6. Chemise gowns did not look like this in the 18th century:

Scarlett O’Hara might have worn this to a barbecue at Tara, but those princess seams and ribbon lace and purple floral print are just wrongity wrong wrong!

Scaramouche (1952) Scaramouche (1952)

7. Stewart Granger is not hot in any era

I so don’t get him, sorry. I’m not saying he’s not a decent actor, or he can’t rock the yoga pants. But a hottie? Nope.


Not when he’s sword fighting.

Scaramouche (1952)

Not when he’s in a sleeveless manly fencing vest.

Scaramouche (1952)

Not when he’s doing his best impression of a man’s man in the French National Assembly.

8. 18th century actresses did not dress like Disney princesses or 1890s showgirls

Oh Lenore. I know you want to get your man, the but secret is not to keep shortening your stage costumes.

Scaramouche (1952)

Lenore starts off as a Disney princess ballerina…

Scaramouche (1952)

When Stewie joins the troupe, she goes to upper thigh tutus…

Scaramouche (1952)

The same costume (the bodice must have faded).

Scaramouche (1952)

Then when the troupe goes to Paris, Lenore celebrates by breaking out the 1890s cancan feathers…

Scaramouche (1952)

By the end, her costume has shrunk to only one (loofah) sleeve…

Scaramouche (1952)

And some hip puffs!

9. Victorian ballgown necklines/sleeves did not exist in the 18th century

In no world, no how did any 18th century European wear an off-the-shoulder neckline, or a sleeveless/strap only bodice. Never happened. Nopity nope nope. Nor did they go 1880s square bustle gown neckline.

Scaramouche (1952)

It’s not even Scarlett O’Hara…

Scaramouche (1952)

This random extra is very happy about her 1880s bustle gown neckline… (and note another mid-19th century neckline in back).

10. Putting sparkles on these pants does not make them more 18th century

And are those matching boots?

Scaramouche (1952)

But serious props to whoever made Stewie’s athletic cups and turned him into a Ken doll!

11. Napoleon did not look like “Napoleon” in 178-whatever

Lenore may not get her man, but she gets Napoleon. I’m not sure how that’s going to work out long term, but it’s more my job to point out that Napoleon at this age would have had long hair.

Scaramouche (1952)

12. Head necklaces are bad in any era

Especially when it’s a 1950s rhinestone number!

Scaramouche (1952)

Poor Marie-Antoinette! They don’t let you have real tiaras, do they? (Also, please to be noting Edwardian dog-collar necklace).

And the one thing they weren’t confused about…

If you’re going to cast an actress who has to be in love with the hero, but then give him up all nobly…

Scaramouche (1952)

Poor Lenore (left) gives up her man! Look closely…

You damn well cast the Baroness from The Sound of Music!

The Sound of Music

Yep! That’s the same actress who so nobly gave up Capt. von Trapp!

Does Scaramouche get a pass because it’s the 1950s? How un-turned-on are you by Stewart Granger?

22 Responses

  1. Melinda

    Hi! I’m just saying number 9. light purple ball gown would be perfect in any modern Disney story remake! It would work the best, perhaps Aurora or Rapunzel :D

  2. mmcquown

    Stewart Granger’s forte was his ironic wit, which played through Prisoner of Zenda as well as King Solomon’s Mines. His best comic turn was in North To Alaska, which also brought out John Wayne’s comedic side. Granger was masculine and overcame being somewhat of a pretty boy by his wit. No idea offhand what the ladies though of him in his heyday, but he had a pretty good run. Also swashing his buckler in Swordsman of Siena. How he survived the padded shoulders in Scaramouche, I don’t know. I was wildly in love with his wife at the time, Jeanne Simmons, having first seen them together in Young Bess. (With Joan Collins, another love of mine, playing Lady Throckmorton.)

    • MoHub

      You just said everything I wanted to say about Granger. I worship him in Prisoner of Zenda: the kind of role he was born to play. Soppy romantic lead really wasn’t his forte.

  3. hsc

    Great review as usual; a few nit-picks:

    “Aline looks like she has white hair (maybe everyone gets REALLY SCARED in the 18th century?)…”

    And “whiter-than-white” platinum blonde hair was REALLY BIG in the 1950s.

    “…he is clearly wearing some kind of athletic cup/padding because there is no package in there…”

    Granger would have MORE of a package if he was wearing an athletic cup or padding. He just wouldn’t have a “moose knuckle” showing.

    What he’s wearing is a “dancer’s belt,” which acts as kind of a “crotch girdle” to keep all your man junk packed down so you don’t hurt yourself (or distract your audience).

    “…long, red, perfectly waved hair. Lana Turner, yes.”

    Turner? Not Rita Hayworth, whose trademark (for most of her career) that look was?

    (Except for “The Lady from Shanghai,” where Welles gave her a short, platinum blonde makeover ala Lana Turner.)

    “Blue eyeshadow did not exist in the 18th century… SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. Neither did cat’s eye liner or thick fake eyelashes, but COULD THEY SMEAR THE EYESHADOW ANY HIGHER??!!”

    True, but can’t you cut ’em some slack for the character being an actress in stage makeup?

    Parker doesn’t appear to be made up that way in other shots, nor does Leigh.

    • Kendra

      – “Dancer’s belt” so much more attractive than “crotch girdle”! ;)
      – Lana Turner — DAMMIT I MEANT VERONICA LAKE. Razzrrzz. Yes, Rita Hayworth too.
      – Blue eyeshadow — I cut no slack when it comes to comic effect!

  4. Dawn

    I just read “As You Wish,” Cary Elwes’ memoir of making The Princess Bride. They specifically mention watching the duel in Scaramouche (among other movies) while prepping for “The Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times” and deliberately tried to outdo Scaramouche in memorable-ness, although not length.

  5. Karen K.

    This is too funny. Thanks for the heads up about this movie — and now I will never be able to watch any mid-century historical movie without analyzing all the costumes!

  6. ladylavinia1932

    I so don’t get him, sorry. I’m not saying he’s not a decent actor, or he can’t rock the yoga pants. But a hottie? Nope.

    Sorry honey, I cannot agree with you on that score.

    Why would anyone look at the 1952 Zenda when the 1937 Zenda is so perfect?

    It is? Hmmm. The only advantage I can give the 1952 movie is that it is in color.

  7. Phoebe

    Kendra! You NEED to review Mozart’s Sister 2011!! As a part of the Quest! Please!!
    Thank you so much!
    Hehe I love how there’s someone out there who loves the 18th century way more than I do, I was beginning to feel so misunderstood!
    And now I feel entirely understood.
    I’m sick of getting those weird looks from friends and relatives who don’t understand the awesomeness of those panniers and wigs!!!

  8. Andre

    I don’t know why bit Stewart Granger reminds me of Bruce Campbell and I’m just expecting him to grab an arm-electric saw at any moment. XD

  9. mmcquown

    A bit late for this, but — a note about packaging and tights. I did a few dance classes in acting school where we were required to wear tights. In order to keep the private bits out of the way of moving legs, men were required to wear a “dance belt,” a device obviously invented by Torquemada . It’s rather like an athletic supporter except for the fact that there’s no pouch, just a flat front under which everything is lifted upwards. It’s not comfortable, but it beats scissoring one’s private parts in a ronde de jambe.
    Swashing a buckler: a buckler is a small round shield used in conjunction with any of several types of swords. The young bravos would form a group and walk through the streets raking their blades across the front of the shield, inviting other young fools to fight with them.

  10. mmcquown

    The reason Stewart Granger reminds you of Bruce Campbell is their common Scottish heritage. Granger’s born name is James Stewart, which by the time he got into the biz was already taken. But yes, they do look alike. On the other hand, Campbell wouldn’t be caught dead in an 18th-century coat with shoulder pads.

  11. ZelM

    While I don’t disagree with comments about the costumes being a bit all over the place… I seriously dispute your statements about Granger- he was my ultimate ‘classic’ movie crush, & ‘Scaramouche’ is one of my favourite classic movies (along with ‘Diane’- I mean, it had a baby-faced Roger Moore! And at least, unlike ‘Reign’ [which I actually liked, as a show- NOT a historical piece, & our girl Adelaide was quite excellent, IMO- not that I’m biased toward a fellow Antipodean or anything], they pronounced Diane as the French ‘dee-ahn’, not the English ‘die-ann’ {I just about choked the first time I heard that}- Henri, rather than Henry & an Italian actress playing an Italian character- oh the shock! [they mangle the history with both, of course- because… “Historywood”, but- eh…]).
    I don’t know about Bruce Campbell (he’ll always be Autolycus to me!), but there was an actor in the series ‘JAG’; he played one of the main reporters, Stewart Dunstan – I had to do a double-take the first time I saw him, because I thought that Granger had time-travelled or something! I can’t think of the actor’s name, but the resemblance is more than uncanny- he could play Granger in a bio-pic or something & freak everyone out.

    I don’t know how accurate this is, & it was a while ago that I read it- I think the costume/ wig people might have been trying to recreate silk wigs, rather than simply screwing up the standard powdered horsehair ones everyone’s familiar with – I read in a passage somewhere, that Venice’s women were famed for their blonde beauty, & that courtesans or those with darker hair used various potions to bleach/ dye (there’s a scene in ‘A Destiny of her Own’/ ‘Dangerous Beauty’ showing Veronica in a straw hat*, with a hole in the crown; her hair’s pulled through & a white paste is brushed on it, I think- it’s been a while since I’ve seen it [I only have it on VHS, & have no VHS player anymore >:( ]), sit carefully in the sun in special hats* to sun-bleach, OR they could fake the ‘Venetian-look’, with wigs of white or yellow silk.
    Just a thought – feel free to tell me I’m wrong, or right! Oh, & sorry for the long post, lol!

  12. john

    Elisabeth Risdon (sitting next to Lewis Stone in the picture you captioned) wasn’t a “random extra”, she had a fairly important small part in the film. Did you watch it?

  13. mmcquown

    Last thoughts: the duel — one of the longest in the movies, largely marred by the fact that smallswords had a point, but no edge; they might be able to tear through canvas scenery, but cut through stage ropes — no way! Might even break the blade.

  14. Peter Hedlesky

    Although I have long been a fan of “Scaramouche” – and Eleanor Parker’s performance, particularly – her performance costumes have always made me wince as they’re totally anachronistic! But Ms. Parker looks ravishing (despite the out-of-period hairstyle) and gives one of her most enjoyable performances – so different from the somber, heavy-breathing roles she often played. Also note the similarity between Lenore’s farewell speech to Andre in “Scaramouche” and the Baroness’s farewell speech to Georg in “The Sound of Music.” I’d guess that screenwriter Ernest Lehman had a look at “Scaramouche” and maybe conferred with Ms. Parker before he scripting the Baroness’ dialogue (so different from the character in the original stage musical).