Pimpernel Smith

In 1941, British actor Leslie Howard released a movie he had directed and produced with his own funds, earned from his appearance in the Hollywood blockbuster Gone With The Wind (1939). Howard had portrayed the honor-bound intellectual Southern gentleman, Ashley Wilkes. Howard was passionate about the British war effort, and especially wanted to alert a wider audience to the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Howard also wanted to produce a film which updated his famous role as Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) from Revolutionary France to pre-World War II Europe. The result was an amazing feature film entitled Pimpernel Smith (1941), known by the release title of Mister V [1942] in the United States.
[Source: Pimpernel Smith starring Leslie Howard - WWII Version of The Scarlet Pimpernel - PimpernelSmith.com]
This film's American poster may well have inspired V For Vendetta (1980s comic; 2006 film).
Howard played the title role of Professor Horatio Smith, who uses his cover as an absent-minded archeology professor to smuggle intellectuals out of Nazi Germany. During one daring rescue, Smith is wounded, which results in revealing his secret identity to his admiring students. They enthusiastically join him in his fight, but things are complicated when one of his students brings a mysterious woman into their inner circle. Smith engages in a game of cat-and-mouse with a ruthless Gestapo adversary who has been assigned to track him down.
And yet another poster for this film could well have inspired James Bond (born a decade later in 1953):
This movie is even credited with inspiring Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who attended a private screening with his sister Nina in 1942. "On the way home," his sister recalled, "he told me Raoul Wallenbergthis was the kind of thing he would like to do." Wallenberg went on to mount a rescue operation in Budapest that, conservatively estimated, saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazi gas chambers. It is hard to imagine that any other film has ever inspired an act of heroism on quite this scale.
I think I had read about this guy. So not only did he lay the plot for Indiana Jones, he did basically the same as Charlie Chaplin - a propaganda movie about Nazi Germany. Both were made at the same time but in different countries. And I'm gonna watch it.

Howard, Leslie 1941. "Pimpernel" Smith. United Kingdom: British National Films.

Watch Pimpernel Smith.
A Leslie Howard Production
I've decided to do my first concursive film watching. I found a reference to this 1941 British film from Albelt Meltzer's book titled Anarchism: Arguments For and Against (AK Press, 1996). The foreword mentioned that Meltzer palyed as a film extra in this film.
The tale we are about to unfold to you is a fantasy. None of its characters are living persons.
A neat retro warning. The prequel The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905 book; 1934 film). Both The Scarlet Pimpernel and "Pimpernel" Smith were written by baroness Emma Orczy. Wiki says that the original novel inspired such literary characters as Zorro and Batman. // Eesti keeles avaldati see raamat tiitliga Punane Pimpernel Tallinnas Kaja trükikojas 1934. aastal ja üks koopia on kohalkasutuseks olemas TÜ hoidlas.
[doctor on the far right:] Please be careful, please be careful.
[right:] What have I to lose? [doctor leaves]
[left:] Good luck, my friend. [extends arm and the other reacts by grabbing it] In my newspaper "Freedom" I shall tell proudly of a German whose braveness cannot be bought.
[right:] Thank you. [nods and then...]
[shakes head:] But I should not advise you to...
[left interrupits:] Oh, I'm quite safe... [follomed by the left-hand flicking gesture]
[left, continues:] I'm a Pole. My country is not at war... yet.
[right:] Goodbye!
[left:] Goodbye!
The handshake lasted longer than it should have. It began with the left fella holding the right one's hand with both hands and then when the right one stops in his speech and performs the odd out-of-place flicking gesture. Not only was the hand-halding much longer than one may expect, but the hand gesture is foreign (at least to me). Then I thought long and hard about the mord kätlema in Estonian and wondered if Estonians used to hold hands longer, too, before WWII? I could write a page about it in my fake body language dictionary. The film, btw, is considered "one of the most valuable facets of British propaganda" in British Film Yearbook for 1945 (wiki).
[The handsome American devil second from the right, next to the Nazi soldier:] I say, Professor, we are not gonna walk right on out of Germany today, are we?
[someone not identifiable on the screen because it is dubbed over while the handsome American rests his body-weight on one foot:]
My feet are giving hurt.
Do you think they manage to carry you another twenty hours, Mr. Gregson?
[the bloke first from left:] What's all this barbwire for?
[Professor:] We are at the German-Swiss frontier gentlement and the barbwire is to prevent the oppressed Swiss from escaping into the free Germany. [everyone laugh at a cue while a couple with a cow cross the border]
But, what the Nazis don't know, at least in the beginning of the film, is that the 'foppishly foolish' professor is, in reality, a British agent under cover of his Oxford credentials. (He really is an archaeologist and really teaches at Oxford.) His mission (should he choose to accept it, and he does) is to try and save victims bound for concentration camps, spiriting them out of Germany into friendlier hands.
[Source: in so many words...: A Favorite Film: PIMPERNEL SMITH (1941) starring Leslie Howard]
My brain is giving tired and advising me to spirit to sleep. I first noticed the out of place utterance with weird syntax first and then discovered upon rewatching in slow motion that it was in fact said visibly by no-one and is probably dubbed over to fill the space between two actual utterances. Only after this small discovery I noticed that it refers to the way one of the characters stands on one foot. Could it be that this leg position is an American nonverbal idiom and the British didn't like it? The film does feature actors from widely different countries. Oh, I should also watch the 1934 film The Scarlet Pimpernel with Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. One of that film's posters features a character that does look like it could be the archetype for both Zorro and Batman. But it also looks like it may be the source for the classical P.I.M.P. look, with a luxurious coat and ridiculous shirt and hand and something that could either be dark glasses or a black "robber" mask. It seems that I've stumbled upon a culturally significant phenomenon.
[sweater vest on the right:] There must be a reason for it!
[coffecupman:] There is. [dramatic pause]
*whispering* Sex starvation. [nodding] *boys laugh*
[sweater vest:] Maybe Ya' right.
[pipe man:] Can't we do something about it?
[puts down coffee:] Say, that's quite an idea. [hands sweater vest a flute to play and goes marches over to the barmaid]
[first from left, rhyhmically adducing his hands apart at equal distances:] La-da dee, da-dam, la-de da-dam...
[smooth guy takes the barmaid closer and points her to the Professor]
*continued sing-humming and flute play* [now the smooth guy points his hand to the girls face]
Yes, they are actually sing-humming the modern "sarcastic" adjective la-di-da which means "affectedly genteel; pretentious" and also used as an interjection "to express disdain for something viewed as pretentious" (The Free Dictionary by Farlex). More importantly, though, the scene depicts a British man (accompanied by a makeshift accapella band) getting familiar with a local barmaid. He is pointing at the girl while probably saying something (muffled by the singhumming). What I also like about his gesture towards the barmaid's face because a similar gesture is today known as The Doubles Guy's signature gesture (meme image taken from the 2005 film American Psycho).
[Professor:] Now, gentlemen, since you are all in such magnificent spirits, I decided to re-order slightly tomorrows itinerary. It will now be 20 miles.
[the group rabbles as a collective:] Twenty miles?
[Professor:] We'll make it 19 miles. [eye contact with the local girl and then he coughs] *khm* Yes.
Now, as you all know we are now under Blitzenberg. Altitude 5,000 feet. In the morning we shall climb to 8,000 feet... [makes eye contact with the girl again]
And... *coughs* In the afternoon... [eye contact third time]
[girl:] *smiles*
[Professor:] Yes... On second thoughts we'll postpone this discussion about afternoon operations until later. [boys laugh on the background as Professor turns away]
Creepy. This post has been an experiment in visual concourse. I watched an old propaganda movie and took snapshots of some dialogue and gestures. This selection doesn't do justice to more than 15 minutes of the film. Making GIFs took so much time and effort that I don't think I can finish the whole movie. This sample must suffice to show that the film is undoubtedly awkwardly interesting and interestingly awkward.

Thanks, Urban Dictionary!


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