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Pimpernel Smith For The First Time On DVD, Starring Leslie Howard As Mister V
This story might sound somewhat familiar: an ingenious professor of archeology struggles against the growing power of pre-war Nazi Germany in a thrilling adventure with the future of the Western world at stake. current and is known for his audacity. But it’s not a Lucas and Spielberg blockbuster – in fact, while it might have been the inspiration for the first Indiana Jones movie in 1981, that film was released in 1941!
Forty years before Raiders of the Lost Ark was released, English actor Leslie Howard released a film he had produced and directed with his own funds, generated from his role in the Hollywood blockbuster Gone with the Wind (1939), in which he played the character who will always be associated with him: Ashley Wilkes, a gentleman intellectual from the South attached to honor.
Howard was passionate about the war effort and concerned about alerting a wider audience to the growing threat from Nazi Germany. Howard also wanted to produce a film that would update 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 titled Pimpernel Smith (1941), known as Mister V in the United States.
Howard played the title role of Professor Horatio Smith, who uses his cover as an absent-minded professor of archeology to smuggle victims of Nazi state persecution. During such a daring adventure, he is injured, revealing his secret to his admiring students, who enthusiastically join him in his fight. But things get complicated when one of his students introduces a mysterious woman into his entourage. Smith engages in a game of cat and mouse with his ruthless Nazi adversary sent to hunt him down.
The film is even credited with inspiring Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish humanitarian, who in 1942 attended a private screening of Howard’s last film with his sister Nina. “On the way home,” his sister recalled, “he told me that was the kind of thing he would like to do.” Wallenberg then mounted a rescue operation in Budapest which, according to conservative estimates, saved 15,000 Hungarian Jews from Hitler’s gas chambers. It’s doubtful any other film has ever inspired an act of heroism on this scale.
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