We have many moments in our lives where it is apparent that something is triggered within our brains we will retain. Something that will go on to become instrumental in building our character, a part of who we are as people. Sometimes we can remember the moment it happened, sometimes not. A lot of it happens before we even have a sense of self-identity, before there is an awareness that the person we are is the person we are. Children don’t give over a lot of time towards introspection on those things that make them an individual. Part of their charm, really. They happily exist as they are. It’s not until a sense of individuality makes itself known that there happens those moments of insight into what makes us who we are. Tonight I discovered something that I am certain made a definite impression on me, something that resonates within me as an adult, that I never could have realized had happened when I was young.
I used to watch a lot of movies with my dad. Sunday matinees were a big hit because there was always one out of the four or five channels our tv picked up that would show classic movies nearly every week. He would lie on his left side, propped up on the arm rest, as stretched out as the two seater couch would allow, which meant his legs were bent and tucked in against the other arm rest. Behind his knees on the couch was just enough room for my little self and we would spend many sunday afternoons like that, enrapt in whatever classic drama, or comedy was playing out on screen. This was back in the days of the old school remote control, whoever happened to be closest to the tv. Which was great in some ways, because if something was on, that was what we watched. One sunday in particular, we watched Scaramouche, from 1952, starring Stewart Granger (le sigh), Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker and Mel Ferrer.
I was feeling somewhat nostalgic this evening and so decided to revisit what had been and still is one of my favorite movies of all time. While I was watching I became increasingly aware of certain things that had impressed themselves upon me as a child, but seen through my more or less mature eyes have a much broader meaning. I always favored the character of Lenore, played by Eleanor Parker. She was passionate, redhaired, vibrant, an actress of the stage and a bold and outspoken woman. Especially when compared with Aline, Janet Leigh’s character. Aline is young, demure though spirited, but entirely virtuous, a shining example of poised and proper nobility.
When we first hear of Lenore, Andre Moreau (the dashing and debonaire Stewart Granger) is letting himself into the caravan she lives in, within the camp of the acting troupe she travels with. He assures her not to be afraid, it’s only him and he immediately begins to kiss her soft and delicate hand, only to discover it’s not Lenore’s soft delicate hand.But the idea that’s conveyed is that this is not the first time he’s come to her in the night this way. He’s told she’s gone to Paris to be married.
When we first meet Lenore, she is wearing white, the last time in the film that she does so. It’s a ruse to be sure that she is virtuous, something that is alluded to when her wealthy bridegroom to be gives her a diamond bracelet, expressing that he was thinking of her eyes when he bought it. With a sly look, she says, “Just my eyes? I must see you start thinking of all of me.” Needless to say, Andre saves her from compromising herself in the name of social standing and wealth by promising to marry her himself. Though there are those who might point out he was doing more of a service to the poor dupe of a sausage maker. At first, she is angry, but once he kisses her, everything is forgiven. He kisses that good. It’s the first time I can remember having a desire that one day I’d like it if someone kissed me, just like that.
The first time we meet Aline, she is also wearing white, a common theme for her throughout the movie. The only time we see her in any color darker than lilac, pale blue, pale yellow or grey is a scene when she interrupts Andre fighting with her fiance, who just happens to be his sworn enemy, played by Mel Ferrer. In this scene, she defies her fiance’s wrath by asserting that she does indeed like Andre, because he was kind to her at a time when she needed it. Is it a coincidence that she’s wearing a bright purple riding habit while insisting on her affection for Andre, when the woman who spends the majority of the movie as his (unmarried) lover wears bright colors all the time? Not to mention that because she’s a member of the aristocracy, she’s constantly wearing a powdered wig, while Lenore flaunts her unrepentantly flame colored tresses.
There’s a great scene when Andre, realizing he can never be with Aline but needing to stay in the area, joins the acting troupe. He lets himself into Lenore’s caravan, telling her she’s now his leading lady and perhaps they should ‘rehearse.’ She grabs a frying pan and warns him to stay away. His reply? ‘I know, but if I took any notice, how insulted you would be.’ She needs to be conquered, she desires to be dominated. She is such a strong, fierce, independent woman and she can only love a man who reflects that. She moves to strike him and he grabs her arm and kisses her, while she struggles in vain, finally capitulating to his strength. As she sags in his arms, he insists that she would be lost without him, so she hits him. He grabs a pan and hits her back. They fall to the bed, lots of frying pan smacking and caravan pitching, until the camera moves outside and we see the evidence of a great battle in progress. A battle I’m sure, even when I was 7 and watching this for the first time, ends in a session of lovemaking just as tumultuous and passionate.
Is it any wonder which female character I wanted to identify with?
Even the scenes where the female leads are trying to get something from their respective men, the way Lenore handles herself seems more dramatic, but more honest somehow. She asks him for it, he says no. She insists he has an underhanded reason for the denial and turns her back on him. He insists not and placates her. She allows it, they kiss, the tension is softening. She whispers how she should be burned at the stake for loving him the way she does and the kiss deepens. He pulls back just a little and she repeats her earlier request, softer, more demure this time. He says no very definitely and looks into her eyes to ensure that she understands he means it. She bites his arm and leaves the room.
Aline wants something. Noel says no, she throws a little girl hissy fit, complete with foot stomp and says you promised! Then walks off in a huff, hides her face against a chair and pretends to cry a little. He comes to comfort her, she pulls away and stands with her back to him. He capitulates. Meh. Where is the passion?
So how could there be any doubt about which woman Andre should end up with you ask? It was what I wondered myself when I first saw this movie. I couldn’t understand what anyone saw in Aline. She’s pretty, apparently she knows how to sew, but seriously. It was never clear until I watched it again tonight.
Towards the end of the movie, Lenore is speaking to Andre and assures him ‘yes, she loves you. Not like I did, but then she’s not like me. And she’s the marrying kind, which somehow I don’t seem to be. I like the girl, she’s a lady, but never mind, I like her.’ And with tears in her eyes, tells him to be nice to Aline. At which point he kisses her while the music swells, but with a sad note mixed in because no one will ever kiss her like this again. When they part, she grits her teeth and snarls, ‘I said be nice to Her!’ and threatens him with a bat so he’ll leave. He’s been given the permission he, as a gentleman needs, regardless of his immoral involvement with Lenore. The immorality doesn’t affect him, only her and she is left alone on a darkened stage. She won’t be alone for long, that’s the nature of the woman she is. Color is attractive. Many men will kiss her, that’s a given, but none will make her an honest woman, because she’s traded virtue for vibrancy.
I think it must have been after this movie that I decided virtue was for the birds. Give me vibrancy every time. I know there was a time when I thought I would get married and have kids. I know that desire evaporated somewhere around when I turned 10. I think this movie had a huge impact on that decision. I lean towards those things artistic and colorful over those things steady and proper. I’ve consistently desired to be a redhead, like my mom, but perhaps also a little like Lenore. I might wear a lot of black (it’s very slimming and gothically badass) but I surround myself with vibrant colors. A quick glance at my wig and tutu collection, or a peek in my tickle trunk will prove that. I chose to live in a modern day version of a caravan, my internet moniker is most often firegypsy. Redhaired tempestous traveler or simperingly pale good girl?
As an interesting side note, Eleanor Parker is probably best known for her role as the Baroness in The Sound of Music. Again, she’s passed over by the principle lead, regardless of her cultured ways and experience, for one who has not much on her side but her sweetness and virtue (and a most impressive singing voice). There was no need for her character to wear anything flashy in this role because even the most reserved of fashion statements are still more outspoken than something a nun would wear. I seem to recall there was some kind of secondary narrative involving her need to ‘land’ Christopher Plummer Von Trapp in order to alleviate her money trouble or lowered social standing or something. Again, she didn’t want him for anything so virtuous as true love, practicality had more of a role in her desires. Interesting. Of course, I never identified with the Baroness. Blondes don’t do much for me.
Now, all that said, there’s a part of me that insists I should take heed if it’s indeed the good girl who ends up with the devilishly handsome, swashbuckley, passionate, debonaire, unbelievably good kisser types, I should rethink my strategy. But every scene with the good girl, he would gently take her hand, or lightly kiss her wrist. Who wants that? I want the mutual frying pan battles followed by insanely satisfying sexual rompings.
Is it better to have a temperate relationship that lasts beyond the credits? Or an intensely passionate interval that reminds us we’re composed just as much of fire, as we are of water? I hope to Bast and Rati and Freya and Inanna and Qadesh and Xochiquetzal that there is a happy medium there somewhere. Hmm, perhaps a summer romance is in order, some experimentation…I should start stocking up on frying pans I suppose.