"Pimpernel" Smith

Pimpernel Smith (released in the United States as Mister V) is a 1941 British anti-Nazi thriller, produced and directed by its star Leslie Howard, which updates his role in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) from Revolutionary France to pre-Second World War Europe. The British Film Yearbook for 1945 described his work as "one of the most valuable facets of British propaganda".

The film helped to inspire the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg to mount his real-life rescue operation in Budapest that saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi concentration camps during the last months of the Second World War.

In the spring of 1939, months before the outbreak of the war, eccentric Cambridge archaeologist Horatio Smith (Leslie Howard) takes a group of British and American archaeology students to Nazi Germany to help in his excavations. His research is supported by the Nazis, since he professes to be looking for evidence of the Aryan origins of German civilisation.

However, he has a secret agenda: to free inmates of the concentration camps. During one such daring rescue, he hides disguised as a scarecrow in a field and is inadvertently shot by a German soldier idly engaging in a bit of target practice. Wounded, he still manages to free a celebrated pianist from a work gang. Later, his students guess his secret when they see his injury and connect it to a story about the latter-day Scarlet Pimpernel in a newspaper. They enthusiastically volunteer to assist him.

German Gestapo general von Graum (Francis Sullivan) is determined to find out the identity of the "Pimpernel" and eliminate him. Von Graum forces Ludmilla Koslowska (Mary Morris) to help him by threatening the life of her father, a leading Polish democrat held prisoner by the Nazis. When Smith finds out, he promises her he will free Koslowski.

Smith and his students, masquerading as American journalists, visit the camp in which Koslowski is being held. They overpower their escort, put on their uniforms, and leave with Koslowski and some other inmates. By now, von Graum is sure Smith is the man he is after, so he stops the train transporting the professor and various packing crates out of the country. However, when he has the crates opened, he is disappointed to find only ancient artefacts from Smith's excavations.

Von Graum still has Ludmilla, so Smith comes back for her. The general catches the couple at a border crossing. The Nazis are not even interested in Ludmilla, happy to have caught Smith. Smith tells Graum that the artefacts he has discovered disprove Nazi claims about the Aryan origins of the Germans. He predicts the Nazis will destroy themselves. In the end, Smith manages to distract his adversary and escape into the fog, but promises to come back.

Tags: Movies