I've seen a lousy adaptation of a book,
Overrated on Fandango!
Fans say it's delighting,
But it's not exciting me!
In Pre-Revolutionary France, Queen Marie Antoinette (Nina Foch) has commanded her cousin, the Marquis de Maynes (Mel Ferrer) to track down and eliminate the anonymous author of a series of pamphlets vaguely bashing the nobility. We're then introduced to our hero main character, Andre Moreau (Stewart Granger), an idler and wastrel of unknown parentage. He's carrying on a love affair with an actress named Lenore (Eleanor Parker), even going so far as to carry her off from being wed to another man. That is, until he meets and falls for Aline de Gavrillac (Janet Leigh) and drops Lenore like a hot potato because...um...shiny? Aline has two strikes against her, though - she's engaged to de Maynes, and she might be Moreau's half-sister. Since this isn't Game of Thrones, Moreau backs off.
Also, I'm not one of those people who automatically condemns changes from the source material - as long as those changes are creative and interesting, or that they don't come at the expense of what I liked about the source material or made it so good to begin with. If the changes are too distracting, I can have issues with them, but a lot of the times, I can appreciate interesting deviations. Take The Joker from The Dark Knight, for instance. In the original Batman comics, The Joker looks the way he does as a result of him jumping into a vat of chemicals to escape from Batman. In the movie, he wears "war paint" as an expression of his chaotic, anarchic mindset. For me, this is a change that works - it's a clever take on The Joker's appearance that fits the world Christopher Nolan has established while staying true to his comic book personality. Furthermore, even if a movie doesn't have all that much in common with the source material, if what the filmmakers come up with is genuinely engaging in some way, I can still enjoy it. The James Bond movies haven't resembled the Ian Fleming novels they're based on for a long time, but they're still entertaining. The Black Swan (1942 - also based on a Sabatini novel) and Disney's The Three Musketeers (1993) don't have much in common with the books they're adapted from, but they're fun and exciting adventure movies.
Well, okay, fine, but those are real life examples. That can't work in movies, right? No, speeches and monologues get in the way of the action! There's no way to make them interesting or compelling or...
That's what's so frustrating about this movie and the decisions the screenwriters made. They could have kept Moreau's two core character traits from the novel with just a bit of effort. They could have made it work. You know how I know? Because they did it in the 1923 silent version of Scaramouche. Yes, you read that right - the fershlugginah silent version did a better job portraying Moreau's gift of speechmaking than the 1952 remake. (The Moreau of the novel would surely appreciate the irony of that.) It even worked in his talent for deadpan snark - not often, but enough times to know it was part of his personality.