Liam Rudden: Tony Curtis - the greatest swashbuckler of all

Tony Curtis in The Purple Mask. Picture: Contributed

Tony Curtis in The Purple Mask. Picture: Contributed

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NEVER managed to interview Tony Curtis, the fates conspired to ensure the opportunity to do so slipped through my fingers not once but twice, as regular readers of this column already know.

Then, in 2010, the man born Bernard Schwartz slipped away himself. He was 85.

Having never been a huge fan of the Hollywood machine, with its manufactured studio stars, I made an exception for Curtis.

No matter what he did, he seemed an outsider, doing things on his own terms.

Maybe that’s why, in the golden age of Hollywood, for me anyway, Curtis shone brighter than any.

Self-assured, direct and debonair, his confidence is never more evident than in the 1955 film The Purple Mask, a costume drama that pays more than just a nod and a wink to Emma Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

It was released on DVD this week by Simply Media and, being a piece of the Curtis legacy I’d yet to experience, there was nothing else for it but to shut out the Fringe and fire up the DVD player for an evening of old-school swashbuckling.

The story is a simple one: In Napoleonic France, the dandyish Count Rene de Traviere, played outrageously by Curtis, is roped in to a capture plot to provoke the release of a fellow Royalist.

It’s 1803 and only one man gives hope to the royalists of France, the mysterious Purple Mask.

However, when the police captain tasked with capturing him is taken captive by the Purple Mask, Bonaparte call on the services of expert swordsman Basquet, to identify and apprehend the masked hero.

Royalist Laurette de Latour, niece of an imprisoned marquis, helps hatch a plan... unaware the foppish de Traviere is indeed the purple Mask, she hires him to impersonate himself in a bid to free her kidnapped uncle.

The Purple Mask continues the charade, drawing ridicule on himself, until ultimately he too is locked up, alongside the marquis.

The guillotine awaits both... or does it?

A lavish tale of derring-do, The Purple Mask is action-packed, at times stupidly camp, and at just 82 minutes, bounces along from one sword fight to the next.

Curtis is wonderfully knowing and just a bit too modern in his performance to be fully convincing. In other words, it shouldn’t work, but it does, adding to the charm of the piece.

Of course, Curtis was never the world’s greatest actor, he was a ‘Film Star’ back in the days when that really meant something.

Even a young Angela Lansbury, enjoying third billing and making an impact as Madame Valentine, can pull the focus away from the leading man who plays the whole thing with tongue firmly in cheek as his effete dandy saves the day and wins the love of his heart.

The press release promised a rollicking romp. It didn’t disappoint.

The Purple Mask (PG) is now available on DVD £12.99