George Sanders is the scoundrel in "Death of a Scoundrel," a 1956 film that, though it appears to be a low-budget, boasts a fine cast: Yvonne DeCarlo, Colleen Gray, Nancy Gates, Victor Jory, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. Supposedly the story is based on the antics and ultimate murder of Serge Rubinstein that hit the news around the time the film was made. The lead role was originally given to George Brent, but the actor became ill and couldn't do the role. Because the party scene had already been filmed, he can be spotted there.
In the beginning of the movie, Sanders, who plays Clementi Sabourni, is lying dead. One of his business associates tells his story to the police. It begins in Czechoslovakia when Sabourni, believed to have died in a concentration camp, appears at the shop of his brother (played by Sanders' real-life brother, Tom Conway). He wants money and his girl - except there's no money and his brother has married his girl. Furious, Sabourni turns his brother over to the Communist police for being involved in black marketeering and selling stolen goods. In return, he gains his passage to America. His brother is killed resisting arrest. When Sabourni arrives in New York, he spots a woman (DeCarlo) stealing a wallet. Clementi picks her up and steals the wallet from her. But her husband chases him in an effort to retrieve it, and Clementi is shot. The husband is hit by a truck when Clementi pushes him into the street. While Clementi is being treated for his bullet wound, he learns of the marvels of a new drug, penicillin. Using a check that was in the wallet, he buys stock in the company. Thus his career begins.
The film is fascinating, in part because of the deals in which Clementi masterminds, and all of the women he juggles as a result. He becomes involved with a wealthy widow (Gabor) while flirting with her aspiring actress secretary (Gates), and trying to convince the wife (Gray) of a successful businessman to divorce her husband so that he can get her stock and take over her husband's company. His schemes grow more outrageous until his brother's widow - who is also his ex-girlfriend - appears.
Zsa Zsa Gabor (a recent ex-Mrs. Sanders at the time of filming) is stunningly beautiful and delightful in her role. Lovely Colleen Gray doesn't have a large part, but she shines when on screen. The exotic DeCarlo brings an earthiness and sarcasm as Bridget Kelly, who, though rough around the edges, is in love with Clementi and loyal to him.
Sanders is a marvel - always likable no matter how heinous his character, always smooth, and always watchable. If he's a little too old for Clementi, it doesn't matter. He still makes it work. I don't think this would have been as good a movie with Brent in the lead. A year before his suicide, Sanders appeared in an episode of "Mission: Impossible" and played an elderly con man - magnificently dressed, proud, and elegant. When he is defeated, the character turns into a tired old man in a matter of seconds. That is true acting, and there aren't many that can do it. Sanders could.
Don't let the black and white and the low budget fool you. "Death of a Scoundrel" is well worth viewing.
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