George’s career as a screen detective, part two–“The Saint In London”

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In “The Saint” movies George plays Simon Templar , known as “The Saint”.  Rumor has it that he got this nickname because, althought he acts primarily outside the law, his efforts often help the police.  Another rumor is that he got the nickname because of his initials “ST”.

 The second “Saint”  movie that George filmed, “The Saint In London” was released in the U.S. on 30 June 1939, just a few days before George’s thirty-third birthday on July 3.  George had  recently finished filming Confessions of a Nazi Spy  ( George filmed eight movies in 1939 and I am constantly amazed at his versatility as an actor) during which his hair had been cut very short, a sort of crew-cut, and bleached for his portrayal of a Nazi officer. Because of this he was forced to wear a hairpiece while filming  “The Saint In London”. If you look closely you will see that the hairline of the hairpiece is staight across whereas George’s real hairline grows a little further down on the left side of his forehead.   A rare little treat that one gets in this movie is to see George changing shirts. He is lovely!  Another little aside, Saint George is a scotch and water drinker, but in this movie he has a dry martini. When I watch this movie I drink a dry martini with him. In reality vodka was George’s drink of choice.

Lynn Root and Frank Fenton wrote the screenplay for “The Saint In London” based on Leslie Charteris’ short story, “The Million Pound Day”, which was published in the 1932 collection The Holy Terror , also known as The Saint vs. Scotland Yard.  In an unusual move for filming a lower-budget movie RKO filmed “The Saint In London” on location in England, using a largely British cast.

 Here is a brief synopsis of the plot. In the movie  Saint George, newly back in London, is tipped by a friend in the Secret Service to a mystery involving one Bruno Lang , seemingly a Society card-sharp, but really involved in a plot to print and pass a million pounds worth of foreign currency. Also involved are various sinister characters; an innocent murder victim Count Duni; the Saint’s attractive admirer Penny Parker (Sally Gray ); and his old nemesis Scotland Yard Inspector Teal (Gordon Mcleod).  Sally helps Saint George in foiling the villians and attempts to seduce him, but Saint George  is too much of a gentlemen and eludes her traps.  There is a longer more detailed overview at the website for Turner Classic Movies .

 Also, this last June in order to  publicize the release of George’s five Saint films, WarnerArchive posted a YouTube video of a clip from the movie. Happily for us,  they selected a clip which gives a brief glimpse of George changing shirts so take a look while it is still posted and enjoy yourself!

Sorry, I only had two photos from “The Saint In London” (wonder how that happened?) to put in the slide show so I supplemented with some other charming photos from my collection. Hope you enjoy them!

My next post will be about George’s third, and probably my favorite, Saint movie: “The Saint’s Double Trouble” . In this movie George gets to play two roles so he is on screen twice as much. Yummy!

George as the “Consummate Cad”, Part III

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George played two different types of cads in the 1947 movies The Private Affairs of Bel Ami and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. In the first he plays a woman-manipulating cad and in the second a “gentle” womanizing cad.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami is based on the story Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant . In the movie George plays Georges Duroy, a Parisian journalist, who rises to the top through the “kindnesses” of the various influential women whom he seduces, uses and abandons. There is a very amusing plot summary at the IMDb.  Incidentally, there is a wonderful analysis of this movie and two other of George’s movies, directed by Albert Lewin, at the blog of the Self-Styled Siren , which is well-worth reading.  George is one of her favorites and she has published several posts about him.
Because of the moral climate of the time, the ending to the movie was changed from that in the story.  In the story Duroy marries the daughter of a rich fellow, buys himself a title, and lives happily ever after, having no regrets for the way he has live. However, in the movie Duroy is killed in a dual and, as he dies, displays some remorse for his behavior.  Also, in the movie there are some scenes where George shows a softer, gentler side. One being where he is at the piano with the young daughter of Anglela Lansbury (who plays the woman who loves him in spite of his ways).  As George plays the piano, while Angela’s daughter sits next to him, he  sings a song softly to the child. It is very touching and George is wonderful in it.  In the scene in the carriage with Lansbury, as he is dying from the gunshot wound, George’s behavior shows that he really loves Lansbury and regrets his rejection of her. Then he dies—I hate it when he does that!

I think most of George’s fans are familiar with the movie The Ghost and Mrs. Muir , but for those of you who have not seen it I will give a brief synopsis.  A young English widow,played by Gene Tierney, takes her daughter and moves to a seaside cottage. It turns out that the cottage is haunted by the deceased owner, played by Rex Harrison.  He tries to frighten Gene into leaving but she refuses. She meets Miles Fairlie, a gentle, but womanizing, cad, played by the irresistible GEORGE SANDERS  and of course falls madly in love with him.  In order to have his way with her, George tells her they will be married.  Well, Gene goes to his house one day and who should be there but his wife!  Horrors! Gene is devastated!  Meanwhile, George, the gentle cad, has fallen for her. To make a long story short, if it isn’t too late, Ghost Rex wins her in the movie, but George “wins” her in real life.  There is a more complete plot synopsis at the IMDb.

Incidentally,  in the slideshow I am including a picture of George and Gene dancing in a night club. Gene is 5’7” tall and I am sure she has on high heels but George is so big and tall he dwarfs her…

How did she know George??

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Before I publish the post “George as the “Consummate Cad”, Part III, I want to share something with you. I had occasion to be reading a translation of some of the ancient Greek poet  Sappho’s (circa 630 B.C.)  poetry yesterday and I came across what I think is a very intriguing poem. I read it and I thought “how did she know George”?  I am going to offer to you two translations of  Sappho’s poem number 31.  See if you can figure out how she knew about George’s effect on women. Remember that these are fragments that have been discovered over time.  The  first translation is that of Anne Carson found on page 63 in her book “If Not Winter” (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002). The second translation is that of Willis Barnstone on page 73 of his book “Sweetbitter Love: Poems of Sappho” (Boston and London: Shambhala, 2006).  I have printed in italics the parts that I think voice the female response to George.  

He seems to me equal to gods that man 
whoever he is who opposite  you
sits and listens
to  your sweet speaking
 and lovely laughting–oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me
no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears
and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all,  greener than grass
I am and dead—or almost
I seem to me.


To me he seems equal to gods,
the man who sits facing you
and hears you near as you speak and laugh
in a sweet echo that jolts
the heart in my ribs. Now
when I look at you a moment
my voice is empty
and can say nothing as my tongue
cracks and slender fire races
under my skin. My eyes are dead
to light, my ears
pound, and sweat pours over me.
I convulse, greener than grass
and feel my mind slip as I go
close to death.

This poem seems to me so lovely and, from my perspective, so relevant to George that I had to post it. I hope you enjoyed it.  I prefer the Carson translation myself.
I have embroidered this post with a slide show of a few, a very few, of what I find to be particularly handsome photos of George at different ages. There are many more equally handsome ones that I had to leave out…

George, the traveller…

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George did a good bit of travelling in his life. As a young boy in St. Petersburg he traveled with his family on trips to Italy, Finland, the family summer home in Estonia, and, of course, England. As you may have seen, I devoted an entire post to his travels in South America.  Naturally, in his career as an actor he made many movies in foreign locations such as   Italy (Journey To Italy (1954)), Spain ( Solomon and Sheba(1959)) and even Japan (The Last Voyage (1960)). I thought it might be fun to show a few photographs of him on his travels.  And, of course, after the dreadful girlfriend Helga persuaded him to sell his home in Majorca in 1971, he was virtually a gypsy until his death the next year.

George being German

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George played the role of a German, and at times  a Nazi, in several films during the late thirties and early forties. The 1937 film, Lancer Spy,  was designed by Fox as a starring vehicle for George. I quote from Tony Thomas’ annotated filmography in the 1992 re-issue of George’s book Memoirs of a Professional Cad ”  [George] came across with a fine performance as a British naval officer involved in World War I espionage. As Lieutenant Michael Bruce, he proceeds to Germany in the guise of a captured German officer for whom he is an exact look-alike. Feted as a hero by the German public, he nonetheless is viewed with suspicion by the German secret service, which places an operative (Del Rio) in his path. But she falls in love with him [naturally] and helps him escape with plans for the 1917 campaign. A taut and interesting coverge of its material, Lancer Spy won Sanders critical and public approval, and set him up as an actor with a future in the picture business.”

George’s next role as a Nazi was in the 1941 Fritz Lang movie Man Hunt
in which George gave probably his best Nazi performance.  He plays Major Quive-Smith, a particularly nasty Nazi, responsible for the imprisonment and torture of the Englishman played by Walter Pidgeon . Much as I hate it when George dies in a movie the character he played here deserved it.

 In 1943 George made  four WWII movies. All were good, of course, but two are particular favorites of mine. In the first,  They Came To Blow Up America,
  George plays the role of Carl Steelmann, a secret FBI agent of German descent, who is assigned by his chief to infiltrate the German-American Bund. He assumes the identity of a Nazi agent who is about to return to Germany to attend a school for saboteurs but who is shot by the police. Once in the school he excels and is sent to lead a ring of Nazis to blow up important American war industries. Of course he has informed the FBI of all this and the plot is foiled. Naturally there is a love interest .   A very good synopsis  can be found on the IMDb.  The second, Appointment In Berlin, is sad because George dies in the end, but he dies a hero. I quote here from Tony Thomas’ annotated filmography in the 1992 re-issue of George’s book Memoirs of a Professional Cad  “One of the more unusual of Hollywood’s wartime Nazi yarns, this one has Sanders as an RAF officer named Keith Wilson, who is cashiered after bitterly criticizing the British peace pact with Hitler in 1938. He becomes a member of the British secret service and ends up in Berlin as an apparent traitor willing to give propaganda broadcasts for the Germans. However, his talks, though seemingly anti-British, actually contain coded messages for his own people.  The Germans eventually catch on and he tries to escape in a stolen plane but dies in the attempt. In one of the few films to tackle wartime propaganda broadcasting, Sanders gives  a good [excellent] performance, probably because he was attracted to the nature of the man he was playing. With Sanders that factor was always of importance.”   Thomas doesn’t mention that George was trying to get the message to the British that the Germans were about to invade England and that he flys the plane into  a large gasoline storage tank so that the British planes in the area (Holland) can see the flames and know where the attack will originate. Also, Thomas does not mention the love interest, played by Marguerite Chapman , who is the sister of the Nazi director of communications and who falls in love with George. She is killed escaping with George.

I am going on vacation and won’t be publishing any posts for about two weeks.  I hope everyone enjoys this one.

Funny photos of George

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The idea came to me that it might be amusing to post some funny photos of George instead of just the  ones of him being incredibly handsome.  Some are from movie scenes and some are candid shots of him goofing around on the set…

George’s portrayal of “Uncle Harry”

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Last night I was watching The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) for the hundredeth time and it occurred to me that it might be fun to post a slideshow of scenes from the movie. George starred in the title role with Geraldine Fitzgerald co-starring as one of his sisters and lucky Ella Raines as his love interest.  One of the scenes in the slideshow features  the telescope he built from scratch, even grinding the lenses, and which he sold to Universal Pictures for “Uncle Harry”.  If you haven’t seen the movie you have missed some superb acting by George.  As one critic put it “Chief among its [the movie’s] assets is a superb change-of-pace performance by George Sanders in the title role.  The supercilious air of disdain is banished, replaced with a shyness and a self-effacement that are both surprising and appealing.  Yet there’s still a fire within Sanders, and the ways in which he lets it erupt in Harry are fun to witness.”  You can see this review at  George is at his most handsome in this movie…

George loved women, really.

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George got a reputation as a “woman hater” because of some lines he spoke in The Moon and Sixpence (and they were Somerset Maugham’s words, not George’s)  The words were something to the effect that the more you beat women the better they are for it.  Well, when the film was released women were up in arms against him about it. As he says in his memoirs “In the course of several newspaper interviews, I facetiously embroidered on this theme. I said I approved of the oriental idea of keeping women in harems. I also said that you could treat women like dogs and they would still love you. Personally I always treat dogs with infinite courtesy…” George also wrote “…the two [feminine attributes] which have caused me the greatest exasperation and anguish are, one, that they [women] are irresistible, and two, that they are irreplaceable.”

Indeed, he did find women irresistible, as they did him, as shown by all the affairs he had with his leading ladies (and other ladies such as Doris Duke). Just to name a few, Hedy Lamarr, Gene Tierney , Dolores del Rio, Lucille Ball, and Debra Paget.

George married four times. His first wife, whose professional name was Susan Larson, he met on a set at Twentieth Century Fox in 1938 when he was making Mr Moto’s Last Warning , which was released in January 1939.  They were married on October 27, 1940 in a Methodist Church but the marriage was kept secret. Susan gave up acting and stayed at home. The marriage was revealed late in 1942. Richard VanDerBeets discusses the marriage in depth and gives a penetrating analysis on pages 65-71 of his book George Sanders: An Exhausted Life.   The marriage lasted until 1947.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, who upon seeing George in “The Moon and Sixpence”
told her mother “There is my next husband”, was wife number two. She finally met George at a cocktail party. As VanDerBeets writes on page 99 of his book about George, Zsa Zsa saw him across the room “Tanned and fit, elegantly attired in formal black silk dinner clothes and surrounded by admiring women George sat ‘like a pasha’ and she found him ‘as irresistible in person’ as she had found him on the screen. ‘Take me to him. I must meet him,’ she begged her host–and then gushed, ‘Mr. Sanders, I’m madly in love with you.’ With a condescending smile George replied, ‘How well I understand, my dear'”.On April 1,1949 (appropriately on Aprils Fools Day) George married her and on April 1, 1954 they divorced. However, they remained friends for life.

On February 10, 1959 George married Benita Hume or as I call her “the Good Wife”.  He had know her off and on for more than 20 years.  On page 158 of his book about George, VanDerBeets quotes Benita  as having written to a friend  that “George is the kind of man who makes it a joy to wake up in the morning and find he is there.”  And to another friend she wrote “George has been the kindest and most gentle man who brought me out of the depths of despair and helped me to start living again.”  Indeed, George and Benita made each other very happy until her death in 1967.

After Benita’s death, George was devastated and although he  tried to get on with his life he was never the same again. He had several girlfriends over the last five years of his life.  Zsa Zsa persuaded him to marry her sister Magda, but this fourth marriage only lasted  a month.  He could never replace Benita and his health declined seriously. We all know what tragedy happened in the end…

George Sander’s jaunt to South America.

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At the age of nineteen George took himself off to Argentina to work as a manufacturer’s representative for the British and American Tobacco Company in South America.  This was to be an interesting four years for him, perhaps the happiest, most carefree years in his life.  George fell in love with the country, its music, its people and the language. He  developed a fluency in Spanish and spoke it, as mentioned by several Latin American actors,  without a trace of an accent.

While in Argentina, and later Chile, George, as he put it, “engaged in a lot of youthful high jinks”. On one occassion he swam across a lake while dressed in a tuxedo. Indeed, it was one of these “youthful high jinks” that forced him to leave the continent. To describe the incident I will quote from George’s account of it in his book Memoirs of a Professional Cad. He writes:

“I had decided to celebrate this happy turn of events [a succesful advertising idea] in the manner prescribed by mankind since the dawn of history–namely by imbibing an excessive amount of intoxicating liquor, or in other words getting swacked.

It was in a highly inebriated state and rather late at night that I decided to go home.  I had been living for some time in a chalet on the outskirts of town [Temuco, Chile] as the house guest of a very charming widow, who was engaged to be married to a lawyer in Temuco.

I would have been very happy with this woman but for the nocturnal visits of her fiance, who would remonstrate with her by banging on the shutters of our bedroom window and shouting what I felt to be totally irrelevant accusations of infidelity.  He took a thoroughly middle-class attitude toward the hospitality his fiancee was showing to me. I found it extremely irksome to be awakened in the middle of the night by loud bangings on the window shutters, but the villa was  more comfortable than the hotel and so I put up with it.

On the night of my triumph, however, I did not feel disposed to pursue this craven attitude, and in response to our nocturnal visitor’s knocking I threw the window open wide and faced him in defiance, revolver in hand.  He must have been at least as drunk, if not drunker, than I.  He promptly challenged me to a duel, and I just as promptly accepted.

I climbed out of the window and dropped to the ground.  I could not see him because it was pitch dark outside, but our bodies touched.  We maneuvered ourselves into a back-to-back position.  ‘Ten paces,’ he said. ‘All right,’ I answered, and we started to stagger away from one another.  I had the advantage. I was barefoot.  I could hear the crunch of his shoes on the gravel path.  I turned and pressed my trigger in the direction of the last crunch.  I stood my ground but there was no answering shot.  I walked back in his direction and stumbled over him as he lay on the ground.  I picked him up, fireman’s-lift style, and carried him into the house.  He was all right.  The bullet had entered his neck but he wasn’t bleeding much.  Later they told me that if it had been a fraction of inch to the left he would have died.  As it was he was perfectly all right four days later….

I have not owned a gun since then and never will….

Somebody in the house, in trying to get hold of a doctor, had described the situation too fully over the telephone and the operator had called the police.  I was carted off  to jail….

I did not remain in prison for more than a few hours …before my company sent a man down to do whatever was necessary to set me free.  When I say they set me free–I mean they set me free.  I was not only thrown out of the company, I was thrown out of South America.”

George was twenty-three at the time…

George Sanders, so very talented…

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 One evening George was  at a party and was entertaining the guests by playing the piano and singing causing Noel Coward to say of George “He has more talents than any of us but he doesn’t do anything with them.”  That is true. George  made a career of only one of his talents–his natural ability to act.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to the re-issue of George’s book “Memoirs of a Professional Cad” provided by Tony Thomas .  “Among those talents was his ability with languages [George spoke five fluently], a genius for mathematics–he often whiled away the boring hours on film sets by doing complicated calculus–gifts as an inventor,especially with anything involving electricity, and the ability to play the piano, the guitar, and the saxophone [he also played the accordian] in addition to having a rich, bass-baritone singing voice.  Years previously the director of the San Francisco Opera Company heard him sing at a Hollywood party and instantly offered him the role of Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca.”

Thomas goes on to mention that George sang in the 1953 movie Call Me Madam. Thomas says this was the first time George was allowed to sing in a movie. However, this is not strictly accurate. George played the guitar and sang in the 1940 movie “Green Hell” In the 1945 movie The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry he sang and played the piano. He also sang and played the piano in a scene in the 1947 movie The Private Affairs of Bel Ami. Very early in George’s career in the movie Love, Life and Laughter, a 1934 British film in which he was uncredited, he  appeared in one of the last scenes in a bar singing with a group of other people and you could clearly recognize his singing voice.

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