A Paean To George Sanders, A True Renaissance Man

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I am reposting this from my first two posts to George, because many new viewers may not have seen them and don’t realize how truly talented, brillant, and accomplished he was.

It is difficult to find enough superlatives to describe George Sanders. He was tall (6′ 3 1/2″), handsome, sexy, brilliant, talented, artistic and blessed with the most marvelous deep seductive voice and a gorgeous English accent.  He was incredibly gifted–able to speak five languages, played at least four musical instruments, composed music for the piano as well as at least two beautiful love songs. One of these “Such Is My Love” was included on the album of love songs he released in 1958.   George could build anything and drew up the blue prints for his first house as well as building the furniture. His friends were amazed at his mechanical abilities and he held several patents at the US Patent Office.   He loved to invent things and was a genius with anything involving electricity.  He was even good at rewiring houses.  When George bought a car he would often take the engine apart to arrange the steering to suit his needs.  He was a noted amateur astronomer and built several telescopes, including the large 9″ one that Universal Pictures bought from him and used in the 1945 movie “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry” in which Sanders starred.

Although presenting himself as a non-physical man George was actually a natural athlete. When in college he was an inter-scholastic heavyweight boxing champion. He was so physically fit he was made a PT (Physical Trainer) in the Officers Training Corps in college.  George was also very good in the water, winning many diving and swimming competitions. This was a gift which he put to good use when he dove into the Thames and saved a man’s life. For this he was given a medal by the British Humane Society.
In addition to being blessed with all of these physical gifts,  he was a natural actor and an amazingly versatile one. He was equally effective as a sweet cad (“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, 1947) or an unscrupulous one (“Rebecca”, 1940), as a hero (“Appointment In Berlin”, 1943, and “They Came to Blow Up America”, 1943), as a “nice chap” (“Rage In Heaven”, 1941, and “Foreign Correspondent”, 1940) and, my favorite, as a “hen-pecked” brother and lover in “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry”, 1945. Although he finally received some of  the recognition he deserved for his role as Addison DeWitt in “All About Eve” (1950), receiving an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actor”, he was equally as good in all his movies–for example “The Moon and Sixpence”(1942).  It is a pity that he was not featured as the leading man in more pictures for he was a splendid one. After seeing George in “Rage In Heaven” (1941) and “Her Cardboard Lover”, (1942).  Louie B. Mayer wanted to make him into a romantic leading man, a role for which he was incredibly fitted.  This was of no interest to George who claimed he didn’t want to worry about eternally maintaining his looks.

George’s career as a screen detective, part 4 “The Saint Takes Over”

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The Saint Takes Over  is the second Saint movie Most Handsome George filmed in 1940.  In this movie Simon Templar, played of course by Gorgeous George Sanders , known to the police of two continents as The Saint , is returning to New York from London when he discovers that his old friend and sometimes foe, Inspector Fernack ( Jonathan Hale ), a detective on the New York police force, is in trouble.  Fernack is unable to explain the presence of fifty thousand dollars in his safe. He had just arrested a character known as Rocky Weldon on charges of race fixing, but the case had blown up when the chief witness  for the state, Johnnie Summers, had been killed.  It now appears that someone had bribed Fernack to try to convict Rocky.  Astute Saint George (no dummy he) realizes at once that Fernack is being framed.  The Saint had become interested in a pretty girl (naturally) named Ruth ( Wendy Barrie ) on the ship from London.  When the ship docks, two thugs try to kidnap her.   Able-bodied Saint George prevents this, but Ruth disappears during the scuffle.

Fernack has been framed by a combination of crooks headed by Big Ben Egan ( Pierre Watkin). Others in the gang are Rocky Weldon (Roland Drew ), Max Bremer ( Cyrus W. Kendall), Sam Reese (Morgan Conway),  and Leo Sloan ( Robert Emmett Keane).  Egan collects ninty thousand dollars from the gang members to cover the cost of framing Fernack and protecting Weldon, which he then places in his safe.

That night, Rocky sends his stooge, Pearly Gates ( Paul Guilfoyle (who also is with George in “The Saint In Palm Springs)), to rob Egan’s safe. Pearly is surprised by Egan who sends him back to Rocky with instructions for Rocky to come to Egan’s. When stealthy Saint George breaks into the house a little later he finds Egan killed. Fernack comes in a second later.  Observant Saint George finds a hidden camera rigged up near the safe and when he and Fernack develop the exposed film it shows Pearly in the act of opening the safe.  With this evidence they force Pearly to help them in their efforts to clear Fernack.

Rocky is killed before Good-Looking Saint George can question him.  With Pearly’s  assistance, Saint George and Fernack then kidnap Sloan, but the unknown assailant kills Sloan while he is being held in Fernack’s  basement.  Suave Saint George meets with Ruth and from her takes the gun with which she has killed Egan, Sloan, and Rocky.  Savvy Saint George finds, as he expected (not being born yesterday), that Ruth’s name is Summers, and that she is avenging the murder of her brother, Johnnie Summers, by Egan’s gang.  She agrees to let Saint George try to convict the rest of the gang.

However, the police arrest Fernack who had been left with Sloan’s corpse.  Agile Saint George  wrests a gun from one of the officers and escapes. Pearly and Crafty Saint George then fool Reese and Bremer into confessing that they killed Johnnie Summers and framed Fernack.  A radio tuned to the police wave-length and hidden by Shrewd Saint George picks up their speech and the police locate the source.  When the police close in on the gang, Bremer escapes but is killed by Ruth. In the process Bremer shoots Ruth who then dies in Saint George’sarms. He is devastated.  Fernack is cleared and, as he is wont to do, Eye-Candy Saint George quietly disappears again.

In my next post I will be talking about  classy George’s last Saint movie “The Saint in Palm Springs” (1941)

George Sings! In Russian! In “Summer Storm” (1944)

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This is my last post of 2011 and I hope you enjoy it. I had planned to do a post on George in “The Saint Takes Over” (1940) but change my mind and here is why.

I was looking at a photo I have of George from the movie “Summer Storm”(1944) and he  looked so d***ed handsome that I just had to watch the movie again. For some reason I had only watched it once–I think because he dies in it and I always hate that!  The movie is based on the novel “The Shooting Party” by Anton Chekhov.

The film, directed by Douglas Sirk, is a tale of power and passion in which a Russian siren, a peasant girl  played by Linda Darnell, who wants the finer things in life, sinks her hooks into a judge, played by the Gorgeous George Sanders, and a decadent aristocrat, played by Edward Everett Horton. While spreading her feminine wiles around she marries Horton’s estate superintendent, played by Hugo Haas.  Meanwhile she has seduced George (and who can blame her). George’s fiance, Nadena Kalenin, played by Anna Lee, sees Gorgeous Judge George kissing Lucky Linda and breaks off the engagement.

Darnell decides she can  do better than the superintendent so she tells Horton that her husband beats her. Horton gives her refuge while she goes about securing a divorce. She seduces Horton and he proposes to her. Gorgeous George, who is a close friend of Horton’s, finds this out and goes to a bar/cafe and gets drunk with one of his old girlfriends. It is while he is drinking in the bar that he sings a bar-type song in Russian.  He is magnificient!  I really don’t want to give away any more of the plot, suffice it to say Darnell is justifiably murdered.  I won’t say by whom because I think you would enjoy watching it.  Also, watching it is an opportunity to hear George use his fantastically beautiful voice to sing.  The movie is readily available.

Many times it is said that George sang on screen for the first time in “Call Me Madam” (1953). This isn’t true.  He sang “Home on the Range” while playing the guitar in the 1940 movie “Green Hell”.  He sang “Seeing Nellie Home”and one of the choruses of “Little Brown Jug” , playing the piano this time, in the 1945 movie “The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry”.  In the 1947 movie “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami”, he played the piano and sang a lullaby to the small daughter of the leading lady in the film. So I know there are at least four movies in which he sang before “Call Me Madam”.

Sorry there was not enough time to add live links.  Happy New Year to all George Sanders fans! It is so sad that George is not here to toast in the new year with us, but he is in our hearts…

George’s career as a screen detective, part 3, “The Saint’s Double Trouble”

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The first Saint film that George made in 1940,“The Saint’s Double Trouble” , was filmed from November to late December 1939 and released on 26 January 1940.   I love all of George’s Saint films but I think this is my favorite for two reasons: (1) George plays a dual role so he is on the screen almost all the time (which is a visual delight), and (2) in my opinion George is his most handsome self in late 1939 and 1940.  The movie is also intriguing because  Bela Lugosi has a role and it is not as Dracula!  Interestingly, in 1947 George  made a non-Saint film “Lured”  in which another movie monster actor, Boris Karloff, aka Frankenstein, was featured.

“The Saint’s Double Trouble” is the first Saint film which wasn’t based directly on one of Leslie Charteris’ novels. However, Charteris did contribute to the developing of the story for the film. The second Saint film which George made in 1940, “The Saint Takes Over” (which I will discuss in my next post), was also not based on one of the novels.  In this film Saint George, master criminal turned crime-fighter, also plays the role of his doppelganger, Duke Bates, who has smuggled some diamonds into the U.S.  One of members of Bates’ “gang” , “”The Partner”,  played by Lugosi had cleverly concealed the diamonds in a mummy encased in a coffin. The mummy was sent to Professor Bitts who was a sort of mentor of Saint George’s when George was in college and to whom Saint George had promised to send the best specimen of a mummy he could find.  A note in the coffin tells Professor Bitts that the mummy comes from Saint George who is making good on his promise.  Consequently when the smuggled diamonds are discovered and several murders are perpetrated Saint George is blamed.  Saint George has his hands full proving his own innocence and getting the diamonds back.  Of course, he does accomplish this task beautifully and also regains the love of Professor Bitt’s daughter. You will see another familiar cast member of The Saint series in the film since Inspector Fernack (Jonathan Hale) is on vacation and visiting the Police Department in Philadelphis where the story is set.  You can find a more detailed overview of the plot at Turner Classic Movies.

Sorry not to have added “live links” to this post, but I wanted to publish it before I go on holiday tomorrow.   I wish George were here to enjoy the holidays with his dedicated fans.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah,  Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year to all you George fans!

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’s career as a screen detective, part one–The Saint: movie one “The Saint Strikes Back”

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The first Saint film in which George stars as Simon Templar, “The Saint”, was   “The Saint Strikes Back” released 10 March 1939. This film was preceded in June 1938 by “The Saint In New York” in which Louis Hayward played the Saint. Because the first Saint film was so successful RKO  purchased the film rights to The Saint series of books by Leslie Charteris . RKO wanted to have George play the lead role thus they purchased half his contract from 20th Century Fox . So for several years George was one of the few actors in Hollywood under contract to two different studios. At this time George was still a relative newcomer to Hollywood, continuing to climb the Hollywood ladder and the Saint series moved him up a few rungs more.

The script for “The Saint Strikes Back”, which was the first of two Saint movies George made in 1939, was based on Charteris’ 1931 novel  She Was A Lady, published in the U.S. as Angels of Doom. John Twist, who wrote the screenplay, set the movie in San Francisco (the book was set in England).  The movie starts at a New Year’s Eve party where, while dancing, Saint George sees an agent of Val Travers ( Wendy Barrie ) about to shoot someone. Saint George  “pots” (apparently an English slang term for “shoots”)  the agent just as the clock strikes midnight and the lights go out.  Some people at the nightclub recognize Saint George and the San Francisco police  contact the New York City police and request the assistance of Inspector Henry Fernack ( Jonathan Hale )who is the only person who knows Saint George very well.  Saint George travels to New York City, however, before Fernack leaves and accompanies him to San Francisco.

Well, back to” who is Val Travers?”.  Val’s father had been a police inspector with the San Francisco police and had been making it difficult for the mysterious villain “Waldeman” to perpetrate his crimes in the city. Waldeman had planted a large sum on money in Travers’ safe deposit box and when it was discovered Travers was fired on suspicion that he was working for Waldeman. Travers consequently committed suicide and his daughter is working to clear his name by any means possible.   Saint George rallys to her cause, but she is suspicious of his motives and is hostile to his interference.  Unbeknownst to everyone, except the police commissioner, Saint George is working undercover for the San Francisco police.
Many complications ensue.
Of course Saint George identifies Waldeman and exonerates Travers father. Naturally, Val has fallen for Saint George, but he leaves her with only her pleasant memories.
There are two movie clips from the movie at Turner Classic Movies which you may find very entertaining.

In my next post I will be discussing George’s delightful portrayal of the Saint in the 1939 movie  “The Saint In London” which is actually filmed in London.

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
close
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.

SECOND TRANSLATION 

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.

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