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 II

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George played the role of various types of cads in many of his movies as I mentioned in my last post, “George as the ‘Consummate Cad’, Part I “.  I will discuss only two of the better-known ones here. All of them are certainly worth seeing.

In 1942 George filmed the George Cukor movie Her Cardboard Lover with Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor. In this comedy Shearer is in love with George (of course) but he makes her miserable because he takes her for granted and treats her badly,  but she cannot resist him (naturally). She decides to discourage George from contacting her because she always goes to him when he calls (who wouldn’t!). To this end she hires Robert Taylor, who is in love with her, to pretend to be her secretary and keep her from being alone with George and tempted to return to his arms. However, when George shows up she falls for him again and tries to get rid of Taylor so she can go to George on his boat. After many comedy scenes, one involving a hilarious fight between George and Taylor, Shearer falls in love with Taylor (I can’t understand how). This is a fun film to watch but hard to find. Incidentally, it is one of the two movies, the other being Rage In Heaven (1941), that caused Louie B. Mayer to decide that George would be a fine romantic leading man, which he would have. To this end Mayer invited George to lunch to discuss the prospect.  However, George wasn’t interested so he didn’t show up for lunch. George said that romantic stars must continually be concerned about maintaining their looks as they age and that they frequently fall from stardom fast.  Whereas, to quote George “a good character actor is virtually indestructable”.

Another movie which George filmed in 1942, in which he was the leading man and which brought him much critical acclaim, was The Moon and Sixpence . This is the film version of the book of the same title written by W. Somerset Maugham . The  film is loosely based on the life of the artist Paul Gauguin. George plays Charles Strickland, a staid London broker who in the pursuit of  his dream of becoming a painter deserts his wife and family and betrays his friends and associates.  The film take us through Strickland’s life in Paris and finallly to Tahiti where, after living a life devoted to painting and the pleasures of the senses, Strickland is forced to confront himself as he dies of leprosy.  In the film George has a beard and although he is undeniably drop-dead gorgeous still I prefer to see his entire face unadorned by any facial hair.

 I am quoting now from of a review of the movie which I found at

“Nobody played a cad better than the supercilious George Sanders, and rarely did he have a better showcase role than that in The Moon and Sixpence. Sanders was born to play W. Somerset Maugham‘s Charles Strickland; no other actor could have conveyed the intelligence, the cruelty, the disdain, and the selfishness and yet so effectively laced it with a tortured melancholy, an inner sadness, and a fiercely guarded vulnerability. Misogynistic and often unpleasant, Sanders’ Strickland is nonetheless fascinating and appealing, a complex character that is brought fully to life in Sanders’ sure hands. The star gets fine support from the likes of Herbert Marshall, Florence Bates, and Eric Blore — but Sanders remains in control throughout. Albert Lewins screenplay is also of great help for Sanders, even if portions are a bit stilted. Lewin’s direction is tasteful and captures the feel of the original book, even if it is a bit slow and labored in places. Lewin’s encroaching use of color as Strickland comes into his own as a genius painter is an especially nice touch. The Moon and Sixpence is a small gem, one that allows its star to shine brightly. ~ Craig Butler, Rovi” 
 You can read more at :
Certainly, the phrase ‘fiercely guarded vulnerability” describes George…

George as the “Consummate Cad”, Part I

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In many of George’s 110 films he played the role for which he is best known–that of “The Cad”. Of course this was just a role he played but he incorporated it into his personal image because of the publicity this engendered. As I have written earlier in the post “George Loved Women, Really..”, George frequently elaborated on his screen images for the notoriety it brought.

George played many types of cads, from the “real rotter”  in Rebecca (1940)   which I discuss in this post, to  a “woman manipulating” cad as in Her Cardboard Lover (1942), to a cad using women’s love for professional advancement as in The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947), to the gentle, womanizing cad in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).

Although not George”s first cad role, which was Lloyd’s of London (1936),      probably his best known and most “caddish” role was that of a “real rotter” in the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca. His portrayal of Jack Favell was masterful. He was such a blackguard that you want to slap him but at the same time want to kiss him because he is so handsome and sexy. His performance completely outshown  that of Olivier.  One aspect of his performance that I found intriguing is that he pitched his voice a tiny bit higher than his usual voice and that he talked with just the slightest drawl.  It is very effective.  One scene which I found particularly amusing is the one in which Olivier hits George in the chin and knocks him down.   As if  THAT  could happen! George must have been hard pressed not to laugh!

In Rebecca George plays the favorite cousin of Olivier’s first wife, the beautiful Rebecca, with whom George had an affair. George THINKS that Rebecca was pregnant and Olivier found out, and knowing that the child was George’s, killed Rebecca. I don’t want to go into the plot any further and spoil it for you. It is the usual marvellous Hitchcock production and I know you would enjoy seeing it.  Of course, the movie is set in England

His performance as Favell earned George much critical acclaim and, I believe is what got him his role in a second Hitchcock movie that year, Foreign Correspondent  . In this film he got to play a “good chap”, which, after all, he really was. I was planning to discuss the other films mentioned above but I will save them for another post.  🙂

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…

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