Spotlight on George Sanders

Before he took a fatal overdose of Nembutal in a Barcelona hotel in 1972, George Sanders had racked up over 150 film credits, many in largely forgotten films. For trivia buffs, perhaps his most well-known role is as film critic, Addison DeWitt, in “All About Eve” (1950), which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar; or maybe, as Professor Gordon Zellaby in “Village of the Damned (1960). However, anyone who has seen Walt Disney’s “Jungle Book” (1967) knows his voice as the villainous Bengal tiger, Shere Khan.

For classic film buffs, TCM featured Sanders in their Summer under the Stars series on 8/30/2017, showing a few of the films where Sanders amply demonstrated that villains were the roles that he excelled at.

In “Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons” (1960), Sanders plays Henri Landru, notorious for marrying and murdering at least that many women. The title is a bit of a stretch as Sanders doesn’t bother to marry his victims. The first one was actually an accidental death. After that, he kills wealthy women as soon as they turn over control of their financial assets to him. it would have been more aptly named “Bluebeard’s Obsession” because he fell in love with a lounge singer named Odette (Corinne Calvet). She is a hustler and doesn’t really give a damn about him. Sanders’ character is so methodical, meticulously jotting down every transaction he makes, that it’s really quite odd that he is so blind to Odette’s machinations until he overhears the proof of it. By then, he has bestowed 30,000 francs of his ill-gotten gains on her.

George Sanders and Corinne Calvet

Odette: Where did you get all that money?
Henri Landru: I made a killing.

It is also comical to a large extent because of the way Sanders delivers his lines, apparently unintentionally, since it is listed as a mystery on IMDB.

In “Death of a Scoundrel” (1956), Sanders played Clementi Sabourin, who finds out that his brother told everyone he was dead and married his sweetheart while he was a prisoner of the Germans. Sabourin turns his brother into the Italian police in exchange for a ticket to America where he embarks upon a career as a big-time swindler in the stock market.

George Sanders in Death of a Scoundrel

I always say, if you’re going to steal at all, steal in a way that will be admired.

Yvonne DeCarlo and Victor Jory played his accomplices. Sanders’ real life brother, Tom Conway, played his brother. Sanders’ ex-wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor, played a wealthy widow Sanders’ takes up with until he sets his sights on her secretary.

These films will be available on TCM on Demand until September 6th and 7th, respectively. They are also showcasing Sanders in a number of other films, including:

“Cairo” (1963) – In Egypt, the Major (Sanders) is the ringleader a ragtag group planning to rob King Tut’s tomb. Omar Sharif’s then wife and Egyptian superstar, Faten Hamama, had a role as a belly dancer.

“Foreign Correspondent” (1940) – Sanders plays a reporter helping Joel McCrea unmask a traitor in London in the prelude to World War II. Another trivia item on Sander’s scorecard: he had roles in this film and “Rebecca” (1940), both nominated for Best Picture in 1941. “Rebecca” won the Oscar.

“Lured” (1947) – Lucille Ball works undercover in London to help the police nab a serial killer who murdered her best friend. After she gets engaged to George Sanders’ character, Robert Fleming, it appears that he may be the killer.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – Sanders plays Lord Wotton, a terrible influence on young Dorian Gray.

“Village of the Damned” (1960) – As a professor, Sanders has to contend with a whole tribe of spooky-eyed platinum blonde children all born on the same day in a small English village. “Beware the stare.”

You can search for films by title or by actor on TCM on Demand.

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12 Responses

  1. Lou says:

    I loved George Sanders as Shere Khan in the Jungle book but its sad that he took his life by overdosing on pills. Suicide is lethal evne in america. Furthermore VJ, do you remember that brokeback mountin actor Heath Ledger? He also took his own life I wonder if it was also depression or something else?

    • VJ says:

      @Lou, yes, I remember Heath Ledger, but I believe his death was ruled an accidental overdose. He was only 28. Not the same as George Sanders, who was 65. Sanders’ suicide was more like Charles Boyer who took an overdose at age 78, 2 days after his wife died. I think they didn’t see any reason to keep on living.

      It is very sad and I think depression was a factor for the older men. For Heath Ledger, perhaps it was a factor in why he was abusing prescriptions.

  2. rhonda says:

    Zsa had so many husbands, I’d completely forgotten that George Sanders was one of them.
    I will watch Scoundrel next, right now I am enjoying “Lured”.

    • VJ says:

      He was also Zsa Zsa’s brother-in-law for about a month,, when he later married her sister, Magda . omg!

    • VJ says:

      @Rhonda, I finally finished watched “Lured.” I fell asleep on the first viewing. :) That Boris Karloff part was hilarious.

    • rhonda says:

      Glad that you got to finish watching it, VJ. Yes, the part with Boris Karloff was quite over the top.
      I enjoyed Death of a Scoundrel very much, but was disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to see Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons. I thought it would still be available yesterday but I was wrong. I wish that I’d watched it before Scoundrel, oh, well.

      • VJ says:

        Hmmm. I just looked over there and all the ones they said were available until September 7 are gone, so they don’t mean including that date. Well, at least now we know!

      • VJ says:

        P.S. I wonder how many takes it took to get that part where Karloff is telling the dog “I have never seen you looking so well.” LOL! Must have been hard for everyone there to keep a straight face :)

  3. rhonda says:

    Thanks for the informative summary, VJ. More movies that I need to watch!

    • VJ says:

      You’re welcome, Rhonda. I enjoyed that “Scoundrel” film. Zsa Zsa was always one of my favorites. She has a great line where she tells Sanders, “Don’t play with me… I’m a tigress. I may bite you.”

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