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One of over 700 Paramount productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. However, because of legal complications, this particular title was not included in the original television package and was not televised until many years afterward. See more »
Damn you Hecht and MacArthur, forcing me again to write a review for a sadly neglected film after the equally magnificent 'Crime Without Passion'.
I had already gotten ready to write 'The Scoundrel' off as a little dialogue-driven romantic drama with by far the smartest dialogue of any film of its time (from what I've seen), but then in the last third it's like somebody suddenly turned the whole thing up to 11 and the film enters the realm of magic realism while still feeling consistent with the tone and intentions of the rest of the film, it becomes very emotional in a - dare I say without sounding pretentious - transcendental way. But I should probably begin at the start.
Again like in 'Crime Without Passion' what's maybe the most remarkable aspect of the film is that the protagonist - here it is the head of a book publishing firm - is an intelligent but highly unsympathetic character who nevertheless is taken seriously by the filmmakers as a figure to identify with, and at least for me very successfully so. When this seemingly irredeemable character finally gets his chance of redemption it is after such a traumatic event and at such a high price that this turn is wholly believable and more than welcome on my part.
'Crime Without Passion's lawyer Lee Gentry and 'The Scoundrel's book publisher Anthony Mallare are actually quite similar characters in general. Both are talented in their chosen field and successful at their job in which they are their own bosses. More importantly both are proud about their wit, pitiless and unabashedly self-centered to the point that they have no real use for friends. The people at his firm he calls his friends acknowledge his brilliance but otherwise mostly talk in negative terms about him which Mallare is totally fine with. About them he says: "I call everybody who is clever enough to see through me a friend." Again you have to look no further than the lines that introduce us to Anthony Mallare to get an idea of who this man is. Here are two more samples:
Colleague: "What did you think of Mrs. Robinson's book?" Mallare: "It rrreeks of morality." Colleague: "You are not rejecting it..." Mallare: "Certainly! To the lions with it." Colleague: "I thought it had a lot of sales value." Mallare: "Undoubtedly. But I refuse to make money improving people's morals. It's a vulgar way to swindle the public. Selling them things they least need. Virtue and dullness."
Colleague: "I don't understand you, Tony, with all the money you throw away on advances, refusing old Slezack." Mallare: "I refuse to be blackmailed. Especially by the lame, the halt, and the blind." Colleague: "And pity - that most vile of virtues - has never been known to you, eh?"
Like Gentry he is looking for the right woman for himself. I guess the key difference is his environment. Gentry was an intelligent man surrounded by "common folk" while the people that Mallare surrounds himself with are not unlike him educated and cynical people who hardly get into contact with people outside their own little circle. Mallare merely is the most extreme of them, but also the most brutally honest and most consistently true to himself and his ideals. After cruelly finishing an unlucky relationship with a smart life-affirming young poet who initially seemed like a great match for him he remains without pity except for himself and actually admits that he doesn't even like himself. Mallare gets ready to lower his expectations and settles for a woman who is very much his cold female counterpart. Tragically even this attempt fails in its infancy making it doubtful that a man like him ever could find his heart's desire or even a real friend let alone a soul mate. And this is when the up to this point very dialogue-driven film takes an unexpected turn and becomes something very different.
In this romantic drama about literates the characters don't just talk like your Average Joes and Plain Janes with a few quotes from classic pieces of literature thrown in (although naturally they do that too) but they actually speak quite like real well-educated people, well, maybe in an idealized form, it is a movie after all and as mentioned a smartly written one at that. The acting also is pretty understated and has an authenticity that is quite unlike anything from that era. I can't really describe it, it just has to be seen, and it probably isn't everyone's cup of tea, if you don't get where those characters are coming from you might not get into it at all.
I was very surprised to find out afterwards that the screenplay actually won the Oscar that year, I would expect this film to have a difficult time finding the right audience, viewers expecting high emotion, sentimental romance and "entertainment" will largely be disappointed and just plainly turned off by the unlikeable protagonist while and the more high-brow crowd would probably find its ambitions to be aiming too low and its romantic tendencies difficult to fully embrace. Up until the last third it's basically a series of dialogue scenes and filmmaking-wise or even storytelling-wise it's nothing special. The less than stellar copy that I had to watch might be deceiving regarding the cinematography, though, and all this changes after the turning point when it becomes more comparable to something like 'Portrait of Jennie' or 'Liliom' but I won't give away any more. Watching 'The Scoundrel' miracles can be expected.
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