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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 »
In 1934 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur made an independent film starring Claude Rains and Margo called CRIME WITHOUT PASSION. The results were moderately interesting, so the two creators returned to movie production in 1935 with THE SCOUNDREL. Now their star was not just a great actor like Rains, but the leading British playwrite (except for Bernard Shaw) of the first half of the 20th Century - Noel Coward. Coward plays a book editor who is brilliant, brittle, witty, and totally amoral. He has many literary acquaintances, but no friends. Not that these literary figures (Alexander Woolcott, Lionel Stander, Eduardo Cianelli) are really likeable enough to merit having friends of their own. Indeed these people are so self-centered that one wonders how they can relate to humanity enough to have good taste in writing, publishing, or even playing music (Coward's second girlfriend is a pianist who is as cold as he is).
The wit of the lines of dialogue, no matter how hard Coward can give them, is not on par with the lines of witty dialogue from Coward's PRIVATE LIVES or BLYTHE SPIRIT. Hecht and MacArthur could write funny material in a farce like THE FRONT PAGE or TWENTIETH CENTURY (or Hecht's solo work, in say NOTHING SACRED), but they were not brittle or delicate. So that Coward's amoral attitude starts to drag after awhile. Then the film turns into a search for emotional catharsis. Coward dies in an airplane crash in the Caribbean, but his unhappy spirit returns to earth. His acquaintances do not heed his warnings about the emptiness of their lives (Coward sort of becomes the equivelent of Jacob Marley here), but he does find some sorrow for his lost soul from his first girlfriend. So he finds salvation in this drop of sadness.
The total film must be considered an interesting failure, and leads one to another point - Coward's name lives today because of the continuous strength of those major plays of his (PRIVATE LIVES, BLYTHE SPIRIT, HAY FEVER). His movies are another matter. Few of his performances were so well done on celluloid as to bear comparison to Olivier, Richardson, Guilgud, Guinness, Redgrave, Mills, Burton, and Sim. His best performances are probably in his own film IN WHICH WE SERVE or in later films where he was in supporting parts (OUR MAN IN HAVANAH and BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING). But how to explain a serious attempt at film making like THE ASTONISHED HEART which failed so badly (the story doesn't quite make sense). Of all his best plays, the only one to gain an Oscar was the dated CAVALCADE (in 1934), now best recalled for a brief scene when a young couple on a honeymoon turn out to be onboard the R.M.S. Titanic. Why Coward, a master of theatre, a gifted cabaret performer, a good actor, turned up so maladroit a film career is one of the mysteries of 20th Century films.
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