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When Clementi Suborin is found murdered, his secretary recounts to the police the story of his rise from Czech refugee to ultra-rich New Yorker. The tale of betrayal, womanising and fraud confirms that almost everyone who knew him wanted him dead. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
A fine example of casting and performances triumphing over material, "Death of a Scoundrel" is both ridiculous and remarkably compelling. The film's plot is basically a potboiler: we watch a highly unscrupulous man engineer his own rise from poverty to riches, while destroying or dominating everyone around him along the way. To say the least, the narrative is laden with absurd coincidences and unbelievable motivations.
So, why is "Death of a Scoundrel" so watchable? One reason is writer-director Charles Martin's ability to keep things moving at a good pace.
The other reason is the cast. George Sanders was the kind of actor who could take charge of a role (much the way his character takes charge of his own fate). He is able to overcome being too old and not attractive enough for his character. Sanders' famous British voice should work against the image of a Czech immigrant (although the actor was actually born in Russia). In fact, viewers are treated to a vocal doppelganger early in the film, when the role of Sanders' brother is given to his real-life brother (and sound-alike) Tom Conway.
Then there are the rest. Who can resist a high stakes soap opera with the likes of Yvonne De Carlo, Coleen Gray, John Hoyt, Victor Jory, Werner Klemperer, Nancy Gates and last but not least, Zsa Zsa Gabor?
Not always impressive as an actress, De Carlo does a fine job here. She is particularly good at revealing reaction shots. Each time Sanders announces an outrageous new scheme, we can see De Carlo mentally rolling her eyes. The wry delivery she had mastered by the time she will play 'Lily Munster' is fully in evidence. She seems to be having fun along the way, despite the angst and one especially silly revelation late in the film.
Coleen Gray is here given another one-note role. The stunning actress was allowed few opportunities to show she could act. Nancy Gates gets to play out a pocket-size version of "A Star is Born". And John Hoyt has a supporting role with plenty of surprises.
As for Zsa Zsa Gabor, she rarely looked more elegant and luminous. The recently ex-Mrs. Sanders was at the start of her career peak. Only two years later, she would embody the immortal 'Talleah' in "Queen of Outer Space". Despite limited acting skills, Gabor manages a couple of memorable Hungarian-accented line deliveries ("Be careful, I'm might bite you!").
While the production values of the film show a less-than-optimal budget, apparently no expense was spared on Max Steiner. The composer provides one of his continuous symphonic scores. Every scene is played out on a lush, late-romantic, sonic cushion. De Carlo's character even has her own 'sexy' theme. It's all wonderfully overdone and preposterous: an adventure into a never-never land of greed and control-obsession.
In other words, it's a riveting example of why we watch Hollywood movies.
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