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George B. Seitz
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the long shot of the airplane, when Clementi's mother is arriving, the plane's open door can be seen to the left, but in a close-up shot the door is missing. Other features of the plane in the long shot do not match in close-up: the windows and the painted stripe on the plane, for examples. See more »
[arriving in New York harbor]
It's a big country. There's millions of people beyond those buildings. All of them needing something, buying something.
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I first became aware of this movie when I bought the soundtrack composed by Max Steiner back in the 80's. With its Eastern European flavour, the score for "Death of a Scoundrel" was Steiner in top form, and as I later discovered, was one of the best things about the movie.
The film begins with Clementi Subourin (George Sanders) lying shot dead across a bed. His assistant, Bridget Kelly (Yvonne De Carlo), tells his story, which is revealed in a long flashback.
In Czechoslovakia just after WW2, Subourin returns from a concentration camp to visit his brother, played in the film by George Sanders' real-life brother, Tom Conway. After discovering that his brother has virtually forgotten him and even married the girlfriend he had asked him to protect, Subourin turns his brother over to the police for dealing on the black market.
He travels to America where he makes a fortune speculating on the stock market - mostly by questionable means. Along the way he encounters people who either become allies or more likely, enemies. Subourin is ruthless and vengeful, and has affairs with many women, often at the same time. He is a forerunner of the Wolf of Wall Street but seen through the heavy filter of 1950's censorship.
Ultimately, it all unravels and we finally learn who pumped the bullets into him.
The movie covers a lot of ground, and has a good script - for the most part. However it falls down visually. Almost totally studio bound, where a filmmaker like Val Lewton and his team could transform a cheap set into a work of art using the shadows from a shuttered window, the guys who made "Death of a Scoundrel" were masters of over-lighting.
The scenes set in Europe are the worst. It's almost as though someone found an unused storeroom at RKO and thought, "Great, this can be Czechoslovakia".
Apart from his trademark arrogance and disdain; George Sanders' character also shows nervousness, petulance and even a little contrition. It almost seems like too much acting from George. I prefer his Addison DeWitt from "All About Eve" where, although he only displays one mood, absolute superiority, it is undiluted Sanders. His back-story is also poorly thought out. After he has just been released from a concentration camp, he looks amazingly healthy - in the pink in fact. At no point does he seem to carry the baggage from the experience that Rod Steiger does in "The Pawnbroker".
The cast is full of beautiful women. Yvonne De Carlo and Zsa Zsa Gabor are foremost among them, and are numbered in the quartet of women looking down on George Sander's body in the striking poster for the film, which along with Sanders and Steiner, was another element in the sum of the parts that turned out to be greater than the whole.
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