Thursday, July 03, 2014

A Birthday Tribute to George Sanders

Debonair George Sanders, equally entertaining as hero or villain, was born on July 3, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Sanders' birth came nearly two years after his brother, actor Tom Conway, was born in September 1904.

Sanders' name runs like a thread through decades of Hollywood's great films. Hitchcock, Ford, Lang, Disney, Mankiewicz...not to mention the best of RKO's "B" detective movies, the SAINT and FALCON series.

Sanders was in two Best Pictures, REBECCA (1940) and ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the latter film.

Although Sanders excelled at playing sneering villains or cads -- just a couple of notable examples being REBECCA (1940) and THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947) -- I have often said that the only thing better than Sanders as a bad guy is Sanders as a hero.

My favorite Sanders role is as Joel McCrea's friend Ffolliott in one of my very favorite movies, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). As I wrote of Sanders in my review, "I really love it when his dry wit and wicked slyness are on the side of truth, justice, and the American way. Terrific fun...especially his own life-and-death escape from a hotel room, carried off with great panache."

Sanders also makes a fine romantic hero in films such as RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941) and LURED (1947). It was quite interesting having the tables turned in RAGE IN HEAVEN, with usual good guy Robert Montgomery being a psychotic creep and Sanders as Ingrid Bergman's dashing knight in shining armor!

His work across many genres included two of Tyrone Power's finest swashbucklers, THE BLACK SWAN (1942) and SON OF FURY (1942), Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT (1941) and WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956), and epics such as SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949) and IVANHOE (1952). In the latter years of his career, he was the voice behind one of Disney's great animated villains in THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967).

The man with one of the greatest voices in Hollywood history could even sing! He had the chance to display his vocal talent in CALL ME MADAM (1953).

All this, and he was Mr. Freeze in the TV series BATMAN! What a career. Small wonder he is one of my all-time favorite actors.

George Sanders films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: LOVE IS NEWS (1937), FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER (1938), THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939), THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939), FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), GREEN HELL (1940), RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941), THE GAY FALCON (1941), A DATE WITH THE FALCON (1942), THE FALCON TAKES OVER (1942), THE FALCON'S BROTHER (1942), THE BLACK SWAN (1942), SON OF FURY (1942), QUIET PLEASE - MURDER (1942), THEY CAME TO BLOW UP AMERICA (1942), THE LODGER (1944), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), LURED (1947), ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) (also here), ASSIGNMENT - PARIS (1952), THE SCARLET COAT (1955), WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956) (also here), THE WHOLE TRUTH (1958), THE LAST VOYAGE (1960), IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962), and THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967).

Additional notable titles from among his over 130 screen credits not mentioned above: CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939), THIS LAND IS MINE (1943), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945), THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945), THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946), FOREVER AMBER (1947), THE FAN (1949), I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951), JOURNEY TO ITALY (1954), JUPITER'S DARLING (1955), DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL (1956), SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959), and A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964).

2015 Update: Here are additional reviews of George Sanders films: THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE (1940), THE SAINT TAKES OVER (1940), HER CARDBOARD LOVER (1942), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945), and WITNESS TO MURDER (1954).

2016 Update: Here are new reviews of THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1947) and THE SAINT IN PALM SPRINGS (1941).

2019 Update: Here's a review of REBECCA (1940), which I saw in a nitrate print at the Egyptian Theatre.

2020 Update: Here are reviews of PARIS AFTER DARK (1943) and THE KING'S THIEF (1955).

2023 Update: I've now reviewed WARNING SHOT (1967), in which Sanders had a one-scene role, and THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945).

2024 Update: Here's a review of ACTION IN ARABIA (1944).


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Hmm, just saw Lang's great MAN HUNT again the other night--in that one, Lang is a smooth, sneering, cynical Nazi and of course he's great. You should put that on your list.

I don't really care whether he is a hero or a villain or someone in between. All I need is for George Sanders simply "to be"--meaning, if he stood in front of the camera and read the phone book, I would probably enjoy it.

Yet he is great. A major sympathetic role--though it takes everything about his persona into account--is opposite Ingrid Bergman in JOURNEY TO ITALY so you have something to look forward to there. It may be his finest hour.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Of course, I meant "Sanders is a smooth, sneering, cynical Nazi and of course he's great."

An amusing gaffe on my part--one wouldn't want to think of Lang as a "Nazi" even in fun, though I guess if he had been an actor he would have delighted in playing one as well as George Sanders if he could.

(*of course, Lang does appear as an actor, playing himself as a character, in "Contempt" and gives a superb performance).

4:41 PM  
Blogger SimpleGifts said...

Hi, Laura - Great tribute! There are so many wonderful Sanders films -- too many to list them all. Have you seen THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1947)? It's pure Sanders the cad as he toys with the affections of all the women in the cast. Ann Dvorak and Angela Lansbury are terrific, too. Looking forward to your posts about your trip to the Sierras! Best, Jane

7:41 PM  
Blogger DKoren said...

You know, the first thing I saw him in was a first season episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and that's still my first image whenever I think of him. So suave, so smooth, and I loved his voice even when I was in single digits. He was so wonderful in everything he did.

10:20 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Also memorable (to me, anyway) was his performance in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960).

I don't think I've ever seen a movie in which he appeared that was less than "very good".

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He made a lot of movies, didn't he. And he was never less than very good whatever character he played.
It is lovely to hear his fine baritone in Call Me Madam.
What a talent.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Sadly, in the UK at least, a beautiful speaking voice no longer seems valued but George Sanders' silky tones were a joy (and still are for me).

"This Land Is Mine" (1943) starred him and was a powerful story. He was excellent in it.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Another fan of George Sanders -- and his voice!--here. Great as he was in most of his films, and however much he deserved his Oscar for ALL ABOUT EVE, for me the ultimate Sanders performance is in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. It's probably one of the greatest pieces of casting ever and whoever first had the idea of hiring Sanders to play Henry Wotton should have gotten an Oscar of his own. George Sanders was born to deliver Oscar Wilde's witty, intelligent, dry, caustic, sarcastic epigrams. It is a perfect meeting of actor and role, and a perfect performance.

10:23 AM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I recently watched, and read the novel, "The Moon and Sixpence", where Sanders plays the artist (based on Gauguin) very much as written by Maugham.
Although Sanders again plays a bounder, he is not a smooth talking sophisticated cad, he is a painter so dedicated to his particular artistic vision, that he is indifferent anything that ordinary people care about. As a result, he treats people abominably. An excellent role for Sanders.
Also with Herbert Marshall! Two great voices in one picture. :-)

3:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a delight to hear from so many George Sanders fans over the last 48 hours!! Thank you all very much for sharing your admiration of this wonderful actor and for the recommendations of his movies.

Blake, I've put my MAN HUNT DVD in my "hot stack"...three of my favorite actors in the same movie!

Jane, I've never seen THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI, it sounds great.

Deb, I love that your first exposure to him was on that TV series! That's really fun.

Mel, you mentioned another film I'm not familiar with, thank you! I agree, he was never less than very good. :)

Vienna, I saw CALL ME MADAM on TV countless times growing up but haven't sat down and watched it for years. Need to do that!

Jerry, thanks for the recommendation of THIS LAND IS MINE. Sanders made an amazing number of good movies -- I've reviewed roughly two dozen of his films and yet several of you have recommended excellent movies I have yet to see!

Rick, I haven't yet seen THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and your enthusiasm for it certainly makes it sound appealing.

THE MOON AND SIXPENCE is yet another title I have to look forward to. Thanks, Panavia!

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

7:55 PM  

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