Monday, March 09, 2009

George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportions"

A letter from George Sanders to Brian Aherne, reprinted in the latter's A Dreadful Man. The two men had quarreled after Sanders, fortified by vodka, expressed his low opinion of the acting profession, and when Sanders had to rush off to catch a plane, the argument continued via written correspondence.

December 31st, 1937

Dear Brian,

I was very happy to receive your angry letter, and I am glad I shook you up a bit. Ask yourself this question: If money (greed); loyalty to theatrical tradition (pernicious exhibitionism); rigid conformity to social convention (masochism), are incompatible with personal happiness--which should be sacrificed?

You talk about the theatre as if it had some cosmic significance. As a matter of fact it is pathetically sublunary; a drab and dusty monument to man's inability to find within himself the resources of his own entertainment. It is usually rather fittingly housed in a dirty old building, whose crumbling walls occasionally resound with perfunctory applause, invariably interpreted by the actor as praise. A sad place, draughty and smelly when empty, hot and sick when full.

I wonder which is the sickest, the audience which seeks to escape its miseries by being transported into a land of make-believe, or the actor who is nurtured in his struggle for personal aggrandisement by the sickness of the audience.

I think perhaps it is the actor, strutting and orating away his youth and his health, alienated from reality, disingenuous in his relationships, a muddle-headed peacock forever chasing after the rainbow of his pathetic narcissism.

My love and best wishes for a happy New Year.


This charming letter is Sanders to the core, from the command of the language to the marvelously tranquil closing--actors are pathetic narcissists, happy New Year!

No wonder Aherne had it framed.

You'll never go broke dissing actors, and indeed no one can bash actors quite like another actor. The Siren wonders, though, what it is about acting that makes some of its best practitioners value it so little. Those who possess genius in other fields usually don't question why they bother. The Siren spent a number of years working for some spectacularly gifted mathematicians, and these gentlemen did not sit around muttering "Oh Christ, I've thought of another theorem. How dreary." Is it the supposed subliteracy and philistinism of so much of Hollywood? Well, in the above letter Sanders was writing to Aherne about the theatre, which is usually taken to be a higher form of acting. Even given that Sanders had a career primarily in film, his lack of regard for acting is still striking. George Gershwin also did most of his work in a popular vein, and to the Siren's knowledge he never wrote letters suggesting that the beautiful melodies that poured out of him were useless.

George Sanders' low opinion of acting appears to have been as authentic as it was frequently expressed. There is a wonderful TCM clip of goddess Angela Lansbury discussing Sanders, in which she remarks on his intellect and says something to the effect of "Acting occupied such a tiny portion of his brain," illustrating said brain portion with a thumb-and-forefinger pinch you might see on a cooking show.

Early in her blogging career the Siren wrote a little piece about Sanders, which you can see here, in which she tried to look at the Sanders image. She read Aherne's book a couple of years later, and it simultaneously supports the vision we all carry of Sanders, and tears it down. Sanders was indeed a supremely intelligent, witty man, writing from Switzerland that news of Aherne's letters brings joy to all Lausanne--"laughter is heard," children skip around gaily, "monks in the monastery of Montchoisi start buggering one another with renewed vigor." Aherne also reprints a long letter Sanders wrote to his parents shortly after arriving in Hollywood, in which he discusses "practises such as jumping into Producers' cars and trying to rub them up the right way," and that part alone is worth tracking the book down.

As is the story about Sanders, confronted by Nigel Bruce at a party during World War II. Bruce demanded to know why Sanders hadn't contributed to the latest British War Relief Whatever. Sanders took a drag on his cigarette and replied with perfect sang-froid, "Because I am a shit." So much for the glories of a united Hollywood war effort. (Gloria has an addendum to the story here.)

Then there's Sanders, determined to rid himself of second wife Zsa Zsa Gabor, arranging to break into her bedroom on Christmas Eve with a detective and a photographer in hopes of catching the Hungarian beauty in flagrante. Sanders climbed through the window. Flashbulbs popped and Zsa Zsa's lover sprang, too late, for the bathroom. Sanders held out a gift and boomed, "Merry Christmas, my dear!" Aherne was fond of Zsa Zsa, and here you can see why, because Zsa Zsa poured champagne for everybody and a good time was had by all. Except the chap cooling his heels in the bathroom. (Probably Porfirio Rubirosa, although Aherne doesn't name him.) When the divorce news was released to the papers Sanders' statement read, "I have been cast aside like a squeezed lemon."

Still, it's obvious that Sanders had a depressive streak that went well beyond any of the usual guff about his alleged Slavic temperament. (Rather confusingly, Sanders was born in Russia of Russian parents, at least one of whom claimed English descent.) X. Trapnel once remarked in the Siren's comments that the distortions of the David Lean Doctor Zhivago were occasioned not by leftist apologetics, but by a "British assumption that Russians are basically sentimental, irrational wogs." Aherne buys into this with his talk of how the Russian part of Sanders predominated, as though that explains anything.

One moment Sanders was witty and urbane, the next monosyllabic and impossible. One of the Siren's aforementioned mathematician bosses was also a dedicated cinephile. One night in the early 1950s the mathematician found, to his delight, that he'd been seated at Sanders' table due to overbooking at a European resort restaurant. Expecting his dinner companion to be rather aloof, what the Siren's old boss got instead was catatonia. Sanders was impeccably polite, but seemed barely able to lift his fork. The actor's All About Eve costars agreed that while playing Addison DeWitt, his energy was low to nil and he was a general wet-blanket. His costar for the great Viaggio in Italia, Ingrid Bergman, became so alarmed by Sanders' panic and gloom on the set that she didn't know whether to send for his psychiatrist or his wife. Eventually Bergman and Rossellini sent for Zsa Zsa; she didn't help.

At times, Sanders' behavior toward women went beyond caddish. Asked why he didn't take first wife Susan out more, he replied, "Oh, I can't bring her. She bores people." Another woman found Sanders bounding out of her bed and out of her life when she casually remarked that she owed a big tax bill. This was a long and eventually depressing theme in Aherne's book; Sanders was obsessed to the point of mania with avoiding taxes. Now you are thinking, well, Siren, so are most of us. True. Aherne himself moved to Switzerland at one point to avoid paying high taxes. Aherne did not, however, set up several corporations of varying degrees of legality, get involved with international swindlers, set up complicated, annual multi-country residence schemes or accept lousy, career-damaging jobs based solely on whether or not he could hide the income. Sanders did all that and more, and his obsession with tax evasion was to have sad consequences toward the end of his life.

His main joy appears to have been his unlikely marriage to Ronald Colman's widow, the former actress Benita Hume, to whom Sanders proposed mere weeks after Colman's death. Much of Aherne's book consists of Benita's letters, which isn't as disappointing as you might think. Aherne at first suspected Sanders was after her money, but Benita was the love of his friend's life. She was quite funny and charming in her own right: "Greer G[arson] was there, she's become no end odd and when she greets you, you have the strong impression that she has just opened a bazaar and I for one fully expected her to give me a nice rosette for the biggest cucumber." Benita also gives a good picture of life with her George, as he complains in a Tel Aviv restaurant that he does not like frankfurters and would like some pork sausages--"You know, PORK." "I sometimes wonder what goes on inside that head," she concludes placidly.

Benita knew what she was getting into. Aherne includes a letter she wrote well before Colman died, in which Benita laughs over the Zsa Zsa-Christmas-detective story that was making the rounds of Hollywood and concludes, "There is something irresistible about a man who cultivates caddishness to such Homeric proportions." So well did Benita seem to understand Sanders that the Siren thinks his "dreadfulness" might have been oddly comforting at times. Benita was diagnosed with breast cancer and came home one day after being informed by a horrifically insensitive doctor that she'd need a double mastectomy. Sanders asked how it went, his wife burst into tears, and when she managed to tell him the news, he sighed with relief: "Oh, is that all? Well, who needs them?"

When Benita died, in 1967, Sanders wrote to Aherne that she wouldn't have wanted mourning: "The mood here is one of gaiety." He stopped in to visit Aherne, played piano, gave singing lessons and seemed in good spirits. Sanders kept it up until, on the way to the airport, Aherne asked him a question about Benita--and "he burst into uncontrollable sobs."

A couple of years later Sanders married the wealthy Magda Gabor--Zsa Zsa's idea, he told Aherne. After only a few days of marriage, Sanders announced he was divorcing her, because he didn't want to ask her for money, and he "couldn't have a normal conversation" with her; Magda had aphasia from a stroke. Not only did Sanders himself have a milder version of the same problem, also from a stroke, he was discussing this with Aherne in front of Magda. When Aherne protested, Sanders admitted affably that Magda was "much the nicest of the Gabors" and came up with the idea that the marriage should be annulled on grounds of his impotence. Which it shortly was.

The marriage to Magda came and went, and things got worse for Sanders. His parts diminished, his drinking increased. Always subject to fits of gloom, he began to slide into despair, showing up at Aherne's place leaning on a cane and insisting that he was dying, whacking the sofa with the cane and groaning, "I can't speak straight and I can't think." Aherne tried to comfort him, saying it was the old age we all face, but Sanders was inconsolable, having just turned down a good part because his stroke-damaged speech would not permit him to do it. Sanders' sister Margaret went to take care of him. One morning she found George had ordered the servants to drag his piano, which he once played every day, into the garden, where Sanders chopped it to pieces with an axe. When Margaret protested, he pushed her away: "I can't play the damned thing any more, so why should I keep it?"

In a final attempt to avoid more taxes, Sanders made the disastrous decision to sell his house in Mallorca, Spain, which he had owned with Benita and which she'd intended to be his well into old age. When Aherne last saw him, in March 1972, just a month before his suicide, Sanders was downing glasses of straight vodka, asking "how many would it take?" (pills) and saying he should never have sold the house: "Everything I do is wrong. I can't do right. I must be crazy!"

The actor tried hard for an acerbic, Sanders-style coda with his famous note: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." In reality, the end was as somber as any other suicide. Dan Callahan, in his excellent Bright Lights piece, tells the story even better than Aherne does:

Old, sick, and very tired, Sanders traveled to Barcelona in 1972, took a hotel room, and wrote his famous suicide note before overdosing on pills. This note was gleefully reported after his death, and certainly it remains one of the best of its kind. What is less known is that Sanders wrote a second suicide note, addressed not to the press but to his sister Margaret, the only person who connected him to his Russian childhood and everything he had lost: 'Dearest Margoolinka. Don't be sad. I have only anticipated the inevitable by a few years.' In the end, the entertaining Cad had his say, only to make way for the tender Russian boy behind the mask...

That the first suicide note has passed into immortality, while the gentle farewell to his sister is almost forgotten, is understandable, indeed almost appropriate. Sanders may have despised acting, but like all stars he understood image. "THINK ONLY THIS OF ME," he wrote in one of his last letters to Aherne, "that in some corner of a crummy foreign village there lives, for the time being, that old shit-heel from St. Petersburg--Sanders." Indeed it's much easier to contemplate Sanders being an "old shit-heel" than the melancholy, broken person he was at the end, and it was easier to play parts that way, too.


The Siren said...

Comments are in reverse order, separated by name and Blogger's cheery "has left a new comment" greeting. Feel free to repost anything lost that was particularly pithy. The Siren is more distressed over losing the comments than the post itself.

mndean has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Arthur S.,
Cagney was a vulgar punk in Jimmy the Gent as well as being really unscrupulous. He slaps his assistant around like he was Moe Howard.

Gloria has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Not unlike Bugs Bunny the definitive American cad (and America's most beloved drag-queen)"

Bugs Bunny's Walkyrie turn in "What's Opera Doc" is possibly the best screen Brunhilde ever (And, of Course, Elmer shares the honour of being the scween's most memowable Siegfwied).

Back to "Five Fingers", I read in an interview to Mankiewicz that the real-life fellow in which the James Mason Character was based wasn't merely the British Ambassador's valet, but also his lover... Whenever I watch Mason and Walter Hampden in that film I have the feeling that the director and the lead actor didn't have this situation entirely outwritten from the story.

Arthur S. has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

My favourite Herrmann scores(in no order) - TAXI DRIVER, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, MARNIE, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, CITIZEN KANE and VERTIGO above all.

James Cagney was not then and never was a cad. He was a punk, a fast-talking streetsmart operator who had charm and wit and vitality. Punk cuts two ways, violent punks as in THE PUBLIC ENEMY and WHITE HEAT and LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and cheeky punks as in PICTURE SNATCHER and THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE and figures like the exec in 123 who's a vulgar punk.

There's a term for that in the Irish-American Lexicon, the word's in Walsh's ME AND MY GAL where Joan Bennett is a female punk. It sounds like Be-zark or something.

Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP however is close to being a cad being how he takes pleasure in irritating everyone he meets, having jokes at their expense while being too cool to have any comeback stick to him. Bogart's air of stardom had a strong streetsmartness to it but also a very refined intelligence in him. Not unlike Bugs Bunny the definitive American cad(and America's most beloved drag-queen).

I suppose the political landscape of the 50s made it impossible for a major Hollywood film to deal with the reality of America's presence in Vietnam, that's at the core of Greene's book. It took till the mid-70s to actually come to terms with it and by then, it was already over.

mndean has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Heh, not even his sister

Gerard Jones has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Oh, and if you want to see an interesting heel who comes close to being an American cad, check out Fred Astaire in The Sky's the Limit. I didn't really notice it until the second time I saw it, because the first time I couldn't see past his Astaireness (or is that Astairity?) and I was mostly waiting for the dance numbers. But look at how he treats his colleagues and the woman he "loves." Pure heel right to the final scene. And Fred did it so convincingly that you can guess at why not everyone who knew him had warm feelings for him.

Gerard Jones has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

The distinction between cads and jerks feels very clear to me. But when we get into cads vs. heels I feel on shaky ground. Is that just a matter of national inflection? Or is there a class issue too? Heel seems a broader and more democratic category: there can be royal heels and working-class heels, but are there working-class cads? Could the '30s Cagney ever be called a cad?

Very interesting what you say, mndean, about the lack of Sanders-style cads in the '30s, and the sense they wouldn't work somehow. The Americanness was part of that, for sure, but I wonder if it was also the fact that in the '30s, jerks and heels always had a political or social-satirical edge to them. There were those characters like Warren William's in Employees' Entrance who were heels because they had completely internalized capitalism's ethics. And those like William Powell's in Jewel Robbery whose criminality and caddishness (for he did possess caddishness even if he wasn't entirely a Cad) always stood in opposition to a parasitic upper class. And many like Gable's in It Happened One Night who could be caddish along the way before turning noble at the end, whose main job was to show up high society's pretensions.

Could it be that in the early '30s the Man Who Offends Charmingly nearly always had some vaguely political purpose and so possessed too much of the hero or villain to inhabit the amorality of a true cad? Later the same man became more an individual assailant against all our fond beliefs and pretensions. More psychological, unsettling, and complex.

Just thinking out loud...

mndean has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Early-sound Powell always showed a touch of nobility at Paramount when playing criminals, but he could have been a great cad there. At Warner, he was a more suave, even as a bum, than Warren William (whose Kurt Anderson is one of the great early-sound cinematic heels, and who would be classed a cad in Gerard's formulation), but Powell was cast too often as the rollicking American conman to be the icy cad. Once at MGM, it all was over and he was, well, lovable. I don't see the early '30s as a time for the Sanders sort of cad. Powell and Barrymore could have done it, but the material of the time was usually quite American in tone and subject.

Gerard Jones has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

For all his amusingly appalling behavior, I just can't see Sanders as a cad, not even with the Homeric suffix. There is something so much darker and more profound about him, both in the reality that emerges from this wonderful post and in his best roles. As I understand the term, Errol Flynn would be more the image of an epic cad. A cad would speak any untruth to advance his own interests. But Sanders' determination to speak even the most chilling truths without anger or apology, and still to feel an amused compassion for those he was stinging, makes him more Cassandra than cad.

There is something so wise and so generous in his letter to Aherne, expressing gratitude for his friend's angry rejoinder and then proceeding once again to bulldoze his illusions without a trace of malice nor any discernible need to win the argument, that is anything but caddish. A sad and fascinating creature he was. Thank you, Campaspe, for illuminating him so beautifully with these excerpts and reflections.

DavidEhrenstein has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

He's a borderline case. He's very gallant with Marilyn. And that gallantry leads to his downfall.

Vanwall has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I believe Powell would have elegantly played a cad - but I don't think the Studios would've let him, valuable as he was. I think Louis Calhern's Alonzo Emmerich in "The Asphalt Jungle" qualified as a cad, and a rich interpretation, too, but it really is hard to find many of the same level of caddishness from us hayseed Yanks.

X. Trapnel has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Surely William Powell could have done cadishness if called upon.

Vanwall has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Actually, I like "People Will Talk", and other Mankiewicz directing efforts, altho in that film, Grant and Cain were interchangeable with any other of the handsome and beautiful pairs that stalked the land, so I watch it for the supporting players - Slezak, a marvelous against type for him - watch him eat sausage and kraut while absconding with a scene meant for Grant; Cronyn, who defined the pencil-dick authority midget there - he really seemed to relish saying "malignant dis-germinoma"; and above all the amazing Finlay Currie, who's explanation of his own death and resurrection is a one-of-kind scene in all of filmdom. Even Sidney Blackmer in a minor part out-acts the leads, handily.

As for cads from Stateside in classic film, I think that was one of H'wood's main reasons for importing actors from Yurp at all - the word cad even sounds more Continental than any Murican word or turn-of-phrase, as it seems to call for a kind of subtlety the Studios lacked in their acting requirements.

DavidEhrenstein has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I really like the way Mankiewicz stages things. He places his actors in fore and background and moves them about in very interestign ways. This is obvious in All About Eve (and I happen to think the ending one of the very greatest of all time) but it's also on view in Guys and Dolls (with its stylized Oliver Smith sets) and Suddenly Last Summer - with its great overgrown garden. Sure it's an old-fashioned "shocker" at heart, but Taylor does the Williams dialogiue proud at the climax. She really understands its poetry.

Five Fingers was seen as a straightforward thriller. I don't recall anyone mentioning its politics at all. But that was the 50's all over.

His version of The Quiet American is visually ovely, and the casting of Audie Murphy quite knowing, but he muddles Greene's point (made cleat in Noyce's marvelous remake.)

I also love The Honey Pot

X. Trapnel has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":


For me les tres riches heures of Bernard Herrmann are as follows:
1. Vertigo
2. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
3. Fahrenheit 451
4. North by Northwest
5. Magnificent Ambersons
6. Citizen Kane
7. On Dangerous Ground
8. The Devil and Daniel Webster
9. Psycho
10. Obsession

When wailing and gnashing my teeth over the near destruction of Ambersons, the sharpest pain comes from the mutilation and truncation of Herrmann's incredible score. There is a very fine recording that may still be available. If you have tears prepare to shed them.

X. Trapnel has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Thanks, Karen. I'm reassured I'm not the only one left mute and aghast by this film. Worst of all is the toy train scene (I know, I know, Men Will Be Boys, or somesuch). Not only is the whole thing unbelievable, I've know idea at all what we're supposed to believe. Who are these people? Why are they on my screen? (of course that's my reaction to most of Mankiewicz).

The music is Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, which climaxes with Gaudeamus Igitur. In context it is very stirring.

Yojimboen has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Mankiewicz may have been a better writer than director and better still as a producer, though I do in toto admire his instincts. He did tell the lovely story of when he first approached LB Mayer to let him direct, Mayer told him to be a producer first, “You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.”

Is it an apocryphal story that he beat it the hell out of London just before the Julius Caesar premiere, leary of the likely Fleet Street tar and feathering of this upstart Yank's (Marlon Brando as Antony!!??) daring to take on the Bard, but was surprised and delighted they didn’t crucify him?

I don’t agree about Suddenly Last Summer, I find it something of a dog’s dinner; about the worst example of everyone’s work: Williams; Taylor, Hepburn, Clift, JLM et al.

It’s always looked to me as if when they (ET & KH), ran out of scenery they started devouring each other (reportedly on AND off set).

Fortunately - or not - we can all judge for ourselves, thanks to the the advances of plagiaristic technology, the entire film is on line, beginning here:

Re Bernie Herrmann though, I do agree JLM got some of his best work; with the possible exception of Ambersons, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir may be BH’s finest hour.

Karen has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

X: Oh, geez, People Will Talk! How odd is that film? And how unbelievable? It's bad enough its hero's name is Noah Praetorius--what really gets me is that this New Da Vinci's big conductor number, which I gather is supposed to be all impressive and soul-stirring, and which is played entirely too often during the film, is "Gaudeamus Igitur," which is a medieval university drinking song.

X. Trapnel has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Must confess that except for the sublime Ghost and Mrs. Muir and the very good 5 Fingers (did Benny H. bring out his best?) I find Mankiewicz to be sharp-stick-in-the-eye unwatchable. People will talk, indeed. So much "intelligent" jibber jabber with nothing much said. If only Addison de Witt could be rescued by helicopter from the convocation of theatric bores and placed in another movie...

Arthur S. has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I like SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMMER beaucoup. So Mr. Mason has an egg on his face after all.

I like some Mankiewicz. GUYS AND DOLLS, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA are terrific films alongside 5 FINGERS. Of course ALL ABOUT EVE and THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR. But on the whole he impresses me less than Cukor and Minnelli, leave alone Nicholas Ray.

Didn't know 5 FINGERS was such a big hit. How did it pass in the
"conservative" 50s given that the main character is a guy spying for the Nazis and the film has a very cynical ending and also that it shows very casually, Allied agents led by Michael Rennie willing to kill to hide information.

ajm has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

James Mason was also a very good cad in The Last of Sheila (1973), directed by the aforementioned Herbert Ross and with a Stephen Sondheim/Anthony Perkins screenplay. I can imagine George Sanders playing that part...

DavidEhrenstein has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Five Fingers was a hige hit. But then so was Suddenly Last Summer which he did right afterwards. I'm a bogMankiewicz fan for a considerable number of reasons> it's not just about the dialogue.

Arthur S. has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

For me, 5 FINGERS is the greatest film about espionage and I also think it's J. L. Mankiewicz's best film. Mason felt that Mankiewicz's career after that was one of steep decline, maybe a little self-serving but I don't think anything he did came as close to that film in it's acute sense of character and storytelling and also it's technique, the cutting is very good. It also has a great Herrmann score and on-location shooting of Turkey.

Mason is foiled onscreen by the ever-stupendous Danielle Darrieux,

Ah...but he gets the loudest of all Last Laughs. And only a cad would Laugh Best when given the opportunity to Laugh Last.

Gloria has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I saw "A Touch of Larceny" being about six-years old during the seventies... Not knowing which film it was,, or indeed, being too litle to check the cast list at the end, the memory of in haunted me for years until I saw again the face of James Mason in a film years later, and that rang a bell... from then on, it was an adventure to find a copy of it, but eventually got a taped-from-Tv one.

Mason loved the title, as well as its French translation "un brin d'escroquerie"... both titles are quite fitting to the spirit of the film.

5 fingers is a fave film of mine also. But then, besides, a magnificent Mason, it's directed by Mankiewicz, and Mason is foiled onscreen by the ever-stupendous Danielle Darrieux, possibly the best female replica ever for a film cad.

mndean has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Wow, A Touch of Larceny. I saw that film just once, in the 1990s, when I found it on a television station out of San Jose that played a string of odd, interesting British films like AToL and The Green Man (the two I remember best). I remember it being very enjoyable, but my memory of it has dimmed a bit since.

Arthur S. has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I think SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS! is a very good film by any standards it's just that I have issues with the rather smug approach to the cynicism of the characters. Unlike say Billy Wilder's films which make no apologias for the characters' natures but at the same time manage to find humanity in them.

Vincent Price is indeed a cad, especially his role in LAURA. Price by the way is one of the all-star cast of WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, by Lang that also has Sanders play one of his greatest cads who sends his girlfriend Ida Lupino to seduce goody-two-shoes Dana Andrews just so that he can rise the corporate ladder.

But doesn't "jerk" come with the associations of "small-time loser"? Someone, basically, who is unsuccessful or contemptable?

Jerk usually refers to be an annoying, irritating specimen who sneers, smirks and has this ineffable air of smugness. With Cads, there's an air of charm on occasion. Not so with jerks. Cads are cynical while jerks are in love with their cynicism, like Ray Liotta in GOODFELLAS. And that can travel across class lines. There are rich jerks, there are middle-class jerks(the highest demographic) and proletarian jerks.

By the way, Mason can be a cad. I just remembered one of his best films - 5 FINGERS, where he plays a spy who sells intel to the Nazis and he's a total cad in that one, although he is again a highly sympathetic and intense cad.

Vadim has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Lovely, Siren. Adds a nice grace note to the end of tonight's insomnia. One thing I'd suggest is that Sanders' melancholy came out of a sense of personal anachronism. That first letter (and much of his subsequent quotes) are firmly in the mold of Oscar Wilde as far as I'm concerned (it's no surprise to me Sanders made a perfect Lord Henry Wotton), and surely Sanders must've been aware that his mode of refined, dissolute disinterest (apply scare quotes as needed) was out of date by the time he'd mastered it.

Gloria has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Incidentally, Sanders and Mason did one film together "A Touch of Larceny", in which Mason played the cad, and George the straight man... well, almost straight, it's dear old George, fer gawd's sake!

(hum, another hint for a proper DVD release?)

Gloria has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

I'd definitely sign a combined release of "memoirs of a professional Cad a "Songs for the Lovely lady"

And yes, X. Trapnel, George was an accomplished baritone, even though he didn't perform in public, except for rare occasions, as the aforelinked ones.

AT one point, he went seriously to substitute Ezio Pinza in "South Pacific" ("Throughout most of my career the public had been blisfully ignorant of the fact that I was a trained singer (...) I immediatly set about getting my voice into condition, its natural beaty having been somewhat impaired by many byears of singing bawdy songs at friends' parties")... only to retire in panic once the contract was signed... I think it's a pity he didn't do it, even though, as a consequence of it, he wrote an hilarious chapter on psichiatrists in his memoirs.

mndean has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Regarding Mason/Sanders, there is a real contrast there. Mason projects a lot more heat and intensity, even when he's cool as ice. I like both styles, but they are very different men.

Caddishness is not an American trait. Think of a great American SOB in film - you get men like the aforementioned Kirk Douglas, or Robert Ryan. When they hit, it something like blunt-force trauma, not a rapier. Americans don't fence much and it isn't popular when they do.

X. Trapnel has left a new comment on your post "George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportion...":

Wonderful! I thought I was hearing Ezio Pinza. Thanks, Y

I wonder, is this the aboriginal voice of Yuri Genrikovich Sanders?

The Siren said...

Okay, so now it's time for the Siren to respond, now that she has bandaged the foot she just shot.

Vadim, thanks for stopping by! I do think Sanders was somewhat out of his time, which is why he played so well in period pieces. But the era in which he became a star was the high-water mark for sophisticated dialogue in American film, although he just missed the glories of 30s comedy--is it not a crying shame he never made a Lubitsch movie? Anyway, he did match up with a good many directors and scripts; twenty years later there would have been even fewer ways to use him properly.

The Siren said...

@(Just about) Everyone else: Okay, so, who is a cad, can Americans be cads, are cads related to jerks? I think James Mason is absolutely able to be a cad, as is Vincent Price, that most weirdly British of American actors. I think caddishness is a British concept and its ideal practitioners are usually English, but I don't think being a Yank disqualifies you altogether. There's a class element in caddishness, either the cad is already upper-class and exercising his prerogatives, or he's a climber. Cagney was too proudly working-class in all his roles to be truly caddish. He's a bulldozer who seldom shows the requisite ability to deceive and conceal intent.

William Powell comes close to caddishness but he shows a tender, romantic heart in most roles that disqualifies him. He starts out caddish in One Way Passage, but certainly doesn't end that way. He has caddish moments in My Man Godfrey, like putting Carole Lombard in the shower and gliding around oblivious to the hearts breaking for him all around the Bullock household, but then in the end he's helping out Forgotten Men. Can you imagine Sanders giving two hoots in hell about a Forgotten Man?

Bogart as Marlowe has some caddish elements, I think, left there by Chandler himself, who always felt his British public-school education made him too refined for the Americans in some indefinable way.

And in no way does cad correspond to jerk--there is an element of admiration in the term cad, as in "How does he get away with it?" With a jerk, you want him to go away.

I think you have two American examples in Mildred Pierce: Zachary Scott, the cad to the manner born, and Jack Carson, cad as climber. And what about the boys in Some Like It Hot? Wilder understood caddishness, he lived it. I think Wilder is full of cads--William Holden in Sabrina, Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon. So is Lubitsch; how about Melvyn Douglas in Ninotchka?

Two more I would submit as uber-cads: Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet.

X. Trapnel said...

For 100-proof, periodic table jerkdom Robert Ryan (an actor I revere) in Clash by Night.

The Siren said...

Ryan, oh my word yes, a complete jerk in Clash by Night, but dead sexy all the same. His Hughes-like tycoon in Caught could have been played with certain caddish elements (although not as a real cad, for obvious reasons) but instead he is just absolutely, blazingly psychotic and consequently terrifying. But it's the furthest thing possible from a one-note performance.

By the by, XT Gloria, Arthur S. and David, I share your admiration for Five Fingers, and how. Terrific movie, and possibly un-remakable now as its attitude toward Mason's character would never fly. On the other hand, I am more in Yojimboen's camp about Suddenly Last Summer, although my take would be "fascinating, some good elements, ultimately doesn't work."

The Siren said...

Finally, thanks David, for putting in a good word for Mankiewicz and for the ending of All About Eve, which I also think is an all-time great, memorable image.

Arthur S. said...

The closest Ryan came to being a true cad is his role in Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR. His character in that film is a Mephistophilian figure, in that he constantly attempts and generally succeeds in bringing out the baser instincts in Stewart but while he takes pleasure in his craftiness there's a great charm and style to him. You don't hate his character at all.

Ryan in CAUGHT is the closest any film got to showing Hughes, as a seductive soul-killing snake who's also full of self-loathing. His final speech telling Barbara Bel Geddes how he'll destroy her is chilling. He isn't a cad in that film, but a monster most American.

The main reason why Ryan is so remarkable to audiences today I feel is that he was an actor who regularly played unlikable and tough characters but who was also good looking and brought his considerable humanity to these role, not unlike Robert DeNiro or Jack Nicholson.

The closest to 5 FINGERS among recent films is Eric Rohmer's TRIPLE AGENT in attitude and approach to a popular genre. 5 FINGERS definitely wouldn't be able to pass through today since the political correctness forbids positing a war-profiter as a figure of identification. Another unremakable film is Sirk's cri-de-coeur A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE where John Gavin plays a Nazi soldier and in the first scene is part of a firing squad executing the latest batch and then goes on furlough and falls in love with a sweet German girl while looking for his parents. Amazing it was made on big budget and releases as a major Universal release then. Today it would be a Oscar-whore or art-film.

The Siren said...

A Time to Love is one of the few Sirks I haven't seen. Would be interesting to see the gorgeous marionette John Gavin actually emoting...

X. Trapnel said...

I saw A Time to Love etc. many moons ago; most memorable is Erich Maria Remarque (it's his novel) in a cameo as Gavin's former puppet mast--ah...schoolteacher.

Kevin Deany said...

"This man's a cad. A yellow cad." - Groucho Marx. Can't remember which movie, alas.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Glad you brought up Triple Agent, Arthur. It's a very important Rohmer that went straight to video in the U.S. It's the spy movie Hitchcock should have made instead of Torn Curtain and Topaz.

As for contemporary cads Jude Law's Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley is the Gold Standard.

George Clooney plays a comic cad in Burn After Reading. He could do quite well with a serious one, but I doubt anyone would write a script like that for him.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's priest in Doubt is a clerical cad. He can of course play practically anything, save for leading man (Synechdoche New York aside)

Yojimboen said...

Campaspe said... “I think caddishness is a British concept and its ideal practitioners are usually English… [] There's a class element in caddishness, either the cad is already upper-class and exercising his prerogatives, or he's a climber.”

True, in fact and practice, but the etymology gives the lie in history. “Cad” was originally a creature of lower order, from the French ‘cadet’ (younger son, hence young officer); in N.E. Scotland ‘caddie’ is still an errand boy; hence the golf ‘caddy’.

‘Cad’ was first abbreviated in English to denote: “an unbooked, hence inferior passenger, occupying an inferior seat on coach or primitive omnibus.”
Though I can’t imagine our George suffering an inferior seat for long.

Arthur S. said... The closest Ryan came to being a true cad is his role in Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR.

Amen, though I respectfully submit all his caddishness-swinetude-knavery (including Crossfire) was just practice for his smiling monster in Bad Day at Black Rock. E. Borgnine and L. Marvin, desperately trying to out-evil each other, shrink to near-invisibility when Ryan’s Reno Smith enters frame.

Arthur S. said...

Rohmer said that SUSPICION was an influence on TRIPLE AGENT. I also think SABOTAGE is an obvious influence, that's about Eastern Europeans in a Western European capital, as is Rohmer's.

I actually like TOPAZ and think it's terrific and very daring to make at that time. The point of the film was as Samuel Taylor told Hitchcock, "the Cold War destroys lives" and does it on both sides. Of course Hitchcock had his say about the Cold War in North by Northwest where Cary Grant tells Leo G. Carroll to shove it after he explains why the government simply had to leave him to die -"Maybe you can start thinking about losing some Cold Wars for a change!"

Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS is another film about the dark side of spying and succeeds in being suspenseful without including a gun anywhere in the frame, at the time it was a thriller today it's positively avant-garde.

Arthur S. said...

John Gavin is quite good in A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE(Godard called it the best title of all time along with Ophuls' LE PLAISIR). It helps that he has a good cast that includes Keenan Wynn, Liselotte Pulver(who worked with Billy Wilder and Rivette later) the author of the source Erich Maria Remarque in a performance that radiates with historical weight and guilt of Germany's moral collapse and Klaus Kinski in an unforgettable one second cameo.

It was Sirk's most personal film dealing with the most cruel tragedy of his life - his failure to save his son from the Nazis, the real reason why a leftist like him waited until 1938 to leave Germany. This also informs IMITATION OF LIFE, in my opinion, the compassion for Juanita Moore trying to protect her daughter in a cruel, uncaring society.

Mark Rappaport's beautiful article at Criterion talks about the film in brief and is quite insightful about his collaboration with Hudson.

Gerard Jones said...

Siren, thank you for your heroic (Homeric) efforts to save our priceless comments. Future generations will sing your praises. And thank you, Yojimboen, for the etymology. Thinking of cad as shorthand for "cadet" spins it a different way, all right. Worth noting that in US cities c. 1900 "cadet" was also used to mean one of the young men assigned to bring customers into dance halls, brothels and peep shows, whether by luring or barking or pretending to be an eager customer. They would also dance with taxi dancers during slow times, so when diffident new customers popped in they wouldn't see a hall empty but for girls sitting around. Thinking of a cad as someone who exploits a youthful demeanor and trades on illicit hungers without personally delivering adds an interesting texture.

I feel a fool for never having watched 5 FINGERS! I've always thought of EVE as a sort of apotheosis for HM and wished he'd turned away from the self-conscious chatter and high-culture affect after it. I love a lot of his earlier stuff, like 3 WIVES, but CONTESSA and PEOPLE WILL TALK stick in my throat. So I've purposely skipped some of his '50s work, including 5 FINGERS. Now I think I may have deprived myself. I guess this goes to show that you can't skip anything based on preconceptions. You just have to suck it up and watch every single movie ever made.

Vanwall said...

Actually, I was re-watching "The Aviator" recently, and the Hughes onscreen as played by DiCaprio was certainly a cad, among other perjoratives. I always thought a cad implied an intelligent manipulator and that's certainly the aspect I picked up there.

DavidEhrenstein said...

The trouble with Topaz is that it never makes its political points claer. Everything is leading to the Htoel set-piece, which is normal for Hitch. But there's no payoff for it elsewhere in the film because the plot and characters are so diffuse. In the Rohmer there's a very important split between the husband's -- dare I say it? -- caddish chickanery, and his completely innocent and charming wife. That she ends up dying in prison for crimes he committed is truly monstrous -- and way beyond Hitchcock's lives destoryed "on both sides."

Yojimboen said...

There's a lovely coda to the saga of Cicero (the real 5 Fingers spy Mason played):

All told German intelligence paid £300,000 cash to Cicero, which he kept carefully hidden throughout the war; after which he tried to bank it, only to discover it was counterfeit. He actually tried to sue the West German govenment. They reportedly smiled and showed him the door.

He finished his days as a used car salesman in Istanbul.

Incidentally, the name of the British Ambassador Cicero "served" was nothing less than: Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen.

No wonder we lost the empire.

Vanwall said...

Well, here I'm watching "Lured" from 1947 right now on TCM, and I'm damned if our M Sanders tells Lucille Ball during a phone conversation that "I am an unmitigated cad." - Could no one else have said it in such a delicious manner? I think not. There may be a special level above all others pretending the part of cad, and there sits George Sanders, serenely alone.

X. Trapnel said...

I think Vanwall has nailed it perfectly. there will always be about Sanders something unknowable that cannot be explained in terms of mannerism or behavior. One attribute of a great actor must surely be to remind us of the mystery of personality, what lies hidden and how it shows through the surface, piercing other surfaces.

Gerard Jones said...

I like those lines, VanWall and X. That's what I was fumbling toward when I was trying to describe GS's dark, Cassandra quality...the serene and unknowable...

Tonio Kruger said...

George Sanders, the original Simon Templar, a cad?

I would have thought he was best described as a saint...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Great catch vanwall. I'd forgotten about Luried -- a pre-Universal Sirk that was a remake of a very good Siodmak, Pieges

Vanwall said...

As an interesting coda to "Lured" - Sanders proclaims his caddishness, and amazingly, is NOT playing the cad! He's the stalwart romantic lead - against type, and very well done there. Sirk had an upside down-ness on this one; check it out for a wonderful George Zucco performance as a copper, also against type, and also mourn a bit for the Lucille Ball who was. She was perfect, and played a sharp cookie to perfection - I wish she had stuck to smart, elegant roles like this one.

The Siren said...

Lured is a marvelous movie and demonstrates Sanders' ability to be the leading man, but always with a little dose of something acidic.

Tonio, I am not generally big on B serials of the era but The Saint movies remain quite watchable to this day, and of course it's Sanders. I'm just a hopeless fan.

Kevin, welcome, and now I will be trying to remember that line myself for weeks!

rudyfan1926 said...

What an absolutely wonderful posting on one of my absolute favorite actors and fascinating people. Thank you!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I just watched "Match Point" the other day and Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives a great, sometimes devastating, 'lower-class climber cad' performance in it.

Gloria said...

I regret to say that unlike Sanders, Rhys Meyers has none of my sympathies: he recently declared that he wouldn't play an older Henry VIII as fat in the Tudors because he didn't want to loose his good looks... It seems that his audience of contemporary bobbysoxers is unable to cope with the idea that Henry Tudor wasn't the Sexy Hugo Boss model in T-Shirt, but the fat guy that Holbein portrayed.

Someone has to tell Mr. Rhys Meyers that, to a greater or lesser extent, he's bound to loose his good looks anyway as age advances, and that actors who just care for his good looks are eventually forgotten and replaced by the next matinée idol, while actors who also care about his acting, remain

Unknown said...

Perhaps he'll see the error of his ways some day. Time will tell whether or not he has any staying power. (Henry, however, wasn't ALWAYS fat.)

Gloria said...

Glenn, I bear in mind that the younger Tudor was a lean young man, but, apparently, the producers are afraid of portraying Old Henry as the more rotund fellow of his older years. But then I'll just let the producers and Rhys Meyers to put it in their own words (from The Times):
Producers say they have aged Rhys Meyers, 31, “quite a bit” in the third series, but the Dublin-born actor has made it clear himself he doesn’t intend to pig out to get into character. He has argued that actors “are not famous because they’re pug ugly”, and that there was no point in selling a historical drama “to a country like America” featuring “a big fat 250lb red-haired guy with a beard”

Apparently, Rhys meyers thinks poorly of American audiences, and incidentally, another option to have a charachter aging is to get an older actor to play the character in old age: this way he shouldn't have to "destroy his good looks" as the producers fear

Unknown said...

I agree with you entirely: the producers should have the guts to get rid of Rhys Meyers if they want someone more physically similar to the older Henry VIII for the third series. I've never agreed with the Method-influenced idiocy of having someone gain/lose weight for a role that's become so prevalent over the last 30-odd years. That's not acting. (Imagine George Sanders or James Mason doing something ridiculous like that.) Find someone appropriate for the role, use multiple actors - as you've so astutely suggested, Gloria - or take advantage of the digital trickery that's currently available. However, if he's not willing to do it in the case of "The Tudors", more power to him, but he should step aside and they should let him. Incidentally, I'm not sure how I became the defender of J.R.M.; I don't particularly care one way or the other. I simply thought he was good in "Match Point".

Thanks to whomever mentioned "All About Eve" and "The Set-Up" in their posts. I've obtained copies of both and plan to watch them, and be dazzled, in the next couple days.

Species1859 said...

Dear Self-Styled Siren,
I share your admiration for George Sanders. He was a gifted actor and a brillant man who excelled in anything he undertook. I am devastated by the sadness of his final years. It is my personal belief that if Benita had not died then he would have been motivated to live.
Thank you for your blogs about Sanders.
Judy Robinson

Species1859 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Species1859 said...

Dear Self-Styled Siren,
I share your admiration for George Sanders. He was a gifted actor and a brillant man who excelled in anything he undertook. I am devastated by the sadness of his final years. It is my personal belief that if Benita had not died then he would have been motivated to live.
Thank you for your blogs about Sanders.
Judy Robinson

Aikido said...

I find it interesting you never mentioned 'HELGA' in the last year of Georges life in your rounding up of his decent into depression, ill health and sadley his suicide?

The Siren said...

Hi Stoke, thanks for asking -
This old post of mine was written mostly off Aherne's book, which I'm pretty sure didn't mention Helga at all. I knew she existed when I wrote it, but hadn't read much beyond the bare facts and didn't have a lot to add. I am still not sure I'd say much about her. She was, near as I can tell, a most distasteful woman whom I'd kind of resent piggybacking into any tribute to Sanders since she already managed to do it in his life.

species1859 said...

Amen, Siren! There is a special place in hell for women like Helga.