George Sanders in the 1970s

Here are George Sanders’ best films of the 1970s:

THE KREMLIN LETTER (1970)

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Near the end of his screen career George Sanders had one of his most unique, scene-stealing roles. He played a character nicknamed Warlock in John Huston’s classic thriller THE KREMLIN LETTER. The story is about a group of old spies who come out of retirement to help a new agent retrieve a document from the Soviet Union. George’s character is a cultured homosexual who performs as a drag queen when he’s not working undercover as a spy. Huston had originally chosen someone else for the role, but 20th Century Fox wanted a “transatlantic” name. Filmed in four countries, the scenes set in Russia were actually shot in Finland. Though not a major hit in its day, THE KREMLIN LETTER has achieved a cult status and is on many critics’ lists of must-see espionage capers. It is also cited as among Huston’s best, as it combines elements from both THE MALTESE FALCON and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.

RENDEZVOUS WITH DISHONOR (1970)

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This was an Italian-German production, filmed in Italian. It was originally called APPUNTAMENTO COL DISONOR, or APPOINTMENT WITH DISHONOR. George is cast as a military character. He portrays a strict general who oversees a thoughtful army officer, played by Michael Craig. Both men are caught up in a civil war against the Turks on the island of Cyprus. The drama benefits from on-location photography and also features Klaus Kinski. Its director, Adriano Bolzoni, was known more for spaghetti westerns and crime dramas than for making war films.

DOOMWATCH (1972)

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DOOMWATCH was released just before George Sanders died. It was based on a hit British science fiction series that told ecologically-minded stories. Actor John Paul who plays Dr. Spencer Quist in the movie is billed under the bigger names, but he was the star of the TV program. George is cast as an admiral named Sir Geoffrey who gets drawn into a situation that spirals out of control when people eat contaminated fish and develop strange symptoms.

ENDLESS NIGHT (1972)

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In this film George Sanders presides over an all-star cast. The psychological murder mystery is based on one of Agatha Christie’s later novels (reportedly her personal favourite). George plays a crafty family lawyer who also happens to be the uncle of Hayley Mills’ character. The two stars had worked together a decade earlier for Walt Disney and almost made another picture in the interim. When ENDLESS NIGHT underperformed at the British box office, not only was Agatha Christie was greatly displeased, but the producers failed to secure distribution in North America. It was released in England in early October, five months after George Sanders’ death. There would be one more G.S. movie after this.

PSYCHOMANIA (1973)

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PSYCHOMANIA was released in Britain in early ’73. It didn’t reach American shores until a year later. Also titled THE DEATH WHEELERS, the last George Sanders movie is a cult classic. It’s about a group of bikers who come back from the dead after making a suicide pact. George plays Shadwell, butler to an eccentric psychic whose son is a biker dude. The son turns his soul over to the satanic Shadwell, then terrorizes the countryside with his hellacious gang. Action sequences, classic music and haunting imagery enliven the proceedings, as well as a surprise ending. George was top-billed in PSYCHOMANIA, and as one reviewer noted, it was ironic the actor would take his life a few months after making a film about suicide.

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George Sanders in the 1960s vol. 2

Some of George Sanders’ best films of the late 1960s:

THE AMOROUS ADVENTURES OF MOLL FLANDERS (1965)

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This Paramount production, which featured Kim Novak in the title role, was based on the 18th century novel by Daniel Defoe. It was updated to resemble TOM JONES. George portrays a wealthy banker who marries Moll, but soon loses his lusty bride when she is taken by a gang of thieves. Of course her true love is someone else, and George fights to get her back. However, there are several complications when Moll is run into prison and slated for execution. She manages to escape the chopping block, and George’s character suffers a fateful heart attack (too much excitement dear chap)– so she winds up with all the money and the man of her dreams.

THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM (1966)

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At this point of his career George Sanders was finding good roles on television. At the end of 1965 he had a memorable turn on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and in 1966, he would play Mr. Freeze in two episodes of Batman. In between TV appearances he continued to take jobs in motion pictures. THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM cast him as a director of British spies who are sent to West Germany to infiltrate a group of Neo-Nazis. It’s little more than a glorified cameo. While the main stars went to Berlin for on-location filming, George’s scenes– which take place in a gentleman’s club– were shot in London at Pinewood Studios. The cold war intrigue did fairly well with audiences and it kept George from getting too bored until his next gig.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)

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George is a villain (what else) in Walt Disney’s animated version of THE JUNGLE BOOK. Based on Kipling’s classic tale, the movie became an immediate hit with critics and audiences. It’s enjoyed continued success in re-releases, making it one of the studio’s highest grossing pictures of the 1960s. George provides the voice and inspires the haughty mannerisms of Shere Khan, a bengal tiger who intimidates the other animals. However, Shere Khan fears guns and fire, and as a result, he feels the only way to protect the jungle is to kill the human beings who arrive there, including a boy named Mowgli. While the actor handled all his own dialogue, the singing was dubbed by Bill Lee.

THE CANDY MAN (1969)

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In this film George played another villain. He was cast as a kidnapper targeting a wealthy woman whose young child he intended to steal. But before the kidnapping could occur, the child was abducted by someone else. In addition to the kidnapping racket, George’s character also was in charge of a drug ring. Yes, he was not playing a very likable guy. The assignment gave George the chance to travel, as it was an independent production filmed in Mexico City. Some of Mexico’s best character actors appeared in supporting roles.

George Sanders in the 1960s vol. 1

Here are some of George Sanders’ best films of the early 1960s:

THE LAST VOYAGE (1960)

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George was back on screen in this MGM crowd-pleasing disaster film. In support of leads Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone, he portrayed an arrogant captain who refuses to acknowledge a luxury liner bound for America is sinking. Convinced they can avert a real calamity, he ignores suggestions they evacuate the ship until it’s almost too late. The story, directed by Andrew L. Stone, was in part based on the real-life sinking of the S.S. Andrea Doria several years earlier. THE LAST VOYAGE garnered praise from critics, especially for its realistic violence. The actual ship used for the movie was destroyed on camera– there were no phony special effects.

FIVE GOLDEN HOURS (1961)

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It had been a while since George had appeared in a more humorous story, and he enjoyed the chance to clown around on a set with Ernie Kovacs. Their costar was lovely Cyd Charisse, cast as a black widow who with George’s help lures wealthy Kovacs into her web. But before that happens, the men spend time at an insane asylum where they are both feigning madness for one reason or the other. The plot did not make a whole lot of sense, but then it wasn’t supposed to. It was just supposed to make audiences forget their own troubles– which explains why the Columbia production was a hit and Kovacs called it one of his best.

IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962)

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IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS was the only live-action Disney movie George Sanders made, and he plays the villain. He’s cast as a dangerous gun runner responsible for the disappearance of a seafaring captain. The captain’s daughter (Hayley Mills) tries to find her father; along the way she receives the assistance of a kindly professor (Maurice Chevalier). George’s character does not appear until an hour after the movie starts–it is only 98 minutes long, which means his role is basically a glorified cameo. The action adventure yarn is based on a Jules Verne story. Hayley Mills was at the height of her popularity, and IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS was the year’s third-highest grossing flick in the U.S.

THE GOLDEN HEAD (1964)

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After making crime comedies with Terry-Thomas and Charlie Drake, George Sanders teamed up with Buddy Hackett for another one. This time he plays a crook trying to steal a priceless golden bust from a cathedral in Hungary. At the same time there’s a convention going on for investigators. So while police and detectives are occupied at the convention, it is up to their children to nab the crooks and recover the stolen object. THE GOLDEN HEAD was filmed on location in Hungary and had two directors. Originally Hayley Mills was announced to play one of the kids; if she hadn’t left the project, it would have been a reunion for her and George, who both worked together on Disney’s IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS.

 

George Sanders in the 1950s vol. 2

Some of George Sanders’ best films of the late 1950s:

THE SCARLET COAT (1955)

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This patriotic drama for MGM was directed by John Sturges. George Sanders portrayed a loyalist named Dr. John Odell who tried to thwart an uprising against the British in the late 1700s. Odell was a physician and a poet. His poems were well-known and written in support of the crown. Costars in this lavish production included Cornel Wilde, Michael Wilding and Anne Francis. On screen these three were involved in a love triangle, with Anne Francis warning her suitors about George’s plans to set a trap for them. Of course, the Americans would manage to gain their independence from England, and while forming their new government, George’s character was driven north. He was soon appointed to oversee a Canadian post as recognition for his loyalty to the mother country.

WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956)

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The next motion picture in which George Sanders appeared was Fritz Lang’s hard-hitting crime drama WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS. It was released by RKO and used recycled props from CITIZEN KANE, which had been produced fifteen years earlier. George was third-billed and part of a very impressive cast. The ensemble included like Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, Dana Andrews and Rhonda Fleming. In the story George portrayed a wire service chief competing with a newspaper editor as developments unfolded in the reporting of a serial killer’s latest crimes. It was based on a real-life case that had happened a decade earlier in New York, known as the Lipstick Killer.

THE WHOLE TRUTH (1958)

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There were four things George Sanders liked doing– he liked going to the Riviera, he liked marrying the Gabor sisters, he liked working with friends, and he liked being a cad. In this film, he gets to do three out of four. He plays a cold-blooded publisher determined to set up pal Stewart Granger for murder. This is because Granger, who is already married to sweet Donna Reed, has been having an affair with Sanders’ sexy Italian wife. In a terrible rage, George makes ’till death do us part’ a chilling reality; then he begins to gaslight Granger. Aiding him indirectly is Reed’s belief that her own husband may have done it. The film was a British production from Columbia, and George gives a performance that is right up there with Addison DeWitt.

FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958)

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This version of the popular Jules Vernes novel was produced by RKO, and it was one of the studio’s very last films. In fact, during production RKO went out of operation– meaning the budget was abruptly cut; and the ending had to be changed. Instead of them arriving on the moon, the finale takes place before they get there; and the special effects, needless to say, were severely compromised due to a sudden lack of funds. Director Byron Haskins managed to finish the picture, and it was sold off to Warner Brothers for distribution. George is second-billed, playing a religious zealot who feels Joseph Cotten’s rocket heading to the moon goes against God’s will. As he attempts to thwart the mission, his daughter (Debra Paget) is caught in the showdown.

SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959)

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The actor had a meaty role in this biblical epic based on events depicted in the tenth chapter of First Kings and the ninth chapter of Second Chronicles. He played Adonijah, one of King David’s sons, who attempts to usurp the throne. Of course, this puts him into direct conflict with Solomon (Yul Brynner), the intended heir. This motion picture was filmed in Europe, and it originally starred George’s old Fox cast mate Tyrone Power. But Power took ill and collapsed on the set. He died soon after from a heart attack, and Brynner stepped in as his replacement. Despite the real-life drama that had occurred, producers managed to get the picture back on track and it went on to become one of the year’s biggest hits.

George Sanders in the 1950s vol. 1

Here are some of George Sanders’ best films of the early 1950s:

ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)

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As the next decade got underway, George Sanders’ movie career hit its peak. He was cast by screenwriter-director Joseph Mankiewicz in ALL ABOUT EVE, a story about backstage backstabbing that was filmed on location in San Francisco. Persnickety theater critic Addison DeWitt would become a signature role and earn George an Oscar as best supporting actor. The part was originally intended for Jose Ferrer, and Claude Rains was also considered, but one cannot really imagine any of them playing it. Later, when asked about the experience of making ALL ABOUT EVE, George called the production his favorite– claiming it was witty, sophisticated and brilliant.

I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951)

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This Fox drama starred Susan Hayward and Dan Dailey. It was essentially a vehicle for Hayward, but George (fresh off his Oscar win for ALL ABOUT EVE) had a juicy supporting part. He played J.F. Noble, the wealthy owner of a chain of department stores. Noble knew what women would buy in the way of fashions, and he was considered very influential. He also used his power to convince a smart fashion designer (Hayward) to come work for him. Based on Jerome Weidman’s novel, the story looked at the garment trade of New York City and how the most ambitious people made it to the top.

THE LIGHT TOUCH (1951)

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George Sanders was loaned by 20th Century Fox to MGM for two films during this time. One was released in 1951 and the other hit screens the following year. The ’51 release was a Richard Brooks crime drama called THE LIGHT TOUCH, which allowed him to work with his friend Stewart Granger. Granger had just recently emigrated to Hollywood with wife Jean Simmons. In this picture, George was third-billed; he played a suave art thief in cahoots with Granger. After being double-crossed by Granger and an attractive girl (Pier Angeli), he was forced to resort to desperate measures to recover a valuable painting. Of course, the police would have other ideas.

CALL ME MADAM (1953)

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After nearly two years on Broadway and 644 performances, Irving Berlin’s crowd-pleaser finally made it to the screen. Ethel Merman recreated her lead role as an ambassador sent to a foreign country, and she was joined by fellow musical stars Donald O’Connor and Vera-Ellen. In the fourth-billed role was George Sanders, not usually known for his work in this genre; though he had been in BITTER SWEET with Jeanette MacDonald thirteen years earlier. He plays General Cosmo Constantine, a part Paul Lukas did on stage. George has two numbers in the film– he sings ‘The Best Thing for You Would Be Me’ with his leading lady; then he joins the rest of the cast for a rousing finale. He was not dubbed, and critics lauded his performance.

WITNESS TO MURDER (1954)

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The actor was back to his villainous ways in this suspense thriller. Audiences were glad, because nobody could play a bad guy like George Sanders. Poor Barbara Stanwyck– she was seriously out of her league, trying to convince the police she had witnessed a murder and that George had done it. Dear girl was no match for him, at least not at first. She wound up going to a mental institution. When she got out, she was still determined to prove she hadn’t imagined anything. She eventually succeeded, but it wasn’t because she deserved to. George was simply bored playing cat-and-mouse with such a terribly hysterical amateur. He let her win, so he could get on to the next movie.

MOONFLEET (1955)

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The next film George Sanders made was an MGM adventure tale set in the 18th century. The project reunited him on screen with Stewart Granger and it gave him another chance to work with director Fritz Lang. He had previously been directed by Lang in 1941’s wartime thriller MAN HUNT. The story for MOONFLEET involved a young orphan (Jon Whiteley) mixed up with a group of smugglers in Dorset County, England. While not a huge hit in its day, the film has earned the praise of critics in the years since its release. Editors of the French film periodical Cahiers du Cinema regard it as an essential costume drama and one of Lang’s very best.

Essential: LADIES IN LAVENDER (2004)

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Based on a story by William J. Locke, LADIES IN LAVENDER is the only film directed by Charles Dance. (Dance is primarily a stage and screen actor with an impressive array of credits.) When he read Locke’s drama about two sisters living in Cornwall, he envisioned Judi Dench and Maggie Smith playing these unique characters on screen. The actresses had costarred in previous motion pictures and stage productions, and they work beautifully with one another.

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The story is simple yet effective. Dench is Ursula, a woman who’s never given into passion; and Smith is her older domineering sister Janet who seems quite content to remain in charge of both their lives. They’ve been together since their parents died. Occasionally they travel into the local village, but they find greater pleasure along the beach. They keep to themselves, and they enjoy canning and knitting when the weather doesn’t allow them outside.

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One night a huge storm hits, and a young foreigner (Daniel Bruhl) is washed up on the shore. Ursula and Janet discover him the next morning, and he’s barely alive. They take him inside and nurse him back to health. As he convalesces over the course of the next few weeks they try to teach him English. At first they think he’s German, because they recognize some of the German words Andrea uses as he speaks. But eventually they learn Andrea is Polish. Also, that he is a musician.

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During the next portion of the story they allow him to use the piano downstairs, but he is more skilled with the violin. In his native country he had been training to become a concert violinist. The year is 1936, so though it is not fully explained, it can be assumed he found his way to England to escape the Nazis. After Andrea has fully recovered he spends more time outdoors. Ursula is becoming infatuated with him, something he may not even realize. Janet sees what’s going on and hopes Ursula will return to her senses.

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There are a few good subplots. One of them involves a doctor visiting the cottage to treat Andrea. He becomes jealous of the ladies’ Polish house guest, when Andrea charms a landscape painter the doctor fancies for himself. In order to thwart their relationship, the doctor lies to the police and says Andrea is a German spy. Of course there’s an investigation, but the police decide like the sisters have, that the young man is no dangerous secret agent.

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Eventually Andrea’s time with the sisters comes to an end. He Andrea gets the opportunity to go to London and takes it. There he will continue his musical studies and be able to perform in a large concert hall. The film doesn’t end when he leaves, because we see the women try to readjust to their lives as it was before his momentous arrival. Of course, a lot has changed. In the last sequence they travel to London to hear Andrea play at a special engagement. It’s clear greater things are in store for him that do not include the two sisters. The film ends on a bittersweet note, where they realize Andrea is now a stranger to them. We cut to a shot of them walking along the beach in Cornwall. Once again they enjoy their life with one another.

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LADIES IN LAVENDER can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

George Sanders in the 1940s vol. 2

Some of George Sanders’ best films of the late 1940s:

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945)

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In 1945 George Sanders appeared in three movies with a gothic Victorian theme. In addition to HANGOVER SQUARE and THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, he made THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY. This time, he played an eligible bachelor who met and fell in love with charming Ella Raines. They were to be married, but George’s controlling sister (Geraldine Fitzgerald) stood in their way. In an attempt to poison Raines, she accidentally poisons and kills an older sister (Moyna Macgill). Suspicion falls on George. There’s a great deal of suspense, and the acting is uniformly superb.

THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946)

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A United Artists release directed by Edgar Ulmer. It starred Hedy Lamarr, now a freelancer after leaving MGM. THE STRANGE WOMAN was something Hedy produced personally. It had all the artistic flourishes we might expect in an Ulmer film, and as a period piece, it was handsomely filmed. The cast includes Louis Hayward, Gene Lockhart and Hillary Brooke; with everyone doing their usual good job. On screen George portrayed a lumber tycoon who caught Hedy’s eye. Off screen it was rumored the two stars had an affair.

THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1947)

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In THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI, he was back to villainy as a shallow man desperately wanting to move up in society. Bel Ami accomplishes his goals but at a terrible cost; and systematically he destroys most of the women in his life. One of the victims is played by Angela Lansbury The other ones are portrayed by Ann Dvorak and Marie Wilson. It’s an absorbing remake based on an earlier German drama, and George Sanders gives one of his finest performances– a performance that bolsters his reputation as Hollywood’s premiere cad.

THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947)

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Back at Fox he was given a supporting role in a fantasy drama with Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. This time he’s Miles Fairley, an author of children’s books who meets Lucy Muir one day outside their publisher’s office. They become friends, and he wastes no time pursuing the woman romantically. He has no idea she’s attached to the spirit of a crusty sea captain; and she has no idea he’s married. Although they spend much time together in town and out at the seaside cottage where she lives, their relationship is doomed. As Harrison’s flesh-and-blood rival, poor George just doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance winning Tierney’s heart.

THE FAN (1949)

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After a year away from the screen George returned in a Fox remake based on one of Oscar Wilde’s hit plays. This time he’s cast as Lord Darlington, a role that had been done by Ronald Colman in Ernst Lubitsch’s silent version during the mid-20s. In the story George courts a married woman (Jeanne Crain) who wants to get even with a husband that humiliated her. Richard Greene is the husband and Madeleine Carroll, in her last film, plays the other woman in this quadrangle. Otto Preminger produced and directed THE FAN. George had previously worked with him on FOREVER AMBER.

SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949)

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Another motion picture he did in 1949. It was probably the biggest one of his entire career– Cecil DeMille’s biblical epic about a strongman (Victor Mature) and a scorned woman (Hedy Lamarr). The Technicolor extravaganza was produced by Paramount and was the top grossing picture of the year. It was also one of the greatest moneymakers of the decade. George plays the Saran of Gaza, a Philistine leader who has enslaved the Israelites. He is threatened by Samson’s power and works with Delilah to betray him. It’s a villainous role that only George Sanders could play.