When the Depression obliged him to abandon tobacco farming, Sanders took up acting and made a few films in England; Find the Lady (36, Ronald Gillette); Strange Cargo (36, Lawrence Huntington); The Man Who Could Work Miracles (36, Lothar Mendes); and Dishonour Bright (36, Tom Walls). But it was clear that his hollow loftiness was worthy of bolder nonsence: he went to Hollywood to play in Lloyds of London (36, Henry King) and stayed. Fox put him under contract and, when the war came, employed his polish as Hun, spy, or Gestapo in several films. In addition, they loaned him to the more perceptive RKO where he was the lounge-suit hero in two B-picture series, featuring the Saint and then the Falcon. These are in advance of lan Fleming's James Bond, the depraved gentleman supposedly acting in the name of honor and probity, but visibly unconvinced by such causes: The Saint Strikes Back (39, John Farrow); The Saint in London (39, John Paddy Carstairs); The Cay Falcon (41, Irving Reis); A Date with the Falcon (41, Reis); and The Falcon Takes Over (42, Reis).
Apart from those enjoyable excursions, Sanders was a hard-worked support: Slave Ship (37, Tay Garnett); Love Is News (37, Garnett); Lancer Spy (37, Gregory Ratoff, another old St. Petersburg ham); Four Men and a Prayer (38, John Ford); Confessions of a Nazi Spy (39, Anatole Litvak); grilling Anna Neagle in Nurse Edith Cavell (39, Herbert Wilcox); Green Hell (40, James Whale); Bitter Sweet (40, W. S. Van Dyke); Son of Monte Cristo (40, Rowland V. Lee); roguishly stepping through the window in Rebecca (40, Alfred Hitchcock); The House of the Seven Gables (40, Joe May); Foreign Correspondent (40, Hitchcock); Man Hunt (41, Fritz Lang); Rage in Heaven (41, Van Dyke); Sundown (41, Henry Hathaway); Son of Fury (42, John Cromwell); Her Cardboard Lover (42, George Cukor); the painter in The Moon and Sixpence (42, Albert Lewin); They Came to Blow Up America (43, Edward Ludwig); This Land Is Mine (43, Jean Renoir); The Lodger (44, John Brahm); harking back to Russia in the Chekhov-based Summer Storm (44, Douglas Sirk); brilliant in Uncle Harry (45, Robert Siodmak); The Picture of Dorian Gray (45, Lewin); Hangover Square (45, Brahm); A Scandal in Paris (46, Sirk); The Strange Woman (46, Edgar G. Ulmer); The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (47, Mankiewicz); as Charles II in Forever Amber (47, Otto Preminger); The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (47, Lewin, and his third film for that idiosyncrat); Lured (47, Sirk); Lady Windermere's Fan (49, Preminger); and Samson and Delilah (49, Cecil B. De Mille).
How could any actually uninterested actor have appeared in so many fetching films? Plainly, languor was a disguise for stamina. But once Hollywood had given him a supporting actor Oscar for All About Eve, it set about discouraging him. He was asked to dress up in armor and ride horses, engage in sword fights and other arduous contests. He went into a decline that was remarkable for lasting so long without reaching extinction: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (51, Michael Gordon); The Light Touch (51, Richard Brooks); Ivanhoe (52, Richard Thorpe); Assignment Paris (52, Robert Parrish); Call Me Madam (53, Walter Lang); Witness to Murder (54, Roy Rowland); King Richard and the Crusaders (54, David Butler); The Scarlet Coat (55, John Sturges); and The Kings Thief (55, Robert Z. Leonard).
But the next ten years were far worse; good dialogue became scarcer, and Sanders was forced to roam Europe for cheap movies. Only a diligent biographer would recall such stray mercies as Moonfleet (55, Lang); While the City Sleeps (56, Lang); The Seventh Sin (57, Ronald Neame and Vincente Minnelli); Solomon and Sheba (59, King Vidor); That Kind of Woman (59, Sidney Lumet); Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons (60, W. Lee Wilder); A Shot in the Dark (64, Blake Edwards); and although Sanders derived no pleasure from it, Viaggio in Italia (53, Roberto Rossellini). In fact, Rossellini boldly cut through irritability to the shy observer of life who hid behind Sanders's barbs. The actor was visibly unsettled by this and by the heat and spontaneity of Naples, and thus he more profoundly resembled an inhibited English snob at a loss with his marriage.
In his last years he worked on films of such dreadfulness that one longs to know his comments on them. He was in drag in The Kremlin Letter (70, John Huston) and the voice of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (67, Wolfgang Reitherman). He was found dead in a Barcelona hotel room, having left a plangent suicide note that complained of boredom. It is Nabokov pinned helpless in Locustland.
There was also the undergrowth of his marriages - four in all, yet since two of the wives were Gabor sisters (Zsa Zsa and Magda), the number must have seemed greater. The movie business feels so flat nowadays without figures like George Sanders.
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