Death of a Scoundrel (1956)

“What shall it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and loseth his own soul?”

Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders) is a successful business man… but not exactly on the up-and-up. In business and in his personali life, he’s seen his fair share of scandal.

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(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

One morning, Sabourin is found dead in his home. The police arrive to investigate, questioning his assistant Bridget (Yvonne DeCarlo), who found the body.

Bridget opens up to the investigators, telling them Sabourin’s entire history: his arrival in the US as a refugee, his complicated relationship with his brother (Tom Conway), his business dealings, and his many romantic tribulations.

The interview uncovers a full roster of suspects. Sabourin was a man with a lot of enemies. But what, exactly, lead to his murder?

Death of a Scoundrel was written and directed by Charles Martin. It is inspired by the real life of Serge Rubinstein, an infamous draft-dodger involved in shady business dealings, who was murdered in 1955.

I watched this film after recording it from George Sanders day on TCM during last year’s Summer Under the Stars. For Sanders fans, it’s a real treat, because we get to see him share the screen with his brother Tom Conway (who, appropriately, plays his brother in the film)… and with his ex-wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor!

Family ties aside, it’s just a fun watch for Sanders in general. A scoundrel the character very well is, but the actor is full of his usual charisma, performing the role of a terrible but charming man as only George Sanders could.

The story is told in flashbacks through police interviews, with Sabourin’s body being found in his home at the beginning. Much of the film focuses on the life of the scoundrel, setting him up as shrewd and despicable, and setting up plenty of suspects for the eventual murder mystery.

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(Image via Movie Stills Db)

While the details of Sabourin’s stock-flipping operation may be dull to some, I found the film interesting throughout. It does feel a little long since it gives so much detail before getting back to the murder, but it held my attention quite easily.

Adding to the appeal, the film is wonderfully photographed by James Wong Howe and features a great score by Max Steiner.

Death of a Scoundrel is, as the title suggests, a little bit sleazy, a little bit mysterious, and very dramatic. It’s a story of intense greed, and the confident-but-misguided exploits of a fraudulent womanizer, anchored by another fantastic George Sanders performance.

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