Death of a Scoundrel (1956)
Dirty, Rotten Sabourin
On the 27th January 1955 Russian businessman Serge Rubinstein was found murdered in the bedroom of his Manhattan mansion, his murder was never solved but during his career and his desire to be rich he made many enemies from swindled businessmen to countless girlfriends which he used. The following year "Death of a Scoundrel" was released which told the story of Clementi Sabourin who swindled his way to the top after arriving in America with next to nothing to only end up murdered, discovered in his Manhattan mansion having made many enemies. It is obvious that "Death of a Scoundrel" was inspired by the story of Serge Rubinstein, not so much the mystery of his murder but his path to riches as he swindled and used people. The trouble is that it feels like "Death of a Scoundrel" was a rushed affair with a script which needed more work and more thought put in to the casting although despite these very noticeable issues it is still entertaining to watch.
After troubled businessman Clementi Sabourin (George Sanders - Moonfleet) is found murdered in his Manhattan mansion his secretary Bridget Kelly (Yvonne De Carlo - Tomahawk) tells the police the story of Clementi and the countless people he had used and manipulated along the way. It all started when having been a prisoner of war he returned home to see his brother only to discover that his brother had betrayed him by marrying his girl. It lead to a path of bitterness and a desire for wealth as Clementi manufactured his path to America and found a way to make his first fortune on the stock exchange with a cancelled cheque. The desire for money grew as did his power as he wined and dined various women, using them to get what he wanted and making sure anyone who didn't do what he wanted suffered. That is until one day it all started to go wrong when a woman from his past returns.
The simple truth is that "Death of a Scoundrel" feels like it was rushed out to capitalize on the prolonged interest in Serge Rubinstein's murder. From start to finish the script never feels like it has been fully developed, over simplifying things so that it can get to the next moment of drama such as an early scene where Clementi ends up with a bullet in him, he walks into a doctors and the next thing we know he is recovering at home and about to buy stocks. It is the same with the characters because we get introduced to numerous characters but each one not only features a forced introduction so we get all we need to know about them in one hit but then their characters never develop any further. And as for realism well again finance and dodgy business is dumbed right down to the point that it is almost comical in being so simplified.
Because "Death of a Scoundrel" feels rushed it also feels like there were some poor casting choices. Now George Sanders was a great actor but with his very British accent his casting as the Czechoslovakian Clementi Sabourin feels very wrong even if the accent is explained by saying that Clementi had attended Oxford. But it is not just the accent which is wrong because Sanders just seems to be going through the motions, unsure of how to play the manipulative and corrupt Clementi. It is a shame because whilst "Death of a Scoundrel" features some enjoyable performances from Zsa Zsa Gabor, Yvonne De Carlo, Nancy Gates and Coleen Gray it is a movie which rests on the central character being believable.
Now that may sound like I didn't like "Death of a Scoundrel" but in truth I did and it comes from the basic concept of rags to riches. The story of Clementi's manipulative ways and swindling is entertaining and it is such a shame that more thought wasn't given to the script to make it more believable. In a way I would even say that "Death of a Scoundrel" is the sort of movie which could be remade and turned into a great rags to riches story full of dodgy deals and mistreated women.
What this all boils down to is that "Death of a Scoundrel" ends up just an okay movie thanks to the basic idea but suffers because it feels rushed and unfinished.
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