Arts

Cult Movie: English actor George Sanders was old school style personified

'Professional cad' George Sanders definitely had style

George Sanders

EVEN by Hollywood's ruthless standards, the career arc of George Sanders was brutal. Adored for his ability to play the archetypal English cad like few others, he enjoyed huge success early in his on-screen life making memorable performances for director Alfred Hitchcock in the likes of Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent.

He would also grace all manner of cinematic offerings from The Picture of Dorian Grey to The Jungle Book, where he played up to his aloof bad boy image as the sly tiger Shere Khan.

His public standing peaked spectacularly with his Oscar-winning role as acid tongued theatre critic Addison De Witt in All About Eve (1950). His cut glass accent, deep sonorous voice and slightly detached aura of upper class apathy marked him out as the perfect movie villain in an era when style was everything. Style was something old George had in abundance.

Sadly, what he also had was a darker side to his personality that rendered his personal life a disaster. He married four times, including troubled partnerships with Zsa Zsa Gabor and her sister Magda, worked his way through seven psychiatrists in a career that spanned almost 100 films and developed an alcohol problem that set him apart even in the booze soaked environs of Hollywood.

For good reason, his autobiography in 1960 was titled Memoirs of a Professional Cad and he once famously declared that "I am not a sweet person. I am a disagreeable person. I am a hateful person".

Two decades on from his Academy Award accolade, he found himself firmly ensconced in B-movie purgatory, propping up films that were way below his talents and sleepwalking his final days away in an alcohol addled haze.

He'd turn up playing his part in 1960s TV from Batman to the Man From UNCLE, but while he always gave off an effortless sense of old school style, there was a new emptiness in the eyes and a noticeable sway in his swagger.

His final film appearance was as Shadwell, a black clad butler in Don Sharp's utterly insane Psychomania (1972), a film that involved frog worshipping, twee British bikers dying by suicide and returning from the dead to wreak havoc on the mundane streets of suburban Britain, and Beryl Reid.

Ignored or dismissed as B-movie crud at the time, it now has a considerable cult standing. I'd put it up there with the best zombie biker comedies of the era. Admittedly, that's a small pool, but it's an achievement all the same.

Sanders was less enamoured of how his professional life had spiralled, though. Shortly after filming wrapped, he headed to Spain where on April 25 1972, at the age of 65, he took a fatal overdose. His suicide note famously read: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck."

Harsh as they may seem, those words seem fitting for the man. Aloof and disappointed, he never quite fitted in.

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