Great Lost Movies of the Thirties (An Occasional Series)

on September 17, 2008 by Steve Simels
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I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to find that the 1935 ghost noir The Scoundrel isn't on home video.

Seriously, this is one of the strangest films you've probably never seen. The plot:

Noel Coward , in his feature debut, plays a magazine magnate who wants to ruin the life of every person he comes in contact with and whose every utterance is a faux Wildean epigram delivered in cold lifeless tones. A creep for all seasons, he is at least somewhat self-aware, remarking to his staff at one point that he has found the perfect woman - one as empty as he is: "I must marry her......it would be like two empty paper bags belaboring one another". He finally manages to destroy an aspiring young author (Stanley Ridges) and his girlfriend (Julie Haydon); the latter curses him with the hope that he will die friendless. Surprise surpise: Shortly afterwards he 's killed in a plane crash. Haydon, hearing of the tragedy, remarks, "I've just found out there IS a God!". God has a sense of humor, however; instead of sending the SOB straight to hell, he redeposits him on Earth, where he is doomed to wander until he can find one person who will mourn for him . (Those around him are astonished to see him apparently alive and back at work, but gradually become aware that something supernatural is afoot when he manages to get one of his magazines out ahead of its normal pub date.)

Seriously, leaving aside the casting of Coward as a lady killer(!), it's nothing short of remarkable that this epicene moralistic melodrama was written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the corrosively cynical pair best known for the often-filmed The Front Page. Even weirder, the script is essentially The S.I. Newhouse Story some thirty years before its time. (But I kid contemporary publishing magnates!)

In any case, the film seems to have disappeared down the collective memory hole; there isn't even a YouTube clip, alas. Memo to Paramount: If you're not too busy putting new CGI spaceships in old episodes of the original Star Trek, it might be nice to do a DVD of this.

Thank you.

 

Tags: The Scoundrel, Noel Coward, Stanley Ridges, Julie Haydon, The Front Page, The S.I. Newhouse Story
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