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THE SCOUNDREL

USA, 1935 (MIFF 1991, Retrospectives)

Director: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur

In 1934 playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Ben Hecht persuaded Paramount to back him and his frequent collaborator, Charles MacArthur, in their own production company, which they set up in Paramount's shuttered East Coast studio in Astoria, Long Island. Their professed goal was to make films for the "intelligent minority" who usually avoided Hollywood movies, and they hung in their offices a banner that read "Better than Metro isn't good enough!" Their cameraman was the great Lee Garmes, whom Hecht credited with knowing "the moods of space, the value of planes, the dynamics of symmetry as well as any painting master." Hecht and MacArthur's experiment as filmmakers was a qualified artistic success, at best (and an unqualified financial disaster); but each of the four films they wrote and directed together between 1934 and 1936 - Crime Without Passion, Once in a Blue Moon, The Scoundrel, and Soak the Rich is definitely trying for more than the usual Hollywood "product." The Scoundrel was probably inspired by the legendary amorous career of Hecht's New York publisher, Horace Liveright (who was by all accounts a generous and loveable man, however, unlike his film counterpart, swinish Anthony Maltare). Hecht and MacArthur wrote a script in which Mallare (played to acid perfection by Noel Coward) is killed in a plane crash off Bermuda but denied permission to enter heaven unless he can find one person out of the thousands he has known and betrayed to weep at his passing. There is a strong flavour of New York in the 20's and the presence of an authentic Round Table veteran, Alexander Woolcott, in the supporting cast. Hecht shared with MacArthur his second (and last) Oscar for The Scoundrel, which they won for Best Original Story. - Charles Hopkins, UCLA Archive

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