Scoundrel, The / Miracle on 49th Street (1935)

“How I wish that I were as nice as you think I am.”

Synopsis:
Ruthless, womanizing publisher Anthony Mallare (Noel Coward) falls in love with a young poet (Julie Haydon), then abandons her for another woman. When he is killed in a plane accident, Mallare’s ghost is given one month to find someone who will shed a tear for him, and he rests all his hope on Haydon.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “mix of Broadway satire and outright fantasy” by writer/director team Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur “looks great” and “has exceptional dialogue”. Unlike Peary, however, I’m less impressed by the overall screenplay, which shifts from a “supersophisticated script” into a far-fetched fantasy with a “simple, tear-jerking ending”. I much prefer the first two-thirds of the film, in which Mallare — played with wonderful panache by Coward (he should have done more screen acting!) — is snide and bitchy; because he’s so upfront about his love-’em-and-leave-’em attitude towards relationships, it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for Haydon (though we like her as well). Once Mallare dies and starts wandering the Earth, the story’s delicious bite fades away, as does much of our enjoyment. Nonetheless, this hard-to-find film remains worth watching at least once, if you can locate a copy.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Noel Coward as Anthony Mallare
    Coward
  • Julie Haydon as Cora Moore
    Haydon
  • Lee Garmes’ cinematography
    Cinematography
  • Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s witty, clever dialogue: “She’s the only woman I’ve ever met who seems shallower and more superficial than I am. It’ll be a perfect match: two empty paper bags, belaboring each other.”

Must See?
Yes, simply for Coward’s excellent performance.

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One Response to “Scoundrel, The / Miracle on 49th Street (1935)”

  1. First viewing. Agreed; Coward ultimately makes this a must. Though he did appear on-screen often enough (considering how much time he spent writing for and performing in the theater), he did not appear in enough memorable films (or generally in roles as large as this one).

    One supposes what attracted him to the role was, indeed, the chance to say so many delicious lines – such as:

    “…I refuse to make money improving people’s minds. It’s a vulgar way to swindle the public – selling them the things they least need: virtue and dullness.”

    “My dear, women shoot you, or drag you into court if you refuse to lie to them and pretend that you still love them.”

    (when asked if he “adores” Proust) “I’m very polite to him.”

    (to Haydon’s “You don’t love me anymore?”) “That is an ungallant question that women always want answered gallantly.”

    “Tears always make me crueler than I really am.”

    That last statement is the bridge to the supernatural section. Although I can understand someone not appreciating the turn ‘Scoundrel’ takes, I wonder where else the film could have gone. Coward’s character cries for comeuppance. Speaking of which…most bitchy characters in film seem to be awful people. The exceptions are those like, say, Margo Channing – who can be extremely bitchy yet we still like and root for her. I wish I could call to mind more valiant bitches than viperous ones – even if both bring us terrific wordplay.

    I was less impressed with Haydon – I suspect part of the problem is that her character, as written, is somewhat forgettable. Still, it was interesting to see the actress who, ten years later on Broadway, would originate the role of Laura in ‘The Glass Menagerie’.

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