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Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, 1935
USA | Format: 35mm | 76 minutes
“I’m not keen on Hollywood... I’d rather have a nice cup of cocoa, really,” Coward wrote in a 1931 letter to his mother. Ironically, his only major American film as an actor was shot not in Hollywood but in New York’s Astoria Studios. It is the story of a selfish publisher, Tony Mallare (Coward), who dies in a plane crash and is subsequently condemned to return to earth for one month in an effort to find someone who truly loved him and will mourn his death. That person was unlikely to be writer-director Ben Hecht, who had emasculated Coward’s Design for Living for the 1933 film version. With The Scoundrel, Coward had his revenge. Hecht and collaborator Charles MacArthur spent most of their time on the set playing backgammon, leaving Coward to rewrite his own dialogue. The result is something distinctly un-Hechtian. The American League of Decency gave the film its ultimate accolade by banning it. Coward was paid $5000 and a share of the profits—except that there weren’t any by the time the studio accountants had finished with it. Nonetheless, over the years The Scoundrel has acquired cult status.