Throughout much of his screen career, actor George Sanders was the very personification of cynicism, an elegantly dissolute figure whose distinct brand of anomie distinguished dozens of films during a career spanning nearly four decades. Born in St. Petersburg on July 3, 1906, Sanders and his family fled to the U.K. during the Revolution, and he was later educated at Brighton College. After first pursuing a career in the textile industry, Sanders briefly flirted with a South American tobacco venture; when it failed, he returned to Britain with seemingly no other options outside of a stage career. After a series of small theatrical roles, in 1934 he appeared in Noel Coward's Conversation Piece; the performance led to his film debut in 1936's Find the Lady, followed by a starring role in Strange Cargo.
After a series of other undistinguished projects, Sanders appeared briefly in William Cameron Menzies' influential science fiction epic Things to Come. In 1937, he traveled to Hollywood, where a small but effective role in Lloyd's of London resulted in a long-term contract with 20th Century Fox. A number of lead roles in projects followed, including Love Is News and The Lady Escapes, before Fox and RKO cut a deal to allow him to star as the Leslie Charteris adventurer the Saint in a pair of back-to-back 1939 features, The Saint Strikes Back and The Saint in London. The series remained Sanders' primary focus for the next two years, and in total he starred in five Saint pictures, culminating in 1941's The Saint at Palm Springs. Sandwiched in between were a variety of other projects, including performances in a pair of 1940 Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, Foreign Correspondent and the Best Picture Oscar-winner Rebecca.