Skip to main content

I'm very sorry, but under certain conditions I can't resist the temptation to be a cad.


George Sanders is The Saint
The Saint Strikes Back
(1939)

A convoluted plot for RKO's second outing for Simon Templar, and quite stagey with it (news bulletins announce the Saint's involvement in a New Year's Eve party shooting, so presumably the world knows who he is). Templar takes on the case of a woman, Valerie, whose policeman father was framed. She has resorted to stirring up trouble for the police department as a result by establishing a criminal gang. Yeah, it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, but Wendy Barrie makes a fairly convincing tough-as-nails dame. Despite the difficulty in following who's doing what and why, the true mastermind behind the frame-up is quite obvious.

What makes this fun despite its narrative failings is George Sanders. He's phenomenal. Smooth, debonair, witty; he's the smartest man in the room and never misses an opportunity to condescend. This was Sanders' first outing as the Saint (Louis Heyward played him in the previous film) and apparently he isn't very Saint-like. What matters is that he's very Sanders-like. He forces a kiss on Barrie at one point with the line, "I'm very sorry, but under certain conditions I can't resist the temptation to be a cad". Later he impresses Oirish tief Zipper Dyson enough to persuade him to return to his gang under false pretences with a black eye - as proof of the trouble he's been in. Zipper protests that he doesn't have a black eye. "Oh, I can rectify that. Just look up there" replies Sanders before biffing him one. I wondered why he had taken to calling his black butler "Algernon", until it becomes evident that he just likes making names up for people:

Templar: He doesn't really want you to call the police, Strathmerton.
Brown: My name is Brown, sir.
Templar: I prefer Strathmerton.

Jonathan Hale, as long-suffering associate Inspector Henry Fernack, is given the best sequence, though. Templar runs rings around Henry throughout, disembarking a plane only to reboard it (leaving the pursuing Henry wandering the airport in his dressing gown). Henry, intent on delivering Templar and Valerie to the police, is distracted by the offer of hearty seafood meal (he is on a strict diet). Soon after consuming said feast he falls ill, giving way to hallucinogenic delirium as lobsters and crabs dance before his eyes (one even drives past in a cart).

***1/2


The Saint in London
 (1940)

Sanders' second outing as Templar is better structured and paced than its predecessor, but still manages to make the villains' plot seem almost incidental to the main fact of their villainy. The scheme involves a ring counterfeiting foreign currency and the attempt on the life of a national of that country.

This was Leslie Charteris' favourite of the RKO pictures (a falling out with the studio led to Sanders' becoming identikit sleuth the Falcon for four more films, before he moved on), and while it is very witty, it doesn't quite have the edge to the dialogue that Strikes Back gave Templar. John Paddy Carstairs' film really shines with the supporting cast, though.

David Burns steals every scene as Dugan, pickpocket turned Templar's valet (he lifts the Saint's watch in the first scene, Templar doing likewise with Dugan’s timepiece, and Templar orders him dinner at a high class hotel in return). Fast-talking-back to villains and authorities alike, his best exchanges are with long-suffering Inspector Teal (Gordon McLeod). He takes offence when Teal suggests he spent time in Sing Sing ("San Quentin!"). Teal further doubts his cooking skills and is told that Dugan cooked for 1200 men, three times a day for five years.

Teal: How long will it take for Mr Templar to finish his bath.
Dugan: I don't know how badly he needs it so I can't tell ya!

Sally Gray plays plucky helper Penny Parker and is every bit Sanders' screen equal. Gray would reappear in The Saint's Vacation and also in Alastair Sim classic Green for Danger.

Penny: I wish I could kick myself.
Templar: Perhaps I can oblige later.

There's a running gag of “I'm Alonso Moseley!" proportions as Templar continually misidentifies people, including himself, as Teal. The Inspector also has a nice little quirk in reassuring phone calls to his wife. Henry Oscar makes for a decent villain (Bruno Lang) but, as the bad guys are revealed early on, there's little in the way of mystery for Templar to solve. It's more of a confrontation/capture/escape affair.

 ***1/2

The Saint's Double Trouble
(1940)

Fairly daft outing built around giving George Sanders dual roles. His Philadelphia hood isn't particularly distinct (couldn't he do an American accent?) although technically his sharing scenes with himself is quite effective. Said hood is leaving cards identifying the Saint as doing dastardly deeds (except no one ever sees him doing them, so he might as well be anyone leaving cards). There's a couple of reasonable mistaken identity scenes, but the final ruse by Templar to expose the villain (as usual the police are quick to suspect the worst of him) is highly unlikely. Jonathan Hale returns as Henry, who just happens to be taking a holiday in Philly (visiting the police department there, no less). Additional support from an under-used Bela Lugosi and Helene Whitney as an ex. The tale starts promisingly with the delivery of an Egyptian mummy to her father, but that's as intriguing as it gets. Also on display; the Saint's athletic ability, particularly when it comes to hitching rides by leaping onto car bumpers.

 ***1/2

The Saint Takes Over
(1940)

George Sanders' penultimate outing as Simon Templar. Jonathan Hale's back as Inspector Henry Fernack and this time Henry's lost his badge, framed by mobsters. Much of the enjoyment comes form the turn around in the usual roles; usually Templar is under suspicion and Henry threatens to arrest him but knows he's innocent really. Now it's Templar mocking Henry for possible guilt every time a mobster's fresh corpse is found. This is accentuated by the actual suspicion of Templar's newly adopted "pet", incompetent milk-drinking hood Clarence "Pearly" Gates (Paul Guilfoyle). Pearly returns in the last Sanders picture. Wendy Barrie, who also played the broad in The Saint Strikes Back, is the aggrieved revenger seeker bumping off those responsible for the death of her brother. A downbeat ending, not quite in On Her Majesty's Secret Service territory, but it leaves Templar (who has been smart-talking his way through these under-70 minute long adventures with minimum fuss) in reflective mode.

 ***

The Saint in Palm Springs
(1941)

Passable but as lightweight as the title implies. The Saint is volunteered by Henry to deliver some valuable stamps to, surprise-surprise, Wendy Barrie. When they are lifted he sets about finding the thief/thieves, aided by Pearly Gates. Gates is a likeable doofus, on parole and acting as house detective at the hotel where the theft took place. There's an amusing sequence where Gates is persuaded to return to his pickpocketing ways in order to solve the case.

If the guilty parties come as a surprise it's probably because the characterisation is so thin. Templar's at his most Roger Moore Bond in this film, caught eyeing up models in the pages of a magazine and provoking jealousy at the hotel by turning on the charm with two different ladies.

**1/2


None of the Sanders Saint films are a dead loss, but neither are any essential. They're amiable enough to pass the time, however, as Sanders is never less than charismatic and slightly louche.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…