Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Saint in London (1939)

The second film to feature George Sanders as Simon Templar, a sort of modern day Robin Hood, The Saint in London is a breezy, enjoyable, lightweight romp.

The plot sees Templar back in England, and getting a tip-off from a friend in British Intelligence about a foreign government official who seems to be caught in a plot by a gang to print millions in illegal bank notes. Things get complicated when the gang kidnap Templar's female sidekick - can he rescue the girl and the money before it is too late?

George Sanders is excellent, as he nearly always was, although the role of Simon Templar allows him to display genuine charm, without the sinister undertones found in some of his later roles.

The move by Templar back to his home country is a slight let down, as it does make you realise that part of the fun of the previous entry, The Saint Strikes Back was watching the fish-out-of-water effortlessly deal with the foreign culture as much as the crime. Back on his home turf of 1930s London, he presents less of a contrast. There is also little challenge to him from the story, which is not really a whodunit, but simply involves Templar finding people and sorting a situation out. Fortunately, the main villains are a good match for him, both in brains and wit, and can be funny without seeming laughable.

The criminal element of Templar’s character is played down somewhat, although the film does start with him pickpocketing a pickpocket, Duggan, an American man who instantly goes on to become his helper. His reasons for being in London seem a little vague, but I assume the studio thought that, with the Saint being back in England, they ought to include one American accent for the Stateside audiences, and the character does get some of the best one liners (“Tell me, what part of the states are you from? Sing Sing?” “Nah, San Quentin”)

Templar's other sidekick is Polly Parker, played by Sally Gray, who, as well as conveniently getting Templar out of a couple of scrapes, also gets some good dialogue, and Gray's quirky, daffy energy makes a good contrast with smooth, charming Sanders. Also worth a mention is Gordon McLeod as the henpecked Scotland Yard detective (and frequent Templar adversary) Claude Teal, who has a running gag of some very funny phone exchanges with his unseen wife.

If anything this film feels more like an episode of the Saint television series that Roger Moore would find fame with in the 60s, particularly with the short running time, and fast pace. Also, as on an established TV show, there is a lack of any back-story for the main character, assuming that we are familiar enough with him to dive straight in.

There is a link to the other character that Moore would enjoy huge worldwide success with, that of James Bond. Although there are differences in the characters and in the nature of the stories, there are also some elements that foreshadow Bond, certainly the cinema incarnation. Both characters are English, unflappable, charming, but will be forceful, even violent, when needed, and they do not always work within the law. They both start stories on their own, but end up paired with a female companion, who they end up having to rescue, and at one point, the Saint even introduces himself as “Templar. Simon Templar”.