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Leslie Chateris' beatific character of Simon Templar has had many incarnations since the he first appeared in print back in 1928; though many will most associate Roger Moore as the man with the halo above his head, George Sanders will for many be regarded as the definitive suave and sophisticated Saint, and it is Sanders' first portrayal of Simon Templar that we are examining here...

Ah, now THAT'S what you call a title card!
The Saint Strikes Back was released in 1939, when America was still very much out of the Second World War and the pressing concerns of the country centred upon organised crime. Leslie Charteris' novel, Angels of Doom formed the basis for the screenplay, which was adapted by John Twist, sees Simon Templar (George Sanders) seeking out Valerie Travers (Wendy Barrie) the daughter of a disgraced police officer, who has been making a name for herself in the San Francisco underworld - he unwittingly helped Travers get away after an attempted assassination in a nightclub, but now The Saint is on her trail, and he does not intend to let his quarry go...

The Saint films were produced by RKO Pictures and as such, they had better production values than similar features from other studios - the larger budgets can be seen in sequences such as the one set at a rural airport, where action takes place on the runway in front of a plane - if this were filmed by one of the Poverty Row studios - such as Republic or Monogram - then this would have been shot in the studio (in front of a backdrop), or filmed outside using very tight close-ups to keep a non-existent plane out of shot. The opening scene, which consists of a constantly moving camera (almost certainly on a crane) is wonderfully executed, giving the audience a flavour of a New Year's Eve party in full swing, establishing the characters and the geography of the nightclub, and letting the audience in what is about to happen. There is a wonderful noir-ish feel to the film, which suits the material well, giving you an authentic period feel that has been aped so many times in subsequent thrillers.

One thing is clear from the outset - George Sanders IS Simon Templar; most people are familiar with Roger Moore as The Saint, playing him during the 1960s in what was essentially a dry-run for James Bond, and many will remember Ian Ogilvy doing his best Moore impersonation in the seventies, but the mists of time have sadly shrouded Sander's magnificent work as Templar. Sanders was an actor who simply oozed charm, suave and charisma from every pore and the role of The Saint was a perfect match for his talents, as he dominates every scene he's in, filling the screen with so much charisma that it threatens to burst forth in a manner best reserved for 3D movies. Though actor Louis Hayward had portrayed The Saint the previous year in The Saint in New York, Sanders made such a strong impression that he ultimately played the character in five feature films.

George Sanders at his suave best - just don't mention Psychomania...
What is very cool is that The Saint has the same theme tune that can be heard in the later televisual incarnations of the character - Leslie Charteris is credited with the theme and George Sanders himself whistles this theme at one point to establish his identity, which is a pretty cool moment.

There is a scene where Templar needles Travers in a manner that would probably have given the writers of Columbo some inspiration - after visiting Travers at her house, he slips a local wandering musician to sing something both incriminating and derogatory outside her house; it's a very amusing scene that perfectly sums up the character of The Saint.

The supporting cast all do their thing very well, but none of them are able to dim the shining light of Sanders when they share scenes with him; the most notable supporting actor in this film is Neil Hamilton, who is best known for playing Commissioner Gordon in the sixties Batman series - just as he would later do, Hamilton plays is completely straight, delivering a typically rock-solid performance. Jonathan Hale reprises his role as Inspector Henry Fernack, the sparring partner of Simon Templar and the chemistry between Hale and Sanders is most pleasing, especially considering that this was the first time that Hale had worked with Sanders (the previous film had Hale working with Louis Hayward).

The resolution may be a little trite or convoluted (take your pick - you could even use both words to describe it), but it is brisk and breezy and there is so much to enjoy along the way that you won't feel short-changed with the final shot of George Sanders leaning up against a lamppost in a swirling fog and the theme tune swells over the soundtrack. Lovely stuff.

Now we're no experts, but we suspect that something nasty is just about to happen...

Video


The review discs we were supplied with were plain DVD-R rips, but we're pretty sure that these accurately reflect the finished product, as the feature is only 64 minutes in length and there are no extras.

Presented in 1.33:1 (the opening titles are window-boxed), the image here is acceptable, but we should point out that this release does not appear to have been remastered; there is all manner of print damage present, including tramlines, scratches and dirt, but there's nothing that will seriously put you off. This is probably sourced from a print of the film, rather than taken from the original negative, but it's not TOO bad - there is a reasonable amount of image detail and the print damage isn't going to put off most people. There are some out there who might say that the minor issues with the print adds to the charm...

Audio


We had to crank up the level to a pretty high degree whilst watching this, but the overall sound is not bad - there is little in the way of background hiss and the dialogue is perfectly audible.

Extras


None, sadly - not even a trailer.

Deadlier than getting into an argument with a speeding cement-mixer with no brakes...

Overall


The Saint Strikes Back is fabulously entertaining stuff, with a riveting performance from George Sanders and a fabulous film noir feel to the thing. The video is not bad (print damage aside) and the audio is acceptable - it's just a shame that Odeon couldn't have thrown in a trailer as an extra, which would have made this release seem a bit more special.


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