There were even eight “Saint” features within five years, with George Sanders (“All About Eve”) playing him five times for RKO Radio Pictures. Those films have been collected by Warner Archive for its two-disc package with the unwieldy title of “The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection.”
Also known as Simon Templar, The Saint is no superhero, but a gentleman thief/detective whose law-skirting moves make him into a modern-day Robin Hood. As played by Sanders, he’s more feminine than Roger Moore’s iconic interpretation for the ’60s tube, but those who delight at hearing him whistle his theme, this set is a no-brainer.
From 1939, “The Saint Strikes Back” adapts its story directly from Saint creator Leslie Charteris’ “Angels of Doom,” perhaps the only of Templar’s many adventures in which the temperature of milk provides a clue to its mystery of clearing a dead cop’s good name. Sanders doesn’t sound all that threatening to his opponents: “Now listen, you give me the information I want or I’ll flit over there and shake your joint up.”
The same year brought us “The Saint in London” or, as one character put it in dialogue that has different meaning today, “Meaning some dick from Scotland Yard?” While attempting to break up a money scam, Templar meets a suspect who admits, “I have no scruples about shooting men! Or women!” On the same wavelength comes my favorite scene in which Templar punches a woman in the face! In the face! And she goes down! And he follows it up all casual-like with a halfhearted, “Darling, are you hurt?”
Old-school horror fans should proceed directly to “The Saint’s Double Trouble,” which features not only a mummy, but Bela Lugosi in a supporting role. It also has what passes for an action scene, as Templar hangs onto the back of a runaway car — well, runaway by 1940’s standards.
Later that year, Templar took over in “The Saint Takes Over,” immediately busting a scam artist in a bridge game. There’s lots of “dick” talk in this one, too, with “Henry Fernack has been removed from his official capacity as a nosy dick” and “Don’t ask me how they fixed this dick.” The real dick is Templar, when he plants a kiss on stranger forcefully, to the point where the woman might have to bust out her rape whistle. Comic relief is supplied by the goofy character of “Pearly” Gates (Paul Guilfoyle, “The Grapes of Wrath”), who also returned in 1941’s “The Saint in Palm Springs,” set amid the high-stakes world of stamps and cultured women who say “shan’t.”
Each film is a hair over an hour long, so their oft-peculiar nature is offset by easy-to-digest pacing. For the Saint faithful, this collection is both a treasure and a bargain. —Rod Lott