With his perceived snooty ways and that vaguely sinister air and his awesomely snide but oh-so-elegant delivery of dialogue (man, that rich baritone!), it's a cinch that Englishman George Sanders would land scripts offering him the plum villain role. But, once in a blue moon, the gent did end up playing the heroic lead. Case in point, he starred in several B-flicks in the Falcon franchise. And, before that, he breathed life into the adventurer and amateur sleuth Simon Templar a.k.a. the Saint. Sanders was, hands down, more memorable than Louis Hayward and Hugh Sinclair, the two actors who bookended him in the franchise. This two-disc set, THE GEORGE SANDERS SAINT MOVIES COLLECTION, serves up all five of Sanders' briskly-paced exploits as the Saint, a champion of the underdog and of fair play and who abides by the law when it suits, and goes his own way when it doesn't. And who doesn't love the Saint's signature calling card and that haunting theme song he tends to whistle at the drop of a hat?
- THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939)
This rather talky mystery debuts George Sanders as the Saint and co-stars Wendy Barrie in the first of her three appearances in this franchise (although she would play a different character each time). In San Francisco, on New Year's Eve, Simon Templar's busybody bump of curiosity is piqued when a murder takes place in a nightclub. Wendy Barrie plays the hard-boiled femme fatale Val Travers. Daughter of a disgraced policeman, Ms. Travers enlists her own crew of crooks to make it tough on them coppers. But scheming in the shadows lurks an elusive criminal mastermind, if only Templar can be bothered to take a break from his amorous flirtations with Ms. Travers. Based on Leslie Charteris' novel ANGELS OF DOOM. Co-starring Barry Fitzgerald and Neil Hamilton.
- THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939)
I think this one and THE SAINT TAKES OVER are the two superior entries in George Sanders' run. Based on Charteris' short story "The Million Pound Day," THE SAINT IN LONDON begins with Templar befriending a pickpocket named Dugan (David Burns) and hiring him as his new manservant. Moments later, an old pal from British Intelligence tips him to shady shenanigans involving an abducted ambassador and a ruthless extortionist. Meanwhile, inquisitive socialite Penny Parker (Sally Gray, full of feisty) suspects Templar of being the Saint and gets underfoot enough that she almost deserves the slug on the jaw that the Saint inadvertently delivers. And as if Templar doesn't have enough on his plate, he keeps running into a dogged Scotland yard Inspector. This is a terrific little thriller, highlighted by Sanders' predictably standout performance but also by David Burns' tough-talking, street-savvy valet and Sally Gray's delightfully plucky turn. Keep an eye out for the Saint's neat over-the-shoulder knife toss.
- THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE (1940)
Camera trickeration plants two George Sanders side by side as he plays both the Saint and his equally nattily dressed doppelganger, "Boss Duke Bates." Diamonds smuggled from Cairo to Philadelphia soon hook in Simon Templar, especially when he ends up incriminated for the smuggling... and, later, for murder. As usual, the Saint treats such alarming turn of events as frightfully good sport. And to demonstrate that the halo on his calling card is more for rakish effect, Templar metes out his own cruel and unconventional brand of justice. Lots of keeping score in the viewer's mind as he tries to keep straight just which character Sanders is playing at any given moment. And that's probably my big gripe about this film, that Sanders doesn't do enough to create a distinct separation between his two roles. Helpful hint: Simon is the one in the black suit while the lookalike is gigged out in the striped suit. Sanders' voice is so distinct and so richly modulated that even when he goes for the crooked ringleader's gangster diction, it still comes off sounding posh. If not for the Saint's identifying cross-shaped scar, our boy may yet be in a pickle. Bela Lugosi has a forgettable supporting role as the shady partner. Jonathan Hale returns in his semi-recurring role of Inspector Fernack (who, more or less, is in Templar's camp). Helene Whitney plays the archaeology professor's lovely daughter Anne Bitts.
- THE SAINT TAKES OVER (1940)
When a racketeering ring frames Templar's friend, Inspector Henry Fernack, the Saint springs into action. But, as the body count mounts, a mysterious woman (Wendy Barrie) persists in complicating Simon's investigation. Jonathan Hale is more prominent this time out as his character, Inspector Fernack, suddenly has all this free time to put in some unofficial field work with the Saint, seeing as how he's been suspended from duty. Sanders and Hale are quite good together, and it's a gas watching Templar's perpetual teasing of Fernack, what with the good Inspector consistently being the first guy popping up at each murder scene. This becomes so suspicious that even "Pearly" Gates (Paul Guilfoyle), the dimwit safecracker whom Templar recruits to the cause, finally puts his foot down. He declares: "I'm wiping my hands of this crime wave." THE SAINT TAKES OVER features one of the more somber endings in the franchise. It's rare that you see the Saint in a melancholy mood, but this only enriches the narrative.
- THE SAINT IN PALM SPRINGS (1941)
Chalk up another favor Inspector Fernack's gonna owe the Saint. This time the copper talks Simon into escorting an old wartime buddy scheduled to transport $200,000 in rare postage stamps from New York to Palm Springs. When Fernack's pal gets bumped off, it's up to the Saint to continue the mission. In Palm Springs, Simon is greeted by foreign agents, wicked femme fatales, and an old friend, dour-faced Clarence "Pearly" Gates, who's serving out his prison probation and now working as a hotel house detective. Wendy Barrie, this time around, plays the murdered courier's niece and she's one of the two beautiful dames elbowing each other for affection from our toff with the tarnished halo. Can the Saint and his sidekick Pearly solve the case and also keep an eye on them stamps what keeps vanishing on them? This is the one which has a harebrained plot point involving Pearly's house detective nicking all the hotel guests' personal valuables in an attempt to uncover a murderer. It's one of the Saint's most lunatic ideas yet. And it sort of pays off.