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The Saint Strikes Back

Gasser

The Saint Strikes
Back (1939)

     Moviegoers had no lack of detective/murder mystery movie plots to entertain them in the 1930s and 1940s and perhaps the story lines of The Saint movies offered nothing particularly unique, but George Sanders in embodying Simon Templar surely did. The Saint Strikes Back was the first of a handful of movies Sanders would do based on the novels of Leslie Charteris in which he just gets his feet wet as the sometimes-criminal, sometimes-sleuth Templar.

     A shady character is shot dead at a San Francisco night club during a New Year’s celebration just before he gets a chance to take out whomever he was aiming his gun at. Simon Templar happens to be present at that party and so naturally finds himself implicated in the crime. A New York detective, Inspector Fernack (Jonathan Hale), is called in to assist in the case because of his history with Templar, also known as The Saint (note his initials). We learn from Fernack that Templar used to work for the police department, but then also went off Robin Hooding by punishing criminals either by stealing and redistributing their wealth or perhaps by more grisly means. Templar skips  off to New York before Fernack can leave for the west coast, however, to make it seem as though he’d been in that city all along and couldn’t be involved in the murder of the mobster. He has already, however, made contact with a blonde who was part of the dead guy’s dinner party that night who is the daughter of a now-dead police officer kicked off the force for being involved with the mysterious criminal Mr. Waldeman. This dame, Val Travers (Wendy Barrie), now lives a seedy life trying to create trouble for the police as often as possible.

     Alternately eluding and collaborating with Fernack, Templar begins to investigate how this murder might be related to a possible framing of Val’s father. A wealthy philanthropist Martin Eastman (Gilbert Emery) seems to be linked to the mystery through some federal bank notes stored and stolen from his safe. Some characters will die, others live and Templar will kiss the pretty blonde. Such is the life of The Saint.

 
     The Saint movies to come would follow similar plot set ups. Always a murder, always a woman for the man to pursue, and always the on and off incrimination of Templar in the crime itself thus requiring him to both work with and escape from authorities throughout the story. I would say The Saint Strikes Back is not quite as thrilling and amusing as The Saint films to come, but it still is a great primer on possibly my favorite movie detective. Sanders brought such a coolness to his role; he was never unsettled by the possibility he could go to jail or by a gun pointed his way, and he always charmed the pants off all around him. Granted, one could say this for most Sanders characters, but I think that only highlights what an enjoyable man he was to watch on screen. He was a fine actor, always able to bring humor to the most serious roles, and his smooth voice could seduce any woman.
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