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Leslie Charteris' popular novels featuring a snappy crime-fighting character known as "The Saint," seemed a perfect fit for 1930s Hollywood, and RKO was the studio that finally secured the rights to the books. The Saint in New York (1938), the first of the studio's Charteris adaptations, was considered such a choice property, it was originally intended as the American film debut of a young British director named Alfred Hitchcock. That intriguing idea never came to fruition, but Ben Holmes' take on the novel launched the series, if not in high style, then at least with a dollop of knowing wit.
The Saint in New York opens with New York City (or, at least, a nominal, back-lot version of it) in the grips of a formidable crime wave. In a didactic opening scene that lays the plot out for you like a pie chart, the cops determine that a group of six men are responsible for most of the major crimes in the city. But every time these criminals are arrested, they manage to either escape conviction through under-handed means, or simply hit the streets again within a few months. It's finally decided that Simon Templar, a secretive European do-gooder who calls himself "The Saint" (Louis Hayward), should be recruited by the city to kill the six troublemakers! "A few men brought to justice," one of the cops says, "and our crime wave should cease." Unless, of course, you count the government-sanctioned murders.
If you can pardon the gleeful-vigilante nature of the story -- Hayward actually carries a list of the guys he needs to rub out -- The Saint in New York is good, old-fashioned fun. Hayward comes off as a poor man's version of Orson Welles. He sports the same sarcastic, well-bred smirk that Welles used to employ, and one of the other characters even marvels at how beautifully he speaks. In fact, Hayward is so successful in the role it's a surprise that, in later installments, the character was played by either George Sanders or Hugh Sinclair. Sanders, of course, also had a mellifluous way with words but he just isn't as enjoyably rakish as Hayward is.
Ironically, Hayward, who would go on to appear in many now-forgotten pictures, including one called Repeat Performance (1947), gave a repeat performance of his own. He would play Simon Templar once again in The Saint's Return (1953), but, by then, even the audience's smirk was fading.
Director: Ben Holmes
Producer: William Sistrom
Screenplay: Charles Kaufman, Mortimer Offner (based on the novel by Leslie Charteris)
Story: Martin MooneyCinematographer: Joseph August, Frank Redman
Editor: Harry Marker
Art Designer: Van nest Polglase, Perry FergusonCostumes: Edward Stevenson
Cast: Louis Hayward (Simon Templar), Kay Sutton (Fay Edwards), Sig Rumann (Hutch Rellin), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Jack Carson (Red Jenks), Paul Guilfoyle (Hymie Fanro), Frederick Burton (William Valcross), Ben Welden (Papinoff), Charles Halton (Vincent Nather), Cliff Bragdon (Sebastian Lipke), Frank M. Thomas (Prosecutor).
by Paul Tatara