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Before Roger Moore starred as Simon Templar on British television in the 1960s, George Sanders was The Saint in the public's mind. But by the time he made his fifth and last Saint film, The Saint in Palm Springs (1941), George Sanders was tiring of the role. By 1941, he had already appeared in "A" pictures such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939) and two Hitchcock films Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca (both 1940).
Based on the stories of Leslie Charteris, The Saint film series was comprised of quickly made "B" pictures featuring the charming and mysterious detective Simon Templar, aka The Saint . Described by Charteris, Templar was "a roaming adventurer who loves a fight...a dashing daredevil, imperturbable, debonair, preposterously handsome, a pirate or a philanthropist, as the occasion demands. He lives for the pursuit of excitement, for the one triumphant moment that is his alone."
The usual suspects were on board for this film producer Howard Benedict, director Jack Hively, Sanders as Templar, Wendy Barrie as the love interest and Paul Guilfoyle as Templar's sidekick Pearly Gates, who had appeared in the previous Saint film, The Saint Takes Over (1940). For The Saint in Palm Springs, which was shot from October November 11, 1940, Charteris himself suggested the story line the Saint is asked to guard a man going to Palm Springs with $200,000 worth of rare stamps. Of course a murder takes place and Templar has to find the killer. Little of Charteris' original idea was used, so he recycled it later into another Saint novel, The Saint Goes West which was very critical of Hollywood.
After six films (including the first, The Saint in New York (1938), starring Louis Hayward), the franchise was becoming stale. Variety admitted, "The Saint needs better and fresher story material than provided here or he will be a forgotten man with film audiences in the secondary houses. Picture is slow and tedious in its unwinding, filled with stereotyped situations that are stock in trade for quickie whodunits [...] George Sanders and other members of the cast strive to overcome the mediocre story material and director Jack Hively is handed an impossible assignment." Bosley Crowther, in his New York Times review wrote that the writers seem to have sent Simon Templar on vacation. "The Saint has a most agreeable time playing tennis, riding horseback and kidding the girls while leisurely check-mating a desperate gang which is trying to snitch the philatelic gems. Since George Sanders is still the hero, it is a pleasure just to watch him have fun. But it isn't in the least entertaining to watch the sluggish plot unfold. If the familiar name of Director Jack Hively weren't prominent in the list of credits we'd suspect he'd taken a vacation, too. Obviously the scriptwriters did. For the benefit of those who keep records: the total number of murders this time is three."
Charteris was finally fed up with what he felt was the studio's miscasting of Simon Templar, and "even more than the casting, I objected to RKO's treatment of character and story lines. Here, of course, I was fighting the well-known 'producer syndrome', which automatically makes any film executive a genius who knows how much better a character could be portrayed and a plot developed than the stupid original creator." Charteris was so angered, he threatened to produce the films himself, but it never happened. RKO needed to spend money that was frozen in wartime England, so they moved production there, with Hugh Sinclair making two films as The Saint before the franchise ended in 1954 with The Saint's Return with Louis Hayward returning to the role.
If Charteris was fed up with RKO, the studio was fed up with him as well. Rather than deal with his complaints, they merely carried on with their own knock-off version, also starring George Sanders (and later, his older brother Tom Conway) as The Falcon.
Producer: Howard Benedict
Director: Jack Hively
Screenplay: Jerome Cady (writer); Leslie Charteris (story)
Cinematography: Harry Wild
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Roy Webb; Nathaniel Shilkret (uncredited)
Film Editing: George Hively
Cast: George Sanders (Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Elna Johnson), Paul Guilfoyle (Clarence "Pearly" Gates), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Linda Hayes (Margaret Forbes), Ferris Taylor (Mr. Evans).
BW-66m. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine Lobianco
Crowther, Bosley "The Screen: The Saint in Palm Springs" The New York Times 31 Jan 41
Pitts, Michael R. Famous Movie Detectives
"The Saint in Palm Springs" Variety 8 Jan 41
Tuska, Jon The Detective in Hollywood