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The Saint Meets the Tiger

The Saint Meets the Tiger(1943)

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teaser The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943)

RKO brought Leslie Charteris' thief-turned-sleuth The Saint back to the screen after a two-year break with The Saint Meets the Tiger, only to decide this 1943 production was so below even their worst B films that they handed U.S. distribution over to Republic Pictures. Yet The Saint Meets the Tiger maintains historical importance as a link in one of the screen's most popular series. In addition, it contains early work from Oscar®-winning cinematographer Robert Krasker (The Third Man, 1949).

RKO had introduced Simon Templar, aka The Saint, to the screen in 1938 in The Saint in New York, starring Louis Hayward. Although Hayward was an effective, albeit more dramatic than most, incarnation of Charteris' hero, the next five entries in the series starred George Sanders. The role increased his standing in Hollywood, but Charteris was not happy with RKO's handling of his stories or the casting of the lead (he wanted Cary Grant in the role) and tried to stop them from making any more films in the series with no luck. Like most Hollywood studios during World War II, RKO had frozen assets in England, so they shot two new Saint movies back to back there, The Saint's Vacation (1941) and The Saint Meets the Tiger. Even though they brought Charteris in to write the first, he remained unhappy with the results. Meanwhile, the studio picked up the less expensive character the Falcon, who had appeared in books by Michael Arlen, and moved Sanders into a new series (he would eventually be replaced by his brother, Tom Conway). Charteris then sued, claiming the Falcon films plagiarized ideas from his books.

For the two British-shot films, RKO cast Hugh Sinclair, a British actor who had made his stage debut in 1922. Among his early theatrical hits were the stage versions of Escape Me Never and J.B. Priestley's The Good Companions. He had previously visited Hollywood, where he made his screen debut opposite Constance Bennett in RKO's Our Betters (1933). At 38, he was the oldest actor to take on the role to that time.

In this outing, Templar uncovers a band of gold smugglers after a dead body turns up on his doorstep. Although The Saint Meets the Tiger was the last film in RKO's initial series, it was adapted from the first Saint novel, Meet the Tiger. It was also the only film in the series to feature Pat Holm (Jean Gillie), the girlfriend from Charteris' books, and Simon Templar's butler, Horace (Wylie Watson). Gordon McLeod -- who had played Inspector Teal in the studio's earlier British-lensed series entry, The Saint in London (1939) -- returned to the role this time out.

The Saint Meets the Tiger was met with decidedly weak box office response. In fact, RKO was so unhappy with their two British-shot Saint films they kept the second from U.S. screens for two years after The Saint's Vacation proved a box-office flop. Finally, they sold the U.S. rights to Poverty Row studio Republic, best known for its Westerns. At the time, Republic announced they had picked up the film to see if audiences would accept the character with an actor other than Sanders in the role. They didn't.

Variety was kind to Sinclair, but quick to dismiss the film as "strictly for the lower half of dualers...The Saint Meets the Tiger has too many plot loopholes to escape better billing." RKO would wait nine years to bring back the character, with Hayward returning to the role he created on screen for The Saint's Girl Friday (1953). The character would achieve his greatest success when Roger Moore took on the role in a popular 1962 British TV series. A 1997 attempt to revive the character in The Saint, starring Val Kilmer, met with little success.

For Sinclair, his two films as the Saint were a mere blip on his career radar. He would continue his stage career with notable performances in T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party and the London company of The Philadelphia Story, starring Margaret Leighton. He also would co-star in the acclaimed film version of D.H. Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner (1949). One cast member would go on to a bright sleuthing future in her own right. Although unbilled, the film's maid was Joan Hickson, who would cap her lengthy career with a series of popular television appearances as Agatha Christie's female detective, Miss Marple, in the '80s and '90s.

Producer: William Sistrom
Director: Paul L. Stein
Screenplay: Leslie Arliss, James Seymour, Wolfgang Wilhelm
Based on the novel Meet the Tiger by Leslie Charteris
Cinematography: Robert Krasker
Art Direction: Paul SheriffPrincipal Cast: Hugh Sinclair (Simon Templar, the Saint), Jean Gillie (Pat Holm), Gordon McLeod (Inspector Teal), Clifford Evans (Tidemarsh), Wylie Watson (Horace), Dennis Arundell (Bentley), Joan Hickson (Maid).BW-69m. Closed Captioning.

by Frank Miller

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