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An early prototype of the International Man of Mystery, Simon Templar, aka The Saint, first appeared in the late 1920s in books and stories by Leslie Charteris (born Leslie Yin in Singapore), the son of a wealthy Chinese surgeon and his English wife. A forerunner of James Bond and other well-dressed adventurers in fast cars with beautiful women on their arms, the Saint is a fighter against injustice who is not above going outside the law to right a wrong or solve a mystery. Charteris never provided much detail about the Saint's background, which only added to the character's allure. That allure has kept him going through multiple incarnations in print, on television and radio, and in film from the 1930s to the 1990s.
The first screen version was The Saint in New York (1938), with Louis Hayward as the titular hero. George Sanders then took over the role for The Saint Strikes Back (1939) and brought his particular brand of aloof sophistication to four more Saint films over the next two years. He was succeeded by British actor Hugh Sinclair, who carried the franchise for two more installments in 1941 and 1943, when RKO discontinued the series. It was ten years before another Saint movie appeared, with Louis Hayward returning to the role. That one was not a success, and Simon Templar disappeared until the 1960s when he was revived first in France (once by Jean Cocteau's actor-muse-lover Jean Marais) and then, most famously, by Roger Moore in a long-running TV series and movie spin-offs, a rehearsal of sorts for Moore's later work as 007. Another series hit British TV in the late 70s, and the character's final appearance to date was a 1997 version of the tale with Val Kilmer as the Saint.
The dense, intricate plot of The Saint Strikes Back involves a disgraced policeman's daughter, a stolen $80,000 and confusion over just who is or is not on the side of the law, creating a gripping mystery and a huge hit for RKO. The convolutions of the script were well crafted by the appropriately named John Twist and directed with style by John Farrow, husband of Maureen O'Sullivan (aka Tarzan's Jane) and father of Mia Farrow. An urbane, accomplished man who was also a writer, Farrow began directing programmers before moving on to bigger budget films. He received a New York Film Critics Best Director award, as well as an Academy Award nomination, for his war film Wake Island (1942), and won an Oscar® (shared with S.J. Perelman and James Poe) for the screenplay of Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), for which he also fulfilled some uncredited directing duties.
After leaving the Saint behind, George Sanders went on to create a similar character, the Falcon, in a hit that spawned another series. Joining him in this venture was his co-star in this movie, Wendy Barrie (who appeared in several Saint movies back to back, though oddly never as the same character). He made four Falcon movies before passing the baton, in The Falcon's Brother (1942), to his own real-life brother Tom Conway. Although never in the top ranks of stardom, Sanders contributed many fine performances in notable films and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® as the cynical, acid-tongued critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve (1950). Bored with life and the world, he committed suicide in Barcelona in 1972, an act he had pledged to do years earlier.
Early publicity about this production noted that Fredric March and Joan Fontaine were set to play the roles taken by Sanders and Barrie. Charteris had always lobbied for his character to be played by the likes of Ronald Colman, Cary Grant or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and felt that both Hayward and Sanders were "hopelessly miscast." He was far more pleased with Roger Moore's image and interpretation.
Director: John Farrow
Producer: Robert Sisk
Screenplay: John Twist, based on the novel Angels of Doom by Leslie Charteris
Cinematography: Frank Redman
Editing: Jack Hively
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: George Sanders (Simon Templar, aka The Saint), Wendy Barrie (Val Travers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Fernack), Jerome Cowan (Cullis), Barry Fitzgerald (Zipper Dyson).
by Rob Nixon