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The Saint's Vacation (1941) is the seventh of nine features produced by RKO Pictures featuring suave detective Simon Templar, aka The Saint, and it marks a major change in the series, shifting production to England and recasting the title role following five films starring George Sanders. In the early 1940s the British government passed the "Films Act" which cut in half the amount of earnings that an American film company could take out of the country the other 50% became "frozen assets." Most studios accessed those funds by increasing film production in Britain, and RKO was no different. They naturally took the most Anglo-centric of their ongoing properties, The Saint, and had production shift to RKO Radio British Productions, Ltd.
This entry in the series also marked the only occasion that novelist Leslie Charteris, creator of The Saint, had an active role in the screenplay adaptation of one of his stories. Although another writer reworked the script, the film's plot adheres fairly closely to the original story. As Monty Hayward (Arthur Macrae) packs and wards off telephone calls, his friend Simon Templar (Hugh Sinclair), the debonair detective known as The Saint, eludes reporters and uses the fire escape to join him. Templar and his friend intend to travel to Switzerland for a well-earned rest; as Hayward optimistically (and incorrectly) states, "we're going away on holiday we're not going to get mixed up with anything." Reporters at the dock are fooled when Templar sneaks aboard the boat using a false beard, but the determined Mary Langdon (Sally Gray) follows the trail of The Saint across Europe and locates him at the Hotel Regina. As soon as Templar tells her that there is no story to be found, he observes skullduggery underway in the lobby an old adversary, Rudolph Hauser (Cecil Parker) is skulking about with some of his henchman, obviously on the prowl for something valuable. In the woods, Templar and Hayward defend a man being beaten by some thugs. Templar takes the man and a package he was carrying to his hotel suite but as Mary and Templar examine the package, which contains a music box, the man is murdered. Hauser and his goon Marko (Manning Whiley) appear in the room and claim the box at gunpoint. As they make their escape by car, Templar hitches a ride on the rear bumper; his trip to Hauser's palatial hideout puts him deeper in danger and in a tangled web of people fighting for the mysterious music box.
In his book, The Saint: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Film and Television, Burl Barer wrote that "British stage actor Hugh Sinclair had a mustache, a beautiful speaking voice, and an absurd haircut when cast to replace George Sanders as the Saint in an adaptation of Charteris' The Saint's Getaway. ...Sinclair's timing is off kilter in his first scene with Arthur Macrae his posture and presentation appear peculiar but his offhand approach is less cynical than Sanders'. Blessed with a marvelous speaking voice, Hugh Sinclair would have made an excellent radio Saint. Discounting one's immediate dismay with Sinclair's awkward entrance into the series, the screenplay is actually quite delightful. Bright aides and clever bits of business brighten the proceedings." Co-star Sally Grey had already appeared in an earlier entry in The Saint series, The Saint in London (1939), opposite Sanders.
In a review at the time of the film's release, Theodore Strauss of the New York Times said, "Don't let the title of The Saint's Vacation... mislead you. If we remember correctly almost each of the Saint's previous brushes with destiny began just about the time that he packed his razor and toothbrush for a sabbatical. ...Not that the Saint's present contretemps over a mysterious little music box is the most exciting of his adventures. But the Saint in action at any time makes for pleasant entertainment..." As for the actor change, Strauss felt that "...Hugh Sinclair, now in the role, lacks a bit of George Sanders' sardonic suavity, he's a capital fellow nonetheless."
Burl Barer observes that The Saint's Vacation was based on Charteris' novel The Saint's Getaway, and, as was typical according to his agreement with RKO, Charteris received $10,000 for the rights to his book, but also an additional $3,000 for the screenplay. The final script by Jeffrey Dell was the only one credited in RKO's initial advertising for the film, an oversight which later became a point of contention; as Charteris later wrote to his lawyer, "The picture The Saint's Vacation was my own screenplay adaptation from my own novel Getaway which RKO had purchased quite some time before I did the scenario. Needless to say, this adaptation followed the original book as closely as possible... When the form of screen credit was casually discussed at the time, it was my verbal understanding that it was to read 'Screen Play by Leslie Charteris from his own novel Getaway.' You will notice that in the advertising the original source is not even mentioned either."
Although subsequent ads and the screen credits were correct, Charteris was building a case featuring a variety of grievances with RKO, as he was trying to get out his contract with them so that he could shop his character around to other studios. The main complaint was that RKO had launched a competing series of films featuring a similar detective, The Falcon, who was even played by former Saint George Sanders. There would be a follow-up Saint film starring Hugh Sinclair, The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943). The die was cast, however; RKO indeed shifted most of their attention to The Falcon series. The deciding factor was no doubt money Falcon author Michael Arlen only charged $3,000 per adaptation, less than a third of the fee that Charteris charged the studio per film.
Producer: William Sistrom
Director: Leslie Fenton
Screenplay: Jeffrey Dell (writer); Leslie Charteris (screenplay and novel)
Cinematography: Bernard Knowles
Art Direction: Paul Sheriff
Music: Bretton Byrd (uncredited)
Film Editing: Al Barnes, Ralph Kemplen
Cast: Hugh Sinclair (Simon Templar, aka The Saint), Sally Gray (Mary Langdon), Cecil Parker (Rudolph Hauser), Arthur Macrae (Monty Hayward), Leueen MacGrath (Valerie), Gordon McLeod (Inspector Teal), John Warwick (Gregory), Manning Whiley (Marko), Felix Aylmer (Charles Leighton), Ivor Barnard (Emil).
by John M. Miller