Friday, December 27, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

Tonight I opened up the first of several wonderful DVD sets I received for Christmas, The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection from the Warner Archive.

This set contains the five RKO films Sanders made as Simon Templar, aka the Saint, between 1939 and 1941.

Louis Hayward had previously played the title role, in RKO's THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938), and when Sanders switched over from the Saint to the Falcon series in 1941, Hugh Sinclair played Templar in two films for RKO's British wing, THE SAINT'S VACATION (1941) and THE SAINT MEETS THE TIGER (1943). The latter two films are also available from the Warner Archive.

John Twist's screenplay for THE SAINT STRIKES BACK was based on the Leslie Charteris novel ANGELS OF DOOM, also known as THE SAINT MEETS HIS MATCH and SHE WAS A LADY.

The plot as laid out by Twist is frankly a bit too convoluted to follow in the early going, as Templar becomes a potential suspect in a nightclub killing on New Year's Eve in San Francisco. Also involved in the incident is lovely Val Travers (Wendy Barrie).

I found it didn't really matter too much when the plot was overly confusing, simply because I enjoyed Sanders' lead performance and the fine cast, including Jonathan Hale, Jerome Cowan, Neil Hamilton, Willie Best, Nella Walker, and Barry Fitzgerald, who like Sanders would one day win an Oscar.

Leading lady Wendy Barrie would return in two of Sanders' Saint films, playing a different character in each film. She also appeared in Sanders' first two Falcon entries. Her role here is a bit "one note," but she's pretty, gowned in costumes by Renie.

One of the things I most enjoy about a film like THE SAINT STRIKES BACK is the peek as life as it was in the '30s. One of my favorite scenes was set amidst sleeper berths on an airplane -- those were the days! (Of course, a cross-country plane trip also took a lot longer then!) The New Year's Eve opening made the film particularly appropriate to see at this time of year.

THE SAINT STRIKES back runs a fast-paced 64 minutes. It was directed by John Farrow, whose busy schedule in 1939 included SORORITY HOUSE (1939) with Anne Shirley and the chilling "B" classic FIVE CAME BACK (1939) with Chester Morris, Wendy Barrie, and Lucille Ball among the excellent cast.

In addition to the Warner Archive release, THE SAINT STRIKES BACK has had a release on Region 2 DVD in the UK.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. TCM has a clip, described on the site as a "neat shot," which is indeed a great sequence as the camera gradually moves up to reveal the Saint in hiding.

Fans of RKO's "B" movies and George Sanders should enjoy this one.


Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

I really want to watch The Saint movies because like you had mentioned, they are suitable for folks who like RKO B Movies and George Sanders and that describes me completely. What a nice present for Christmas!

11:49 AM  
Blogger Jeff Flugel said...

I got this set recently too, Laura, and can't wait to dip further into it! I agree with you about these old films opening up a window into how things were in the the sleeper berths on the airliner.

Happy New Year to you and your family, and best wishes for 2014!

5:23 AM  

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