Last week I watched THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939), the first film in which George Sanders played Simon Templar, aka the Saint.
Before continuing with the set of Sanders' Saint movies, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at RKO's very first Saint film, THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938), starring Louis Hayward. Unfortunately THE SAINT IN NEW YORK isn't yet available from the Warner Archive, but I happened to have taped it a while back when it aired on Turner Classic Movies.
THE SAINT IN NEW YORK is based on the novel by Leslie Charteris. The NY police commissioner, desperately seeking the end to a reign of terror by half a dozen mobsters, decides to secretly deputize Simon Templar to deal with the problem. Templar, also known as the Saint, is to take the criminals out by any means possible; if the crooks happen to end up dead, the police agree to look the other way (!).
It's an unconventional and even unsettling premise, with a good-guy hitman on the loose in NYC, but it's also a well-done crime film. Hayward is quite compelling, flippant yet somewhat less lighthearted than Sanders, and a whole lot more lethal. Hayward's Saint has a good time yet there's also an interesting dark edge to his portrayal. Templar's ability to intimidate the bad guys is quite believable.
I'd be curious to know why Hayward didn't continue in the series, as he's very good as the Saint. A check of the classic 1971 reference THE GREAT MOVIE SERIES, edited by James Robert Parish, sheds no light; the book does make the interesting comment that Hayward's Saint is a "hardened killer" while Sanders' Saint is "just a reformed crook."
Curiously, Hayward finally returned to the role 15 years later in THE SAINT'S RETURN (1953), also known as THE SAINT'S GIRL FRIDAY, for Hammer Film Productions, released in the U.S. in 1954 by RKO.
Kay Sutton is somewhat odd as the leading lady of THE SAINT IN NEW YORK, the enigmatic Fay Edwards; some of it seems due to the character, who is meant to be mysterious, but Sutton comes off a bit cartoonish, never as believable as Hayward's Saint.
Jack Carson and Paul Guilfoyle play a pair of ill-fated gunsels, and Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Henry Fernack, which he would play in later installments. The cast also includes Sig Ruman, Frederick Burton, and Paul Fix.
Ben Holmes and filmed by Joseph August and Frank Redman.
THE SAINT IN NEW YORK had a 1997 TCM release on VHS, paired with THE SAINT STRIKES BACK.
The movie had a 2012 release on Region 2 DVD in the UK. Hopefully it will have a future U.S. release by the Warner Archive.