Friday, January 03, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Saint in New York (1938)

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.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK runs 69 minutes. It was directed by 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the sound of this,Laura. I can imagine LOUIS Hayward being quite a different Saint from George Sanders.

1:13 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

It sounds like Hayward was fairly close in some ways to the Simon Templar of the books. He was definitely more ruthless than most of the screen portrayals. On the other hand he was also even more flippant than Sanders' portrayal. He was flippant and he was a hardened killer.

3:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just orderd it!

6:58 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Louis did not return to The Saint because he was on his way to major leading man/star status. Have a look at his resume and you will see that his next films released/or produced were The Duke of West Point and The Man In The Iron Mask, both of which opened in New York at Radio City Music Hall -- when that was a really big deal. And, of course, the money got better. You touch on an interesting observation that Louis played The Saint again 15 years later. You can chart the trajectory of his career by his Saint(s). In The Saints Return he is no longer dangerous but more-or-less a middle class businessman famous for his past far more entertaining activities.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very glad I could spread the word on this early SAINT film!

Vienna, I hope you like it -- please let me know your thoughts.

DforDoom, I appreciate you contributing the information on the "book" Templar since I haven't read them.

Barrylane, thanks for adding your thoughts via your association with Louis Hayward. It's interesting how often series detectives were lost to burgeoning stardom, whether it's Walter Pidgeon quitting Nick Carter after three films or George Sanders handing off the Falcon series to his less well-known brother. I hope to track down THE SAINT'S RETURN.

Best wishes,

3:15 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I have seen this film twice and really enjoyed it. I wish Hawyard had continued in the role (as much as I love Sanders). I've read the novel as well, and the movie is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of book. Interestingly, there's a scene in which the Saint swings up out of a window onto a roof, but the crooks think he dropped down to the ground. (That's in the book too.) As I recall, virtually the same scene is played out in Batman's first appearance in "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," in Detective Comics #27, from 1939. Presumably Bill Finger and Bob Kane had seen the film, and worked it into their comic. (Although it was recently discovered that the plot of "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" was largely stolen from The Shadow's pulp novel "Partners of Peril" (1936), which I haven't read. Perhaps that scene is in the original Shadow story.)

10:25 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Dr. OTR, thanks very much for contributing your thoughts! Like you I love Sanders but found Hayward's portrayal very intriguing and would have enjoyed seeing more of him in the role. I'm very interested in the book-to-film comparisons, and how the Saint may have influenced another story!

Best wishes,

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Doug Thorburn said...

I've read every Saint book and seen all the movies. My brother and I often comment that when we are in the "home" every one will be like it was brand new. The same for Louis L'Amour. Both Louis Hayward and George were complex dudes.

3:03 PM  

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