The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection
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“I’m very sorry, but under certain conditions I simply can’t resist the temptation to be a cad,” says George Sanders in The Saint Strikes Back, and he clearly isn’t sorry at all. Sanders would spend the rest of his career living up to this maxim. Memoirs of a Professional Cad is the title of his autobiography. He’s most famous for his Oscar-winning portrayal of acidulous critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, though he shouldn’t be overlooked in Douglas Sirk’s marvelous A Scandal in Paris or as the seductive Lord Henry in Albert Lewin’s version of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In this two-disc set from Warner Archive’s made-on-demand factory, we see Sanders’ persona fully formed and on the cusp of the stardom he began to find in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). The best thing about these five briskly entertaining B-pictures is Sanders’ almost insufferable savoir-faire as a shady hero in senselessly complicated plots. He’s always two or three steps ahead and at the point of looking bored by it all.
As the title of the set tells you, it’s only those films in the Saint series that star Sanders. Louis Hayward had starred in the debut film, The Saint in New York. Hugh Sinclair took over for two more films after Sanders quit the series. Simon Templar, the private troubleshooter who calls himself the Saint, was created by novelist Leslie Charteris in 1928. Roger Moore played the character in a 1960s British TV series, and Ian Ogilvy revived him in a 1970s version. There were also radio series, including one starring Vincent Price.
But in these five RKO films that run about 70 minutes each, it’s all about the tall, breezy, patrician Sanders, dripping with insouciance and never seeming to be in real trouble. Jonathan Hale appears in four of the films as Inspector Henry Fernack, a good-natured yet somewhat doddering New York police detective whom Templar winds around his finger. Wendy Barrie plays the female lead in three films, although always as a different character.
The farthest-fetched is The Saint’s Double Trouble, which allows Sanders a dual role. The best are the last two, The Saint Takes Over (in order to clear Fernack of a series of murders) and The Saint in Palm Springs (delivering valuable stamps in none too credible a manner). Paul Guilfoyle shows up in these last two as “Pearly” Gates, a crook who throws in his lot with the Saint and makes an excellent comic apprentice.
John Farrow directed the earliest, least interesting film here (though its tone is darkest) while the rest are handled by Jack Hively. It’s all painless and inessential. Even when Sanders threatens to be overbearing, the 40s fashions and lingo remain seductive.
// Notes from the Road
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