Simon Templar is back on the shelves of your local Best Buy, thanks to the release of the second box of black and white episodes from the beloved 1960s TV show, The Saint. Consistent and reliable, his adventures in these episodes have the same plot structure as those from the earlier box set (http://www.popmatters.com/tv/reviews/s/saint-early-episodes-1-dvd.shtml). This repetition might account for the fact that, except for a couple of books offering informative episode guides and brief considerations of the character’s evolution, The Saint is conspicuously absent from serious critical and academic discussions.
However, The Saint reveals some complexity in the way it combines Templar’s capitalistic values and Moore’s arresting masculinity. Most episodes culminate with a fistfight between the lean Templar and some potbellied crooks. Templar imposes his own strict sense of morality, not with logic or reason, but by virtue of his impressive physicality. At the same time, Templar’s expensive tastes connect him with entrepreneurial excess.
The Saint posits capitalism as a political creed, intimately connected to aggressive behavior. Even though the violence is “soft” compared to today’s standards, the series reinforces again the ideology of superior political power as a consequence of superior combat abilities. Perhaps the most dramatic example of this mentality can be found in “The Well-Meaning Mayor.” Templar manages to convince the mayor of a small coastal town to look into the corruption inside his office, but only after he beats the shit out of him. Ironically, the mayor is also an avid boxer, who ends up enjoying Templar’s method of enforcing his “justice.”
Even though Templar works outside the judicial system, his moral authority is ideologically grounded, quite firmly, in his masculinity. Possessing a “perfect” body, Templar commands respect and admiration. His hyper-masculine body stands for all that is “right,” just as overweight villains represent corruption and immorality. This “ideal man” has to be understood within the context of the hedonistic ‘60s jet set. In this regard, Templar looks more like a charming international playboy than the tough bodybuilders who appear in today’s action films and television.
Perhaps one of the most problematic aspects of The Saint concerns its gender politics. No woman can resist the sensual advances of the suave and witty Templar. The fact that no female character ever makes a return in the series suggests that The Saint sees them as a disposable commodity for male consumption.
At the same time, driving a fine car and traveling to exotic locales all over the world, Templar is the ultimate consumer of expensive goods. It is worth noting that contrary to today’s heroes who don heavy body armor, Templar wears only his best Italian suit when fighting crime. Truth be told, this leads to rather absurd situations. In “Judith,” he actually searches his wardrobe for a good-looking suit and checks himself out in the mirror before leaving to break into the house of a crooked industrialist. But then again, his expensive suits should be interpreted as symbols of his politics and social status. Templar’s quest for justice is translated into a fight to protect consumerism.
It should be hardly surprising that Templar imposes his own personal sense of justice over all other judicial systems in the world. In “Teresa,” he is in rural Mexico hunting for the anti-government revolutionaries who killed a friend. Unsurprisingly, he accomplishes more in a couple of days than the entire Mexican police in several years. And in “The King of Beggars,” he disguises himself as an indigent to capture the leader of a racketeering organization in Rome.
In “The Wonderful War,” a nefarious oil entrepreneur helps a corrupt government official assassinate the leader of a royal Arab family in order to take control of the country. Templar helps the surviving heir to the throne organize counter-revolutionary forces and restore the traditional monarchical order. Oddly, this episode looks forward to both Gulf Wars. Shot in the early 1960s, it takes place in a fictitious Arab country whose borders lie north of Kuwait. Also, Templar has other hidden agendas that drive him to wage war: his intentions are not out of pity for the third world nation, but largely to avenge the death of a friend’s father, who was a “noble” oilman, killed by the new regime. And reminiscent of the news media representation of Iraq, the population of this Arab country is portrayed as primitive, poor, and uneducated.
Templar effortlessly topples the new dictator using what any decent modern army should have in its arsenal: tape recorders, loudspeakers, fireworks, a pretty girl, and a couple of Westerners in their golden years. A memorable episode, it gives the most amusing portrayal of psychological warfare ever seen in the small screen, and makes evident The Saint‘s political subtexts. Embodying both masculinity and capitalism, Templar here and throughout the series is an allegory for imperialism.