I can’t quite believe it but this may in fact be the first Saint book I have read in about 35 years! I do remember picking up some of the tie-ins reprinted when Return of the Saint premiered on TV in 1978 but that was probably it – shocking! Hodder are reissuing all the books but as this collection of Simon Templar’s European adventures comes with a new intro by Mike Ripley, I couldn’t resist!
I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey (for links, click here); and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog, today celebrating works from the 1950s.
“… The Saint appeared to me to be a modern day knight errant, the clunky armour and white horse being replaced with a white, and anything but clunky, Volvo sports car, which was of course far cooler” from Mike Ripley’s introduction
In his highly amusing intro, Ripley admits that he grew up on the TV series starring Roger Moore rather than Leslie Charteris’ original books. On the evidence of this collection of seven stories, the adventures of Simon Templar (aka ‘The Saint’) still make for highly engaging escapist entertainment, even if some of the attitudes are very much of their time. As it happens, all seven of the stories were adapted for the Saint TV series starring Roger Moore, which was originally shown in the UK between 1962 and 1969. A huge hit in its day, Moore became instantly identified with the role and it’s easy to see why. Much nicer – with fewer criminal tendencies – than in the books but just as suave, broad-shouldered and good-humoured, he really is perfectly suited to the role, making the audience his partners in modern day fairy tales through his narration and his confiding, direct-to-camera introductions. As for the occasionally superior and patronising attitude to all and sundry, well, it makes the show creak a bit but it’s straight out of the books and is usually handled with plenty of humour (an anecdote on women drivers that is really sexist is then undercut when the Saint crashes his car).
Here are details for all seven of the short stories to be found in this volume (Charteris stopped writing Saint novels in the 1940s, focussing on short stories and novellas after that) and the TV adaptations that followed, with their respective original UK broadcast dates and original magazine publication, with a mini review attached for each (the characters not found in the original short stories are marked with an asterisk). It is interesting to note that the adaptations are mostly pretty faithful, that there was initially some location shooting overseas and that Moore, much like Patrick McGoohan in the first season of Danger Man, also affected a mid-transatlantic twang that would be lost as time went on.
“Monsieur the Inspector is, perhaps, anti-clerical?” Simon suggested gravely.
Paris: The Covetous Headsman (tx: 25 October 1962)
Magazine publication: The Saint Detective Magazine Spring 1953
Writer: John Roddick Director Michael Truman
Cast: Barbara Shelley (Valerie North), Eugene Deckers (Inspector Quercy), George Pastell (George Olivant), Esmond Knight (Antoine Louvois), *Robert Cawdron (Sergeant Luduc),*Carole Gray (Josie Clavel)
The volume gets off to a good start with the Saint getting mixed with Nazi collaborators, an unusual treasure hunt and a corpse that has been decapitated post-mortem (with acknowledgement duly made to Chesterton’s Father Brown classic, The Secret Garden), with a climax that would not have been acceptable for the Roger Moore TV iteration. The TV episode indeed is amended and greatly expanded, with the addition of several new characters (they all have additional sidekicks/henchmen) and the leading lady (a slightly underused Barbara Shelley) now being kidnapped at the halfway mark, though otherwise the plot, characters and dialogue are very faithful to the original. There is also a tiny bit of genuine location shooting with Moore in Paris, something that the series would rarely do in the future, relying completely on stock footage and the Elstree studio backlot.
“The Saint wore his clothes with the careless ease of a man accustomed to the best of everything, and with the confidence of one who did not have to think twice about paying for it”
Amsterdam: The Angel’s Eye (tx: 11 November 1966)
Magazine publication: The Saint Detective Magazine June/July 1953
Writer: Harry W. Junkin Director Leslie Norman
Cast: Jane Merrow (Mabel), Liam Redmond (Tom Upwater), *Anthony Nicholls (Lord Cranmore), *Donald Pickering (Jeremy), *T.P. McKenna (Malone), Cyril Shaps (Jonkheer)
The Saint is in the Netherlands and looking for a holiday, but as always trouble finds him, in the shape of middle-aged British couple Mabel and Tom Upwater. The husband brought over the eponymous precious gemstone to have it recut – but the next day the cutter claimed to have never seen him before, even after Tom complained to the police. Can Simon help the man keep his job and get the stone back? This is a neat little story with a nice twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. As it is quite a brief item, in making the transfer to TV the story underwent the usual overhaul with several new henchmen added as well as tons of padding by way of every conceivable cliché about Amsterdam (windmills, tulips, Anne Frank’s loft, Rembrandt’s home and a boat tour down the canals) and a new backstory – the stone now belongs to an English Lord fallen on hard times who decides to sell it, much to the disgust of Jeremy, his snobbish nephew. The Upwaters are now father and daughter and Jeremy is seemingly the villain of the piece – but the twist climax is retained and on the whole, despite the padding, this is a perfectly entertaining addition to the TV canon.
“There doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason why you should go on living, does there?”
The Rhine: The Rhine Maiden (tx: 21 January 1965)
Magazine publication: as ‘All Aboard for Shanghai!’ in The American Magazine February 1936
Writer: Brian Degas Director James Hill
Cast: Nigel Davenport (Charles Voyson), *Victor Beaumont (Dr. Schreiber), Stephanie Randall (Julia Harrison), *Anthony Booth (Hans), *George Pravda (Inspector Glessen)
While the saint is often referred to as a modern day Robin Hood, Charteris more often than not in this book calls him a buccaneer. In this story Simon reminds us of the darker side to his character, when he acts as both judge and executioner, something we had glimpsed at the climax of The Covetous Headsman. The Saint is on a train and befriends an old man and his daughter from the US who are visiting his homeland on his retirement. The man mentions that his pension comes from having invested all his savings in the company where has worked all his life as it happens that Charles Voyson, the CEO, is on the train too. The Saint however knows something the old man does not – that the newspapers have reported that company has gone bust and Voyson absconded with the money. Will Simon get recompense of the old man? Brian Degas really overhauls the narrative for the TV version – the father is already dead here and the focus is the daughter who is chasing Voyson for embezzlement. But, after having unsuccessfully trying to kills her with a low flying flower-pot, he fakes his own death and tries to start a new life, leading to the train climax from the story. Nigel Davenport makes for a terrifically hissable villain, quite the match for Templar and Anthony Booth is a great henchman – a really first-rate episode despite not being very close to the original.
“… he admitted that wrath and hauteur sat very well on her small imperious face”
Tyrol: The Golden Journey (tx: 6 December 1962)
Magazine publication: Harper’s Bazaar September 1934
Writer: Lewis Davidson Director Robert S. Baker
Cast: Erica Rogers (Belinda Dean), *Stella Bonheur (Aunt Joan West), *Paul Whitsun-Jones (woodcutter), Roger Delgado (Hotel Manager), *David Lawton (Guardia Civile)
This is an unusual story but a fascinating one, albeit with a few necessary caveats. While on holiday in Europe, after a quarrel with her fiancée, the fearsome Belinda Dean has her handbag stolen, losing all her money, identity papers and letter of credit. It turns out that Simon has taken them to teach her a lesson, forcing her to walk cross-country through Austria and learn about the real cost of living.
“It’s no good Belinda. You can’t run away. Life has caught up with you.”
Might this be seen as a vaguely subversive, even anti-Capitalist parable for the bitterest of the anti-Communist days of the Cold War? Well, it might read that way but the truth is that it was originally published during the 1930s Depression, and is much more explicable as an attack on the idle rich – and as such might find an extra resonance today. When Belinda softens they spend time with a group of people who wish to return to nature and turn their back on the cities – and given that we are describing central Europe after the rise of Hitler, this also give some extra density to this tale. It is also considered to be one of the best of the original TV episodes, a virtual two-hander in which the Saint undertakes the moral and ethical re-education of a rich and spoiled society woman, played fairly well by baby-faced Erica Rogers. The setting is relocated to the Costa Brava (though the countryside on display here looks a hell of a lot like Wales), though much is otherwise retained, including the climactic spanking (which might raise a few eyebrows today).
“I am Filippo Ravenna,” said the Saint.
Lucerne: The Loaded Tourist (tx: 1 November 1962)
Magazine publication: Manhunt March 1953
Writer: Richard Harris Director Jeremy Summers
Cast: Barbara Bates (Helen Ravenna), Edward Evans (Filippo Ravenna), Guy Deghy (Inspector Oscar Kleinhaus), *Joseph Cuby (Alfredo Ravenna), *Norman Florence (Carlos Visconti), Michael Rittermann (Paul Galen)
In Geneva the Saint is too late to stop a pair of thieves attack and kill Filippo Ravenna, an Italian businessman on his way to America. He runs after them and although they get away he ultimately manages to retrieve the victim’s briefcase, which is filled to the brim with precious goods. This is a fairly slender tale though an amusing one in which the police and the murderer prove as devious as Simon, who still gets away with part of the swag at the end. In the transfer to screen, the victim and his wife see their roles expanded and are also given a son, Alfredo, who spends most of his time helping the Saint solve the case. The adaptation is a smart one, using up all of the Charteris material and then embellishing on it very adroitly without changing the story at all and in many ways improving it by given the villain a much better-defined motive.
“It was a principle of the Saint’s sparsely principled career that one never exchanged entirely carefree badinage with anyone so liberally adorned with diamonds as Mrs Porphyria Nussberg”
Jaun-Les-Pins: The Spanish Cow (tx: 19 August 1965)
Magazine publication: Pearson’s Magazine July 1936
Writer: Michael Cramoy Director John Gilling
Cast: *Gary Raymond (Gilberto Arroyo), *Vivienne Ventura (Consuela Flores), Nancy Nevinson (Donna Luisa Arroyo), *Arnold Diamond (Colonel Latignant)
This is the slightest story in the collection, a character sketch of a large and ungainly American heiress who strikes fear and derision on the South of France and who, after pulling a face at Simon Templar, becomes the object of his criminal desires – or rather, her extraordinary jewels. Ultimately he makes an effort to become friends with her so that he can steal them but changes his mind when he finds that he pities her. For the TV version all that remains are the woman and her diamonds and the setting but the plot is now completely new. Mrs Nussberg becomes Donna Luisa Arroyo, the widow of the recently assassinated dictator of Santa Cruz and the diamonds are wanted by her brother-in-law to finance a counter-revolution and by the new government, who see that she has in her possession assets that now belong to the whole country. This is all handled in a thoroughly professional manner but is not especially memorable – but either way, given the massive if inevitable changes, one imagines Charteris wasn’t too impressed …
“Let’s-a go, sport,” said the man.
Rome: The Latin Touch (tx: 11 October 1962)
Magazine publication: The Saint Detective Magazine August/September 1953
Writer: Gerald Kelsey, Dick Sharples Director John Gilling
Cast: Alexander Knox (Governor Hudson Inverest), Bill Nagy (Tony Unciello), Warren Mitchell (Marco Di Cesari) Peter Illing (Inspector Buono), Suzan Farmer (Sue Inverest), *Doris Nolan (Maude Inverest), *Robert Easton (Benson), *Marie Burke (Signora Unciello)
We reach my home town in this concluding story about a kidnapping by the mafia, which proved one of the best and closest adaptations for the TV series. Roger Moore’s Italian is much better than the Saint’s in the book, which is riddled with grammatical, idiomatic and syntactical errors – but then Moore at the time had an Italian wife and had recently worked in Italy on a sand and sandal epic. Indeed, one of the nice things about this early episode is that there was some genuine location shooting in Rome for this episode around the Colosseum, which would become increasingly rare as the series wore on and the backlot used more and more. As in the case of The Covetous Headsman, the story is expanded by adding a girlfriend who works as a singer in a nightclub and a chatty older woman (a landlady earlier, here the mother of the villain) but really the the main addition is the expansion of the role of the taxi driver, which becomes a showcase for the awesome comic talents Warren Mitchell, who steals the show.
DVD Availability: Available in the US, France and Australia, in the UK the show comes in two volumes from Network. The first, ‘The Monochrome Years,’ contains all the episodes shot in black and white (all the episodes here with the exception of the colour episode from season 5, The Angel’s Eye); the second brings together all 47 of the episodes shot later in colour for season 5 and 6. Both come with abundant extras such as audio commentaries and best of all documentaries that alone are worth the price of admission, not least for reproducing some of the incredibly testy memos Charteris wrote to the producers (he really had it in for script editor Harry Junkin).
Producers: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman
Screenplay: Harry W. Junkin (script editor)
Cinematography: Lionel Banes (Paul Beeson on The Angel’s Eye)
Art Direction: Charles Bishop, Allan Harris
Music: Edwin Astley
Cast: Roger Moore (Simon Templar, The Saint)
Anyone who wants to know anything about Simon Templar should consult the awesome resource that is www.saint.org/
I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘amateur detective’ category: