The Saint – Marcia

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Simon is mourning the death of Marcia Landon, famous film star, who took her own life after being disfigured in an acid attack.  Rising starlet Claire Avery (Samantha Eggar) has taken over the role Marcia was due to play in an upcoming film and after receiving a threatening letter – stating that unless she hands over five thousand pounds she too will be disfigured – calls on Simon for help.  So the Saint finds himself with a film studio full of suspects to investigate …..

The pre-credits sequence has a bleakness which wasn’t typical for the series, as we see Simon pay Marcia a fullsome eulogy.  Her face – prior to the attack – is prominently displayed both in the newspapers and on the studio walls where Simon has called to see Claire (and Marcia’s image will continue to appear throughout the episode).  The attack is shown in flashback – shot from distance and mostly using shadows, it’s effectively moody (and also isn’t explicit – which was always a consideration).

It’s a cliché but Samantha Eggar – just like Claire Avery – has undeniable star quality.  Director John Krish favours close-ups in the early part of the episode – as Claire and Simon chat about Marcia – and these shots, along with Eggar’s low, breathy voice helps to create a considerable impression.  The camera loves her and, to be honest, so do I.

Johnny Briggs creates an immediate impression as the chirpy runner, Johnny Desmond – he’s an upbeat sort of chap, always ready with a bad joke.  Marion Mathie, later to be the third and final television She Who Must Be Obeyed in Rumpole of the Bailey, is another familiar face who pops up (she plays Sheila – wife of Mike Sentinal, the director).

Jill Melford is deliciously bitchy as Irene Cromwell, an older actress who clearly believes that she should have been given Marcia’s role.  Dripping with honey-tongued venom, she’s highly entertaining.  Mix in Tony Beckley as Claire’s very disgruntled co-star and Philip Stone as a dogged police inspector and it’s hard to see how this story could have been better cast.

What’s nice about this one is that it gives us a rare chance to look behind the scenes at the studios where The Saint was shot.  It’s nowhere as self-reverential as some of the later UFO episodes, but it’s still interesting (and I daresay since it was pretty cheap to shoot, it would have pleased the producers).

As the story progresses, Claire continues to stress.  Things come to a head when a prop gun, used in the recording of the film, is substituted for a real one.  Simon, standing off-camera, shouts “drop that gun and nobody move!” in an incredibly forceful way (very uncharacteristic) whilst Claire just screams.  Oddly, she does so after the shot’s been fired (she appears to be working on a slight delay).  John Krish doesn’t really do Eggar any favours by zooming into her screaming mouth – it’s an arresting image, but not terribly flattering.

Towards the end of the episode, there’s a chance to see even more of the studio as Simon pursues a mysterious stranger through its various nooks and crannies.  This might be little more than padding, but it’s shot so well that it’s hard not to enjoy it.  Indeed, that sums up the story as a whole.  The mystery is fairly slight, but with such a strong cast it’s easy to be totally absorbed.

The use of Marcia’s photograph is an especially memorable touch.  It’s seen so often, in various different locations, that it’s almost like she’s always present – albeit as a passive, non-speaking observer.  This is one of the reasons why Marcia is a fascinating story which rates four and a half halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Fellow Traveller

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Simon is contacted by a man called Henry Matson (Brian Oulton) who tells him that he’s been forced to steal blueprints from the place where he works.  He and Simon meet in what appears to be a safe place – a deserted bus shelter in the middle of nowhere – but Matson has barely begun to pour out his story before he’s shot dead by a passing motorist.  With his dying breath, he’s able to point the Saint in the direction of the Blue Goose Club and the glamourous Magda Vamoff (Dawn Addams).

Globe-trotter Simon Templar has temporarily come back down to humbler surroundings, as the caption at the start of the story (Stevenage, England) makes plain.  Matson only makes a brief appearance before hitting the dust, but it’s enough to paint his character as a rather quiet, unassuming and insignificant man.  This makes his secret life – cavorting with the fleshpots and gamblers at the Blue Goose – a little hard to accept, but if he didn’t have some weakness (in his case gambling) then he wouldn’t have been blackmail material.

Interviews with Matson’s wife and employer temporarily place Simon in somewhat prosaic surroundings (and it’s rather odd that Simon – rather than the police – breaks the news to his employer that Matson is dead) but it’s not long before the Saint is ensconced in the comfort of the Blue Goose, which is much more his sort of place.

He quickly makes the acquaintance of Magda and elects to adopt the full frontal approach – telling her that he’s a friend of the late Henry Matson.  Since the club is occupied by individuals – such as Hans Blatt (Michael Peake) – who are just itching to kill him, going undercover probably would have been a waste of time.  Plus it would have been much less fun – there’s very much the sense here that Simon enjoys breezing around from place to place, stirring up trouble as he goes.

Magda professes not to know anything about Matson’s death, but can we believe her?  Addams is statuesque, but slightly stiff.  Magda does sport some impressive clothes though – the leopard skin coat and hat combination stands out especially.  She and Simon have a rather nice relationship – it’s all about the subtext – with Simon warily attempting to probe her for information.  At one point, as they share dinner, he casually tells her that she hasn’t told him one word of truth all evening.  She doesn’t take offence at this, so either Simon’s remarkable charm is operating at full strength or she’s so incredibly crooked that she just has to soak up the insults ….

Angus Lennie is good fun as the hotel receptionist, James Andrew MacTavish. I know this will come as a shock, but James is Scottish (no, really).  He’s a helpful sort – passing on messages to Simon and acting as a sounding board for his theories.  Another very familiar face, Glyn Owen, appears as Superintendent Kinglake.  The Superintendent is your typical Saint police officer – irritated at the way that Simon rides roughshod over his investigation, but powerless to stop him.  Owen doesn’t have a great deal to do until the last ten minutes or so, but he’s the recipient of a few decent exasperated lines.

Michael Peake had the face of a villain, so it won’t come as a surprise to learn that today he plays … a villain (Hans Blatt).  Indeed, it always came as a slight surprise whenever Peake turned out to be playing a good guy (such as in the Doctor Who story The Romans).  Blatt begins by attempting to run Simon off the road and when that doesn’t work he slips into his hotel room to pop something unpleasant into his bottle of wine.

Later, Simon reaches for the bottle and pours out a drink for himself and his visitor, Nick Vashetti (Neil McCallum).  Just in case we’d missed the scene of Blatt’s tinkering, the incidental music goes overboard with menacing drumbeats as the pair slowly raise the glasses to their lips, just to hammer the point home.  But in the split second before they take a swig, Simon senses poison and knocks the glass out of Vashetti’s hand.  A pity that Blatt didn’t choose an odourless poison (goodness knows what they were teaching people in crime school back then).

Vashetti’s death is just a pleasure deferred for Blatt though.  Vashetti has information which will allow Simon to solve the mystery, but he doesn’t get the chance to pass it over as a visit from Blatt (complete with his trusty silenced pistol) sorts him out once and for all.  It’s a rather odd scene, as although the tension is nicely ramped up by the slow and methodical way that Blatt attaches the silencer to his gun, the mood is then dissipated by the very unconvincing “pop” it makes.  It’s such an unconvincing sound that at first I wondered if it was a fake gun (designed to frighten but not kill).

The Fellow Traveller was adapted from Charteris’ short story The Sizzling Saboteur (one of two novellas published as The Saint on Guard in 1944).  The events were relocated from wartime America to modern Britain and the death of Henry (Matson on television, Stephens in print) was much grimmer in the novella.  The Saint’s car journey is interrupted by what appears to be a log in the road – but it turns out to be Henry’s blackened, dying body.

Although The Fellow Traveller has a mystery at its heart (just who is the Mr Big running the operation?) the eventual reveal of his identity is a bit of a damp squib.  It’s also difficult to be that invested in Magda’s fate as Addam’s icy persona doesn’t help to draw the viewers in.  As ever, it’s an efficient production, but since the story never quite kicks into gear it only rates three halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Benevolent Burglary

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Having had a successful evening in a Monte Carlo casino, Simon is in the process of cashing in his chips when he bumps into an old friend, Bill Fulton (Gary Cockrell).  Bill’s feeling depressed because the millionaire father of his sweetheart, Meryl (Suzanne Neve), has forbidden their union.  Meryl’s father, Elliot Vascoe (John Barrie), has an impressive art collection and the Saint – aiming to teach him a lesson – bets him five thousand dollars that sometime during the next four days his new gallery will be robbed.

Simon’s in full James Bond mode at the start of the episode.  He’s looking suitably dashing in a white tuxedo and – like Bond – is the sort of gambler who knows when to stop.  His taste for stylish casualwear can be seen later on when he relaxes in an impressive dressing gown.

Bill’s a penniless musician which means that in Vascoe’s eyes he couldn’t be a worse match for his daughter.  And then there’s the instrument he plays.   “A drummer! Not even a real musician, he just makes a noise”.  Needless to say, Meryl doesn’t take this sort of criticism very well – it just serves to drive a wedge between her and her father.

Suzanne Neve is rather lovely, although unlike some of the other ladies who cross paths with the Saint, Meryl carries herself with a more natural air.  Amongst her later credits, Neve would appear in The Forsyth Saga (1967) as well as popping up twice in UFO as Ed Straker’s bitter and estranged ex-wife Mary.

Simon’s baiting of Vascoe might be partly motivated by the travails of Bill and Meryl, but he’s also doing it because he despises Vascoe (they’ve clashed before).  Vascoe is the sort of character who simply rubs Simon up the wrong way – he tags him as a nouveau riche philistine, someone who doesn’t appreciate art (he simply delights in buying up various treasures in order to demonstrate that he’s “cultured”).

John Barrie racked up sixty six episodes of Sergeant Cork during the 1960’s.  Amazingly, all of the episodes exist and are now available on DVD – if you haven’t seen them then you really should (advert over).  It’s mainly thanks to Cork that Barrie has become a favourite actor of mine – meaning that it’s a treat to see him pop up in this episode.  Vascoe is not the most multi-layered of characters – he’s an arrogant type who you know is going to be taken down a peg or two – but thanks to Barrie’s performance he’s never less than completely watchable.

Another familiar face appearing is Rachel Gurney as Delphine Chambers.  Delphine has been commissioned by Vascoe to paint a portrait of Meryl, which gives her the opportunity to linger around the perimeters of the plot.  Other highly recognisable actors passing by include Ivor Salter as a typically inefficient policemen (just one of a number drafted in to keep tabs on Simon) and Andre Maranne as a radio operator.

Arnold Diamond, as Colonel Latignant, may be one of Simon’s lesser-known authority adversaries, but since he appeared in six episodes he possibly deserves to be more appreciated.  Latignant is tasked to stop the Saint (who of course runs rings around him with insouciant ease). This means that at one point the unfortunate Latignant buries his head in his hands and lets out a primal scream of anguish!

Simon’s public pronouncement has drawn a veritable rogues gallery to Monte Carlo – all of them keen to attempt the burglary, since they know that if they succeed then Simon will be blamed.  Jules Brant (Raymond Adamson) is the one who actually carries out the crime, although Simon is on hand to intercept him and give him a decent duffing up.  It’s a nice touch that Brant left the Saint’s calling card (the stickman figure) at the scene of the crime – this was something that the literary Saint tended to do in his early days.

Simon’s parting shot to Vascoe – he returns the stolen items and explains that any one of his trusted friends and advisors could have been the inside man since they all despise him – is devastating.  The television Saint has rarely been as ruthless as this, although since his actions do serve as a wakeup call for Vascoe, it’s not entirely vindictive.  This is easily Barrie’s best scene, as we see Vascoe slowly realise that whilst his life is materially rich it’s also emotionally barren.  We end on an optimistic note as Vascoe and Meryl are reconciled.

Given that it shares a few plot similarities, it’s not too surprising that this story was originally published in the same collection as The Charitable Countess (The Happy Highwayman, 1939).  Charteris’ story is set in New York rather than Monte Carlo and although Vascoe is blocking Meryl and Bill’s marriage, it’s for a very different reason.  In the short story, Bill has invented a new tube(!) that’s set to make him a fortune – but since grasping old Vascoe lent him the money to develop it, he’s now planning to foreclose on the loan and reap the rewards of Bill’s invention for himself.  The identity of the thief is also quite different and Vascoe remains unrepentant at the end.  Given that the story is pretty short, it’s not too surprising that the teleplay had to be bulked out somewhat.

Another typically strong guest cast – headed by the peerless John Barrie – ensures that this is another top quality Saint episode.  Four and a half halos out of five.

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The Saint – The King of the Beggars

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Simon, back in Rome, becomes aware of an odious protection racket targeting the city-wide population of beggars.  They’ve been forced to give a percentage of the money they collect to a mysterious figure known only as the King of the Beggars.  A young actress, Theresa (Yvonne Romain), has gone undercover in order to identify the “King” and Simon, suitably disguised, quickly takes her place (after all, he’s got much more experience of tangling with the ungodly than she has).  But events take a sinister turn after Theresa is kidnapped …..

The King of the Beggars touches upon a theme previously raised in The Charitable Countess, specifically the divide between Rome’s rich and poor.  As before, Simon shows sympathy towards those who have nothing, especially when one of them is brutally mown down before his eyes.

There’s plenty of familiar faces in this one – Oliver Reed (more of him in a minute), Ronnie Corbett (credited more formally as Ronald) and Warren Mitchell, who was making his third and final appearance as Simon’s Rome-based helper, Marco.  Moore and Mitchell slip easily back into their bantering partnership (Simon offers Marco a drink – he asks for a large whisky, but receives a small coffee instead!).  Marco is again partly present to give us the opposite view about beggars – he regards them as a workshy nuisance, whilst Simon is much more forgiving about the plight they’ve found themselves in.

Oliver Reed’s imposing physical presence is immediately evident.  As Joe Catilli, a member of the protection racket, he glowers splendidly and it isn’t long before he and the Saint come to blows.  Their bout of fisticuffs may be brief, but it feels quite convincing.  They tangle on several later occasions as well, with the most entertaining being when the Saint uses Catalli as an unwilling guinea pig in order to demonstrate to a group of impressively bearded vagrants the best way to defend yourself from unwanted street attacks!

Last time, I raised an eyebrow (in tribute to Roger of course) at the Saint’s previously unheralded skill with disguises.  Remarkably he’s at it again today – a pair of dark glasses, a little bit of stubble, mussed hair and he’s instantly transformed into a blind beggar.  It’s ever so slightly awkward though that he’s then approached by Catilli, who doesn’t seem to connect this blind beggar to the young chap who had earlier duffed him up.  I mean, it’s not that great a disguise.

Marco and Simon are teamed up for several very enjoyable scenes.  One of my favourites sees them interrogating an uncommunicative member of the gang.  But never fear, Marco has a pair of pliers in his pocket and attempts to give him an instant spot of rough dentistry!

Who could the King of the Beggars be?  We’re introduced to Stephen Elliot (John McLaren), a philanthropic American who appears to share Simon’s distress at the plight of Rome’s displaced citizens.  But everything points to the fact that this upstanding man will later be revealed to be the “King”.  Or will there be a twist?  Hmm ……

John McLaren seems a little stiff, although this may be due to the character he’s playing and not a lack of acting ability.  More naturalistic is Maxine Audley as the Contessa Dolores Marcello.  Dolores and Elliot first encountered the Saint when he was wearing his beggar disguise and when they all meet again at a swanky party she quickly makes the connection (which is more than Elliot did).

But it seems that Catalli eventually did twig as well, as Simon finds himself drinking a cup of drugged chocolate at the flop house run by Maria Calvetti (Jessie Robins).  As Simon slumps to the floor, Catalli pops up in a typically menacing fashion.  Maria and Catalli then team up to interrogate the kidnapped Theresa.  A shame that Robins’ role isn’t larger as Maria’s got a nice line in threats.  “Miss Mantania, don’t get rough with me. I can knock you right through the wall”.  I believe her ….

One of two novellas from the 1948 book Call for the Saint, Charteris’ story was set in Chicago, with Simon’s regular sidekick – Hoppy – assisting him.  Marco performs a similar function in the teleplay (and is considerably less irritating).  Many of the characters are essentially the same, although the names have naturally been changed to rather more Italianate ones.

John Gillings’ teleplay retains all the essential story beats of the original, including the chess piece left behind by the abducted Theresa (which gives Simon a vital clue).  The identity of the “King” is a decent twist and together with the strong guest cast, headed by Reed and Mitchell, it helps to make this another very solid story.  Four halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Saint Sees It Through

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Simon travels to Hamburg, at the behest of the American government, in order to investigate a fine art smuggling ring.  He has an “in” – since a former girlfriend, Lili Klausner (Margit Saad), seems to be implicated.  The Saint quickly works out that the sinister Dr Ernest Zellerman (Joseph Furst) is a key man, but finding evidence against him proves to be tricky ….

The Saint Sees It Through has a decent noirish atmosphere, with Simon meeting taciturn contacts on dark street corners before dodging into Tante Ada’s –  a smoky nightclub where Lili plies her trade.  Moore isn’t doing much during these early scenes, but as the cliché goes – less is more.  He enters the club whilst Lili is in mid song and moves to stand directly in front of her.  This could be taken as an oppressive gesture, but Lili doesn’t interpret it as such.  Later, as they share a drink, he asks her why she walked out on him several years back.  It’s unusual for Simon to show concern about a former relationship (like James Bond he generally tends to love them and leave them) but it may be that he’s simply using this as an excuse to re-establish a link with her.

Also at the club is Dr Zellerman, who has arranged a date with Lili.  But after Simon appears, she declines Dr Zellerman’s invitation – which rather infuriates the good doctor.  Luckily Simon’s on hand to forcibly teach him that good manners cost nothing.  Whenever I see Joseph Furst it’s hard not to have one line of dialogue running through my mind (“nothing in ze world can stop me now!”) but there was a good deal more to him than that over exuberant Doctor Who guest appearance.  Elsewhere he tended to be – as here – much more restrained and sinister (Furst carved out a very decent niche playing villains).

It was a good move to cast Margit Saad, a German actress, as Lili.  No doubt many British actresses could have played the role just as well, but Saad is naturally more authentic.  Mainly plying her trade in German-language roles, this was therefore something of a rare English-language excursion for her.  Given this, you might have expected her to be a little stiff, but that’s not really the case – or if it is, then it suits the character.  Saad also has several musical credits to her name, so it could very well have been her vocals which were used for the nightclub scene (it was fairly common for anonymous singers to dub beautiful actresses who weren’t such beautiful vocalists).

Guy Deghy makes his second Saint appearance (here, looming with menace as another member of the smuggling ring) whilst Elspeth March, a veteran actress with an impeccable list of stage and screen credits, plays Tante Ada – the slightly blowsy nightclub owner who is also connected to the nefarious goings on.  This means that the Saint has a number of adversaries to battle against – but is Lili one of them?

Her connection to the smugglers remains nebulous for a while, although Simon – in the course of a little light burgling of Dr Zellerman’s office – finds her details in his card index file.  She then explains to Simon that she’s his patient (Zellerman is a psychiatrist) which Simon has a hard time in believing.  “You’re no more mentally ill than I am” he tells her.

You have to be impressed at Simon’s snap diagnosis (presumably those people who do have issues display physical traits).  He’s convinced that Dr Zellerman has waged psychological warfare on her, in order that he can then bend her to his will.  Since this turns out to be the case it luckily lets Lili off the hook in terms of being a complicit criminal (although it also serves to reinforce Simon’s prejudices that it was laughable to believe that an attractive young woman could possibly have had mental health problems – not such a good thing).

There’s some impressive dressing gowns on display during this episode.  Firstly, Carl (Guy Deghy) sports a natty little number when Simon comes a calling.  The Saint puts the screws on him, which is enough to convince the physically imposing – but rather cowardly – Carl that he should cut and run.   Dr Zellerman agrees he should go (providing him with an escort out of the city) but it’s plainly telegraphed that Zellerman has arranged for Carl to be permanently silenced.  And so he is – via a rather striking death scene (Carl, shot once, sinks slowly to the floor in a very eye-catching manner).

Our second dressing gown moment occurs when Simon, equally as well attired as Carl, agrees to meet Dr Zellerman for lunch (although you’ll be happy to learn that he changed out of his dressing gown before the meeting).  It’s a trap though – Zellerman had arranged for Simon to admit that he’d earlier indulged in a spot of burglary (unaware that several police officers were stationed outside to hear his confession).  This could have been a sticky moment, but conveniently (a touch too conveniently maybe) Simon’s American contact appears from nowhere to bail him out.

Furst creates one of the best realised Saint villains to date.  Dr Zellerman might be largely single-minded in his desire to make money, but he also exhibits a spasm of tenderness towards Lili.  But he can’t bring himself to cease his brainwashing tricks on her since he knows that if he did then he’d never see her again.  Therefore we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him.

Simon later exhibits a previously unknown talent for disguises, as he saunters into Tante Ada’s bar sporting a beard and a wicked-looking scar.  It’s enough to fool Lili, which seems to suggest that she’s either very trusting or needs to visit an optician.  Simon’s Swedish accent (imagine the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show) is also a joy.  It seems barely credible that Simon’s disguise would fool anyone for more than a minute (why not recruit a genuine unknown to penetrate the smuggling ring, rather than Simon who’s now a familiar face?) so that’s a slight mark against the story.

Published in 1946, The Saint Sees It Through was the final full-length Saint novel (from then on, Charteris would pen either novellas or short stories).  In the novel, opium, rather than art treasures, are being smuggled whilst the location is New York instead of Hamburg.  Simon’s contact, Hamilton, is the same in both – although his presence makes more sense in the novel, since he’d also been Simon’s wartime contact (the Saint – like Charteris – had relocated to America during WW2).

Notwithstanding Simon’s rather silly disguise, this is a well-crafted episode which has something for everyone.  A first-rate guest appearance from Joseph Furst, a decent romance between Simon and Lili and some energetic last-minute fisticuffs as the Saint duffs up several members of the ungodly.  A very early credit for Ian Kennedy-Martin (later to create The Sweeney and Juliet Bravo), this is good stuff – especially the heart-breaking final scene (absent from the original novel).  Four and a half halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Ever-Loving Spouse

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Otis Q. Fennick (Barry Jones) approaches the Saint for help. He’s been caught in a compromising position in his hotel room after a scantily-clad, attractive young woman, Norma Upton (Jacqueline Ellis), was thrust upon him, whilst a photographer, Vern Balton (David Bauer), took several incriminating snaps (paid for by Fennick’s wife, Lianne). But after Balton is murdered, Simon has a complicated mystery to unravel ….

Simon is indulging in one of his favourite pastimes – observing the foibles of others.  He’s staying in the same hotel as Fennick and his colleagues (a group of middle-aged businessman who, since they’re attending a convention far away from their wives, take the opportunity to cut a little loose).  Well most do, Fennick remains somewhat straight-laced.  He’s also not terribly American.  Presumably Guernsey-born Jones didn’t feel confident in adopting an accent – although most of the other cast were American or Canadian born, which helps with the authenticity.

David Bauer, making his second Saint appearance, casts an effectively evil shadow as the slimy Balton – although this is a much smaller role than his previous one (he’s bumped off mid-way through).  Jeanne Moody draws an immediate boo-hiss as the conniving Lianne Fennick, the scarlet woman scheming to divorce her husband and pocket a sizeable alimony payoff along the way.  Quite what poor Otis saw in Lianne is a bit of a mystery – but then, love is blind.

Although most of the performances are pitched at a steady level, somebody is doing something a little different.  That’s Alexis Kanner, always an idiosyncratic actor.  Kanner plays Alec Minser, Norma’s jealous boyfriend (it’s fair to say that he’s somewhat upset that she’s been posing for suspect photographs with Balton).  Since Alec is written as a somewhat unstable character you could argue that Kanner was perfect casting, since this was his usual stock in trade.  He certainly ensures that Alec comes across a twitchy, unpredictable type.

Alec becomes suspect number one for Balton’s murder and is taken downtown to be grilled by the grim Detective Williams (British born Robert Arden, managing a decent American accent).  This seems far too obvious though (and the Saint wasn’t involved in his capture) so there clearly has to be a twist along the way.  The last twenty minutes or so, when the Saint turns detective in order to unmask the true culprit, are the most effective of the episode since there’s a decent mystery to unravel (even if the list of suspects is rather small).

Taken from the short-story collection The Saint Sees It Through (published in 1959), Charteris’ tale has a few incidental details missing from Norman Borisoff’s teleplay.  Such as the reason why Simon’s somewhat slumming in a very average hotel with a group of boisterous executives (the convention types have so monopolised all the hotels in the area that the Saint concludes he’s lucky to have found a room anywhere).   Although the television Fennick, like his literary counterpart, is head of a sweet company – in print much more fun’s made with this.  Simon, on first hearing his story, ponders if it’s all a gag perpetrated by one of his colleagues.

If some prankster in this Convention is trying to sabotage your bid to be elected Supreme Lollipop by charging you with dissolute habits, the foul conspiracy may yet boomerang. With your new reputation as the Confectionery Casanova, you might become the hero of the Convention. Think what a few shots like that did for Brigitte Bardot.

Possibly the biggest change is reserved for the end.  I won’t disclose the identity of the murderer, but in print Simon is happy to let him or her walk free (considering that the murder of a blackmailer is an acceptable crime) whilst the television Saint is a much more law-abiding type.  As touched upon previously, Simon’s vigilante aspects had to be toned right down when the series was developed, in order not to affect the sensibilities of the watching millions, and this was something which rather neutered the character at times.

Not the best the series has to offer then – partly because of the changes made, but also because the story never really clicks into gear until we’re more than halfway through.  But the performances – especially Kanner and Jones – are strong, and this is enough to make me score it three and a half halos out of five.

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The Saint – The Gentle Ladies

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Simon is spending a few days in Sussex, partly to do some sailing and partly because he wants to see Kathleen Howard (Christine Gregg) again.  But intrigue and mystery dogs the Saint wherever he goes and the sleepy fishing village of Bosham is no different.  Three seemingly respectable sisters of a certain age – Florence (Avice Landone), Ida (Renee Houston) and Violet (Barbara Mullen) – find themselves targeted by an uncouth blackmailer called Alfred Powls (Philip O’Flynn).  What is the dark secret that all three women have been harbouring for decades?

I love the fact that everybody in the world seems to have heard of the Saint.  Simon and Florence are introduced to each other in the pre-credits sequence (she bumps into his car) and when he tells her his name, she reacts in the time-honoured fashion (and then, of course, a halo appears).  Ida and Violet are equally perturbed when they learn that the Saint is in the vicinity, no doubt worried that their – as yet unknown – secret will shortly be divulged.

As with the series opener, The Talented Husband, this is something of an atypical Saint episode.  There’s a crime element, but the village setting and the byplay between the sisters is something of a departure from the usual, more hard-boiled action.  As the title suggests, all three sisters have gentle personas, so it’s something of a shock for them when their comfortable lives are rudely interrupted by the arrival of Powls.  They know him of old – and whilst his blackmail begins modestly enough (a demand for fifty pounds) he then tells them that he wants a cottage and a yearly stipend of two thousand pounds.  The fact they seriously consider his request makes it clear that they’re all women of very substantial means ….

Avice Landone, Renee Houston and Barbara Mullen were all veteran actresses, each boasting highly impressive cvs.  Landone had appeared in a score of films during the forties and fifties (including Carve Her Name With Pride), before becoming something of a television fixture during the sixties and seventies.  Houston’s film career started in the late twenties and ended in 1975 (her final credit was The Legend of the Werewolf).  Amongst her other notable film appearances were a couple of Carry Ons (including playing the wonderfully named Agatha Spanner in Carry On At Your Convenience).  Barbara Mullen will always be best remembered as the indomitable Janet in Dr Finlay’s Casebook (she notched up nearly two hundred episodes between the early sixties and early seventies).

As the episode proceeds, the personas of the three women all become better defined.  Florence might be hopelessly accident-prone (seemingly unable to take her car out without bumping into something) but unlike the others she seems set to break free of her spinsterish bonds.  The affable George Marsh (Anthony Nicholls) has been conducting a long-term, low-key courtship of her, although the arrival of Powls drives a wedge between them.  Nicholls, later to become an ITC regular in The Champions (complete with a remarkably false-looking beard) is a strong addition to the cast whilst Timothy Bateson makes an amusing cameo as Charley Butterworth.

Violet’s the most retiring and twittery (Mullen’s very watchable during all her scenes – always doing something to catch the eye) whilst Ida is the strong arm of the three.  She’s quite prepared to give the grinning blackmailer a hefty slap!

Once Simon learns the reason for Powls’ presence then there’s the inevitable fisticuffs.  Moore again scores high on the intensity level as Simon drops his usual relaxed persona in order to forcibly ram his point home.  “Whatever the Warshed girls did in the past, they’ve lived down and I don’t want to know the dirty details. They’re loved in this town and they’re happy here.  And no dirty minded, sewer minded little creep like you is going to blackmail them. You understand?”

John Graeme’s teleplay relocates the action from America to England.  In both the original story and Graeme’s adaptation, Simon’s well-meaning attempt to run Powls out of town only drives him back to the sister’s house – but what happens next is quite different.  On television, a drunken Powls accidentally falls down the stairs to his death, but in Charteris’ story Florence bludgeons him with a poker (leaving Simon with a hole to dig in order that they can dispose of the body).

The Warshed sisters’ dark secret is quite different too (although both in print and on television it’s revealed that they’re not actually sisters).  It’s not difficult to see why it was changed though. On television they’re revealed to be highly improbable fine art thieves, in print they were prostitutes – Florence had been the madam of a notorious bawdy house, whilst Ida and Violet had been two of her girls.

A story that coasts along thanks to the guest performances of the three veteran actresses, The Gentle Ladies rates a respectable three and a half halos out of five.

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