Return of the Saint – The Diplomat’s Daughter

diplomat 01

When Simon observes a beautiful young woman, Marie de la Garde (Lynn Dalby), in distress he has to intervene.  She tells him that her brother, Pierre (Murray Head), has fallen into bad company and that they are forcing him to courier drugs to England (his father is the French ambassador and has diplomatic immunity, which is the reason why Pierre is so useful to them).

The opening seems to be a direct crib from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  We see Simon driving down a deserted road, minding his own business, when he’s overtaken at high speed by an attractive young woman in a red sports car.

Marie’s been marked for death by the villainous Shriber (Karl Held) because she offered to pay Pierre’s gambling debts (Shriber, of course, knows that Pierre is much more useful to them as a drugs mule).

Unlike many of the foreign episodes, this one features British actors putting on accents of varying credibility (although there’s a later twist with this).  Lynn Dalby, best known as the long-suffering partner of Budgie Bird in Budgie, is appealing as Marie (who is a more complex character than she first appears to be) whilst Murray (One Night In Bangkok) Head has the more thankless role of Pierre.

Michael Pertwee’s script is well tailored to Ian Ogilvy’s talents.  Simon seems to have a little more spark and verbal byplay in this one (referring to the villains as the “ungodly” brings to mind the literary Saint).  It would have been nice if all the episodes had featured a similar level of characterisation – rather too often Ogilvy wasn’t called upon to be anything more than a conventional leading man.  His comic timing is used to good effect here though.

The twist in the tail – Marie isn’t Pierre’s brother (they’re boyfriend and girlfriend) and is keen to acquire the drugs herself – poses more questions than it answers.  The whole plan seems to have been organised in order to smuggle the drugs in Simon’s car – but that makes very little sense.  Were the attempts Shriber made on Marie’s life simply mocked up for Simon’s benefit?  If so, it seems an incredibly over-elaborate scheme.  The slightly strange scripting means that The Diplomat’s Daughter rates three halos out of five.

Had ROTS returned for a second series, according to Ian Ogilvy it would have been much more of a British-based series.  That would have been interesting and if the scripting had been a little tighter then it could well have become a classic.  At it was, ROTS was probably made at the wrong time, being the last of the ITC adventure series meant it seemed a little out of place in the late 1970’s (when harder-edged fare such as The Sweeney and The Professionals were on offer).  But overall it’s a very solid series – helmed by experienced hands, both in front of and behind the camera.

It may be predictable at times, but as Ogilvy once said it was simply an adventure series and designed to entertain.  Which it certainly does, making it a pleasure to revisit.

diplomat 02

Advertisements

Return of the Saint – Appointment in Florence

florence 01

When a friend of Simon’s, Christian Van Esser (Bryan Pinero), is kidnapped and later killed by a faction of the Red Brigade, the Saint is quickly on the trail.  One of the terrorists, Ingo (James Aubrey), reacts badly to Christian’s murder and absconds – along with the ransom money.  With both his former associates and the Saint on his trail, he’s certainly a man in demand.  His girlfriend, Lea (Carla Romanelli), is a strong lead – but can Simon convince her that the man she loves is a terrorist?

By now you should be aware of the drill.  If Simon’s spending time in the pre-credits sequence with an old friend, it’s reasonable to assume that his lifespan will be somewhat limited!  A nice touch is that the episode opens with Simon and Christian enjoying a skiing holiday (no doubt these scenes were shot during the making of Hot Run) and we then relocate after the first ten minutes to Florence.  The two very different locations help to give the story an extra gloss.

Before the credits roll, we see Christian abducted, but we don’t know why.  It’s interesting that immediately after, time has clearly elapsed – we learn in very short order that Christian was kidnapped, the ransom was paid, the Saint had promised not to do anything to impede his return but all to no avail (his dead body arrives at the rendezvous in a cable-car).  All of this is dealt with in a minute or so, whereas it would have been more usual to develop the drama of Christian’s kidnap during the first act.

The least impressive piece of dubbing in the episode comes when Christian’s wife spies his lifeless body in the cable-car and screams.  The shape of her mouth in no way corresponds to the heart-wrenching wail which was no doubt added on much later in London!

Terrorism rarely featured in ROTS (One Black September was a notable exception).  It’s not hard to understand why, as the fanaticism of terrorists sits rather uneasily with the series’ escapist tone.   As might be expected they’re painted with rather broad brushstrokes – the terrorists’ beliefs are briefly touched upon, but if they had been ordinary criminals the story wouldn’t have been too different.

Their leader, Manfred (Stuart Wilson), is slightly more sadistic than the run of the mill ROTS baddy though.  When he corners Lea, he tells her that “I’m going to hang you from your own balcony. And when you are choking, I will come and cut the rope and watch while you fall and break your neck.”  Not surprisingly, he doesn’t get to carry out his threat as Simon arrives in the nick of time.

Carla Romanelli gives a nice performance as Lea – she doesn’t have a great deal to do, but comes over in several key scenes very well.  An eye-catching turn comes from Nicole Stoliaroff as one of the terrorists, Gaby.  Although it’s true that her character is something of a cliche – blond, beautiful and deadly – and is never really  developed.  As I’ve said, it would have been better had the terrorists had more strongly defined characters and motivations, but perhaps that was outside of the series’ parameters.

Despite the feeling of deja vu, this is a solid episode which rates four halos out of five.

florence 02

Return of the Saint – Dragonseed

dragon 01

Leo (Andrea Occhipinti) is a young man with everything to live for.  His father Domenico (Sam Wanamaker) is a millionaire businessman, grooming Leo to take over the reigns one day soon.  Although it’s his birthday, Leo is keen to close a multi-million pound deal by himself.  But after the helicopter he’s travelling in crashes, killing both Leo and the pilot, the question has to be, accident or sabotage?  And since Domenico was originally due to take the trip, was he the intended victim?

Another Italian episode, filmed in the highly picturesque area of Tuscany, Dragonseed is certainly an installment that makes full use of its locations.  Especially impressive are the scenes shot around the dockside – with the sun glinting on the water it looks gorgeous.

This originally aired immediately after Vicious Circle, which was slightly unfortunate – both are Italian shot episodes which feature Simon investigating the death of a friend who initially appeared to have died in an accident.  Another similarity is that they both include beautiful but deadly females …..

It’s hard to understand quite how Simon and Leo became friends, as Leo was in his late teens it’s difficult to imagine they would have moved in the same circles.  Had Simon been a friend of the family that would have made sense – but Domenico’s never heard of him.

Having directed the previous episode, Sam Wanamaker now steps in front of the camera.  He was an actor with presence and range, although he’s not best served by the script.  Domenico is a ruthless businessman who loves his family and vows to avenge his son’s death by whatever means necessary.  If this sounds a bit cliched, then it is, and Wanamaker does struggle at the start to make something out of the fairly unpromising material.  He’s better later on though – as we see Domenico start to crack up a little as his loss really begins to sink in.

However, there are worse performances, such as Barbara Pilavan who plays Domenico’s ex-wife Lucia.  She may be another victim of unsympathetic dubbing, but Pilavan doesn’t impress – especially in the scene where she arrives at the hospital (where Leo is hovering between life and life) and emotes in a very unconvincing way.

More pleasing are Shane Rimmer (a familiar television and film presence, well-known for his work with Gerry Anderson) as Domenico’s shady security man and Annamaria Macchi as Domenico’s daughter Carla.  Macchi is on hand to provide the customary dollop of glamour as well as a few surprises.

Both this episode and Vicious Circle feature friends of Simon who are killed off before the credits roll.  This is another problem as it makes it hard to care about them, since their screen-time has been so limited.  On its own, Dragonseed is entertaining enough, but the sense of familiarity means that it only rates three halos out of five.

dragon 02.jpg

Return of the Saint – Vicious Circle

 

vicious 01

Roberto Lucci (Massimiliano Baratta) is killed in a car accident en-route to a meeting with Simon. His widow, famous fashion designer Renata (Elsa Martinelli), isn’t surprised – Roberto was a former racing driver with a love of driving far too fast.  The Saint is convinced that his car was forced off the road deliberately – but as there’s no evidence the police aren’t interested. Simon, of course, isn’t discouraged and starts to dig about …..

Shot on location in Italy and directed by Sam Wanamaker, Vicious Circle has a mainly local cast.  This is something of a mixed blessing – it’s better to have native Italians rather than English actors putting on fake accents (as happened in the Collision Course two-parter) but the drawback is that they tend to be less fluent in English, hence their performances can feel slightly broader than normal.  Part of the problem with this one may also be that the dubbing on this episode is more obvious than usual (series like ROTS would tend to redub the majority of the dialogue as a matter of course).

Elsa Martinelli is icily detached as Roberto’s widow.  Following the accident that cut his career short, she was forced to nurse him – and Simon suspects she may know more about his death than she admits.  She’s a character drawn in fairly broad strokes – not helped by the dubbing which does create a little distance.

Tessa Wyatt (as Renata’s assistant Anna) seems to be initially positioned as this episode’s female helper, but the revelation that her ex-husband may have killed Roberto is an unexpected twist (and there’s more revelations to come).  It helps to isolate the Saint even further – most episodes see him paired up with female company and enjoying the tacit assistance of the authorities (something which doesn’t happen here).

The harder edge of this episode is demonstrated in several ways.  Firstly, Simon finds Anna drugged and hysterical in her room and we also have the unusual sight of Simon brandishing a gun (even if he doesn’t fire it).  And apart from a few quips, he’s in a pretty serious mood throughout.

The mystery of the episode – who killed Roberto and why? – is maintained until the end.  This is another break from the norm as normally the narratives are much more straightforward.  It’s a pity there weren’t a few more episodes like this scattered through the run, but partly because it’s a rarity Vicious Circle rates four halos out of five.

vicious 02

Return of the Saint – The Obono Affair

obono 01.jpg

President Obono (Thomas Baptiste) is the universally loathed leader of a minor African nation.  His visit to Britain has generated death threats and Simon is on hand to prevent one such attempted assassination.  Although the Saint receives Obono’s thanks he makes it quite clear that he was simply in the right place at the right time and has no desire to associate with him any further.

But when Obono’s son Joey (Paul Medford) is kidnapped, the President turns to Simon for help.  The Saint is initially reluctant, but eventually teams up with the President’s right hand man Colonel Dyson (Jack Hedley) to track the kidnappers down …..

President Obono is a pretty thinly-drawn caricature of Idi Amin, who at the time was the President of Uganda.  His fondness for outlandish military uniform (with plenty of medals) and an appalling record of human rights are just two similarities.  No attempt is made to present Obono as a likable or reasonable character and early on we see him berate his double (the man designed to draw the assassins bullet).   He tells Simon that “men like Jopo enjoy brutalisation. They know no other way of life.”

Simon’s distaste for the man is made plain from their initial meeting and his loathing also extends to Colonel Dyson.  Dyson is as much of a cliche as Obono is – a former British soldier who’s accepted blood money to train Obono’s army (we’re told that the army is the one of the main reasons why the country is broke).  Hedley, a veteran character actor probably best known for playing Colonel Preston in Colditz, is suitably solid and is easily one of the best things about the episode.

Thomas Baptiste’s performance is a little odd at times – it’s somewhat non-naturalistic.  I’m assuming this was intentional, an attempt to give Obono a larger-than-life persona.  Baptiste is rather better towards the end, once it’s known that the President is dying of natural causes.

Although there’s some decent actors cast at the kidnappers (including Derek Newark and Robert Gillespie) they act in a rather inept way, which means that there’s no particular threat from them.  Although Rose (Marie Lawrence) who we see looking after Joey does have an interesting backstory.  She was one of Obono’s former mistresses and still mourns the death of her child (presumably killed on Obono’s orders).

The first of two scripts by Michael Pertwee (The Diplomat’s Daughter was the other) there’s nothing subtle about The Obono Affair but it’s agreeable enough.  It has to be said though that the closing scene, where Simon persuades Obono to pardon all political prisoners in his country, feels uncomfortably pat.  One of the reasons why series like ROTS had trouble dealing with complex, real world issues was because there’s no easy solutions to difficult problems – and this scene demonstrates it.  Will everybody live happily ever after?  Probably not and it would have been better to acknowledge that.

Three and a half halos out of five for this one.

obono 02

Return of the Saint – Murder Cartel

murder 01

After witnessing the attempted assassination of Sheikh Kemal (Marne Maitlaind) on television, Simon has a sense that he’s going to be involved, although he doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t have long to wait – shortly afterwards he receives a call from a senior man in American intelligence, Hendricks (Roger Brown).

Hendricks is convinced that Kemal will be targeted again and this time the hit will succeed, as an expert assassin called Brown (Sergio Doria) has been hired.  Hendricks is less concerned with Brown, he wants the organisation financing him – a shady murder cartel responsible for most of the major assassinations over the last five years.

Moments later Hendricks is murdered in front of Simon’s eyes and that makes things very personal for the Saint.  He assumes Brown’s identity and goes undercover to break the cartel.  There he runs into the beautiful but deadly Laura (Britt Ekland) …..

Shot on location in Rome, Murder Cartel, like all the foreign episodes of ROTS, certainly makes full use of the locale.  Back in the 1960’s, whenever Roger Moore’s Saint visited Rome it would be courtesy of back projection and filming at Elstree Studios.  There’s no substitute for the real thing though, as this episode shows.

An impressive moment occurs when an accident is staged with two taxis in one of Rome’s busy streets.  It’s probably not the sort of thing that could easily happen today (red tape and clearances would make it prohibitively difficult).  Although the illusion is slightly shattered just after the crash – we see quite a few people standing about watching from the pavement (clearly they had been there quite a while, enjoying observing the film crew at work!)

Ogilvy gets to don a pair of dark glasses as he pretends to be a ruthless assassin.  It’s the third story in a row where Simon pretends to be on the side of the baddies – pity these episodes couldn’t have been spread out throughout the run, lumped together they don’t work quite as well.

Britt Ekland is statuesque but wooden as the head of the murder cartel.  She’s given a brief speech to justify herself (it’s all to do with her father) although since she’s a fairly sketchily drawn character it doesn’t really help to flesh her out.

The main problem with Murder Cartel is that it’s difficult to get involved with the story.  Simon is upset about the death of Hendricks (an old friend, apparently) but as we’ve never seen him before his death doesn’t have any resonance.  The question of whether Kemal will die or not is another part of the plot which remains undeveloped – his screen-time is so limited (and we only hear him utter a few words throughout the whole episode) that it’s impossible to feel invested in his fate.

Having said that, the story chugs along quite agreeably, the locations look lovely and Ekland, whilst hardly the best actor in the world, is very easy on the eye.

So this rates three halos out of five.

murder 02

Return of the Saint – Hot Run

hot 01

Simon is pretending to be a poor skier, purely so he can enjoy the attentions of the beautiful instructor Maria (Lorraine De Salle).  But just as things are hotting up on the slopes, the arrival of Maria’s brother Andre looks set to dash Simon’s plans.

Events then take a tragic turn – both Maria and Simon watch in horror as Andre is murdered (shot by a sniper in the trees).  He seemed to have lived a blameless life so who would have wanted to kill him?  One possible lead is an American called Diane Lang (Rula Lenska) who runs a ski display team.  As Simon investigates, he uncovers a plan to steal millions in bullion …..

We’re very much in James Bond territory here – indeed, the location of Cortina used in Hot Run would also feature in the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only.  But the picturesque backdrop is very much the star, as it helps to lift what is, sadly, a rather humdrum story.

There are a few points of interest though.  This is another story where Ian Ogilvy has the chance to play the Saint as a morally dubious character.  Because he’s convinced that Diane killed Andre (and is also planning something else) he does his best to persuade her that he’s just as crooked as she is.  When she learns that he’s Simon Templar, she does comment that nobody ever knows which side he’s on.

Rula Lenska is, suitably, hard as ice – but her henchman are much less impressive and it’s their rather obvious villainous dialogue which does drag the story down.  It also doesn’t help that we have to travel quite a way into the episode before we learn Diane’s plan (and by then I have to confess my interest had waned somewhat).

Diane plans to rob a delivery of bullion by causing an avalanche (Simon is recruited to let off the explosion which causes it).  It seems to be an elaborate way to go about things, when they could have just as easily staged a car accident and flagged the lorry down.

Another strange piece of plotting is Andre’s murder.  Yes, it provides us with a very strong pre-credits hook, but it’s just bizarre.  We’re later told that Andre had second thoughts and wanted to pull out of the robbery – it’s understandable that Diane would want to silence him, but to do so in public?  Why not quietly kill him and then drop his body down one of the numerous ravines?  The snow would soon have covered him and he’d never have been found.

Take the picture-postcard images away and there’s not a lot else to recommend in Hot Run, so it only rates two halos out of five.

hot 02.jpg