Wasn't this reviewed by the notorious Judge Maurice Cobbs?
"I'm not very complicated…Like all men I'm searching for personal fulfillment. I just won't accept mine by proxy, that's all. It's very simple. I don't like being a cog in the machine. Being one of the millions of ants that devour the dragon is all very noble, but it's not half as much fun as being St. George, is it?"—Simon Templar
"I was always sure that there was a solid place in escape literature for a rambunctious adventurer such as I dreamed up in my youth, who really believed in the old-fashioned romantic ideals and was prepared to lay everything on the line to bring them to life. A joyous exuberance that could not find its fulfillment in pinball machines and pot. I had what may now seem a mad desire to spread the belief that there were worse, and wickeder, nut cases than Don Quixote.
Even now, half a century later, when I should be old enough to know better, I still cling to that belief. That there will always be a public for the old-style hero, who had a clear idea of justice, and a more than technical approach to love, and the ability to have some fun with his crusades."—Leslie Charteris
Facts of the Case
Feared by criminals and dreaded by policemen the world over, the notorious Simon Templar—better known by his nom de crime, The Saint—wages a one-man war on "the Ungodly." Whether in Rome, Paris, New York, or the English countryside, the so-called Robin Hood of modern crime may not go out looking for trouble, but you can bet that trouble will always come looking for him.
Presented here are all 12 episodes of The Saint from the first season of the long-running series, starring Roger Moore (Live and Let Die) and based on the books and short stories written by Leslie Charteris. The episodes are:
Leslie Charteris's enduring character, the Saint, probably had more influence on my youthful life than any other character in detective fiction. I cut my teeth on the Three Investigators mysteries (remember those?) and appreciated the incredible poetry of Raymond Chandler and the raw energy of Mickey Spillane. But the Saint combined everything that I was insanely interested in as a boy: international intrigue, two-fisted crime-busting adventure, modern-day swashbuckling, and a fiercely independent hero with a way with the ladies and his own code of behavior, plus the skill and prowess to back it up—not to mention an abundance of wit and charm. I devoured the Saint's written adventures ravenously (I think that I can safely attest to having read all of the hundred-plus books) and thrilled to RKO's film versions of the character (my first exposure to the ultra-suave George Sanders). In junior high school, I discovered that my local library had an extensive collection of the radio show starring Vincent Price; rarely an afternoon passed that didn't find me blissfully listening to those adventures while doing my homework (and in fact, those adventures led to a lifelong love of old-time radio drama in general). And if I stayed up late enough, I could find episodes of the TV show in syndication—the current generation of youngsters will never know what they have been deprived of by having late-night infomercials replace syndicated TV and late late movies. As far as the 1997 disasterpiece starring Val Kilmer is concerned…well, the less said, the better.
So I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm a fan of the Saint from way back, and apt to be pretty critical (have I mentioned how horrible the Val Kilmer movie is?). That having been said, The Saint: The Early Episodes definitely does not disappoint. Twelve rousing adventures drawn directly from the extensive pool of Leslie Charteris's stories, this series is perhaps the most definitive version of the character ever committed to film, and it became an instant hit with British audiences. When the show found its way across the sea, it met with equal success in America, becoming one of the most successful first-run syndicated shows in TV history. This DVD boxed set might have pleased just a little better—but never mind. There is so much to love in these classic episodes that even the lack of the special features that were included on the Australian release of the series (including exclusive audio commentaries and an interview with Sir Roger Moore, production notes, and more) can be overlooked—although why A&E chose to deprive the Saint's American fan base of these juicy tidbits is a mystery that might stump even Simon himself, especially when you consider that the Australian discs are region free and will no doubt have greater appeal to the more rabid Anglophiles out there (and you may believe me when I say that they are out there). In any case, classic TV fans unfamiliar with the Saint (or familiar with the character only from the dismal Val Kilmer movie) should enjoy this collection of first-season episodes; brimming with roaring action, international intrigue, arch humor, clever mysteries, and unforgettable characters, it's enough to quench any couch potato's romantic thirst for thrilling vicarious adventure.
"When Leslie Charteris heard that I had been cast for the part he is reported to have made a beeline to the nearest bar, ordered the most exotic-sounding drink that came to mind, and tried hard to forget that such a diabolical thing had happened to him."—Roger Moore
At the center of this whirlwind of danger and derring-do is Roger Moore, perfectly cast as Simon Templar—better cast as Templar, in fact, than he ever was as Bond. Even so, Leslie Charteris did not initially approve of Moore's casting; Charteris had tried unsuccessfully to develop the Saint for television before, and he had very definite ideas as to who should bring the Saint to life. None of those ideas included the young, elegant Roger Moore—David Niven was more to the author's liking. And, as Charteris wryly noted, "This is a subject on which all other opinions are predestined for the wastebasket. I can be wrong about lots of things; but on all matters concerning Simon Templar I can cheerfully proclaim myself the one and only infallible incontrovertible expert on earth." Patrick McGoohan (secret agent John Drake on the hit show Danger Man) had been initially approached for the 1962 series, but being deeply religious, he disapproved of the womanizing ways of the character and refused. But Roger Moore—previously of the television shows Ivanhoe and Maverick—was extremely interested in the part, and had in fact made a previous attempt to buy the rights himself for television at one point.
Really, I can't see the basis for Charteris's objection to the casting of Roger Moore, the very image of the hero as the author described him: "imperturbable, debonair, preposterously handsome." Tall, clear-eyed, with a lazy British drawl (all established aspects of the literary Saint), Moore may represent some of the finest (and most fortunate) book-to-film casting in television history. Eventually, even Charteris himself admitted that he enjoyed the shows and conceded that Moore was perhaps better in the part than he had initially predicted—devilishly divine with the trademark halo appearing over his head in the pretitle sequences at the mention of his notorious name.
Adding to the charm of the series, at least for Anglophiles such as myself, is the inclusion of various familiar characters from the Saint's world. It's impossible to refrain from smiling broadly at the appearance of Simon's friendly arch-nemesis at Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Claude Eustace Teal (Campbell Singer) or Teal's New York counterpart, the equally put-upon Inspector John Henry Fernack (Alan Gifford). And seeing the Saint's massive, oafish sometime sidekick Hoppy Uniatz (Percy Herbert, The Bridge on the River Kwai) in living black-and-white was an absolute scream. It's these extra touches—these wonderful concessions to the source material—that make The Saint such a wonderful and enjoyable show for fans of the books. Charteris insisted that the only Saint adventures that could be featured in the series were those that he had written himself, so the show retains much of the flavor that makes the stories such great and exciting fun to read.
A great deal of that flavor originates in the various exotic locations featured on The Saint. Much like his literary counterpart, you could never tell where the TV Simon would turn up next. One week he's thwarting kidnappers in Rome; the next he might be battling racketeers in London or teaching a spoiled heiress a lesson in the Spanish countryside. The following are some of the standout episodes:
• "The Charitable Countess"
• "The Arrow of God"
• "The Talented Husband"
• "The Element of Doubt"
• "The Pearls of Peace"
The picture looks good, for the most part, although some scenes—obviously stock footage or, in some cases, filmed-on-location material—haven't held up as well, and look rather awful. Overall, there is some scratching and some glitches, but these are not frequent and do not detract from the enjoyment of the finished product. The sound on some episodes is good, but on others it is pretty uneven: In these cases, dialogue can be occasionally difficult to hear, with music blaring out at the next moment. Again, this is a flaw, but it is tolerable.
The only serious flaw in this beautifully packaged and produced boxed set is the distinct lack of (obviously available) special features and the inclusion of a crappy text history of the character and whatnot. What gives, guys? Shame on you, A&E. Shame, shame, shame. But even that can't detract from my enjoyment of this excellent series. The early episodes of The Saint are the superior ones, and it's good to see them finally find their way to DVD.
The notorious Simon Templar is always guilty of something—in this case, of providing some bang-up thrills and adventure.
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Scales of Justice
• The History of The Saint
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