Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Saint in London (1939)

The Saint in London was the second of RKO’s very popular B-movies to star George Sanders as Leslie Charteris’s debonair thief turned crime-fighter.

This film was based on Charteris’s story The Million Pound Day.

One thing you have to say about this movie - it doesn’t waste any time. It plunges straight into the action. For anyone not familiar with the character it also very quickly establishes Simon Templar’s personality as a quixotic hero who is chivalrous, determined and not very concerned about legal niceties when it comes to hunting down the ungodly.

Simon gets a tip-off from an old pal that a smooth operator by the name of Bruno Lang is up to something sinister. Simon decides, in typical Saintly fashion, that the best way to find out more about what Lang is up to is to burgle his house and take a look at the contents of his safe. What he finds whets his interest, and he’s even more intrigued when he gets shot at as a result. People who do that sort of thing probably have something interesting to hide.

The plot begins to thicken when Simon rescues an old fellow who is being pursued by a very nasty looking thug. Simon and Penny (Sally Gray) find that they have stumbled onto some kind of currency fraud. Penny being a young lady who has appointed herself as Simon’s assistant crime-fighter. Young ladies tend to do that sort of thing to Simon.

The villains are quite prepared to resort to murder and kidnapping but as far as Simon is concerned the more dangerous a case turns out to be the more fun he has.

Simon’s old adversary Inspector Claud Teal of Scotland Yard (Gordon McLeod) is on the case as well and this time he’s easily persuaded that it would be better to work with Templar rather than against him.

Simon has acquired another assistant as well, a rough diamond American ex-con named Dugan (David Burns).

There’s really not a wasted minute in this movie. The plot has the requisite number of satisfying twists and the script offers Sanders plenty of opportunities to display his charm and wit.

Sanders is in top form and he gets good support from the other cast members. Sally Gray makes a delightful heroine, always trying to get herself more involved than she should but in such a charming way that the Saint can hardly object. The villains are clever and ruthless and they’re more than just cheap hoods - they’re just the sorts of evil-doers the Saint enjoys matching his wits against.

The Saint stories are light-hearted and witty enough in themselves to make any additional heavy-handed comic relief superfluous and fortunately in this instance RKO were smart enough to figure that out. There is humour here but it flows naturally from the story and the characters.

The British all-region DVD release from Odeon provides a good transfer without any extras.

Even Leslie Charteris liked this movie and he was notoriously difficult to please when it came to movie and TV adaptations of his work. The Saint in London is a well-crafted B-movie thriller. Highly recommended.

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