In 1928, author Leslie Charteris introduced the world to a man named Simon Templar. Simon was a suave, charming, gentleman thief. He was something of a Robin Hood type figure, and he ended up becoming very popular with readers.
There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and TV. Arguably the most famous screen adaptation was the British TV series starring Roger Moore. I totally love the series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and to a pre-Bond Moore) but I much prefer the 1930’s and 1940’s film series starring George Sanders. Sanders took over the role of Templar from Louis Hayward.
The suave George Sanders was basically the go to actor in Hollywood if you wanted a cad or villain in your film. As Templar, Sanders got to show that he was actually just as adept at playing heroes too. When I read any of the books now, it is Sanders face that I see when picturing Simon. I wish Sanders had gotten the opportunity to play the good guy more often on screen.
Sanders perfectly captures Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)extreme toughness. Through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend, he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy. I love how words are Templar’s weapons. Sanders has a ball during scenes where he fires off quips and insults.
I also really love the look Sanders shows on his face when he’s playing scenes where Templar sees through another characters lies. I don’t think you’re ever in doubt that his Templar can take care of himself in a fight; he’s got no hesitation in dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.
Sanders played Templar between 1939 and 1941. That all ended when RKO studios offered him the role of Gay Laurence, in the 1941 film, The Gay Falcon. The Falcon series so closely resembled The Saint series, that Leslie Charteris actually ended up suing RKO Studios for plagiarism.
I consider it a great shame that Sanders stopped making the Saint films. I think he was perfectly suited to the role and I consider him to be the best Templar ever seen on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, it seems odd to me that he would have turned down any future appearances as Templar to take the role of Laurence, but I guess he wanted more high profile flicks than these B pictures.
Sanders tired of playing Laurence after only three films, his own brother Tom Conway went on to become that series lead. The Saint film series continued with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair.
I love Sanders performance the most in The Saint Takes Over, The Saint Strikes Back, and The Saint in Palm Springs. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching these films. In addition to Sanders terrific performance, I also want to give a shout out to the terrific supporting cast.
Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Inspector Teale, once Templar moves across the pond to the US. He is excellent and he and Sanders work well together. I really love Hale in the scene where he has an allergic reaction to some seafood.
Paul Guilfoyle adds a great deal of comedy as another of Templar’s chums, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates. He steals all the scenes he is in.
Wendy Barrie pops up in most of Sanders Saint and Falcon films. She isn’t an actress who I’ve ever really been a fan of, but she is very good in these films. I like her in scenes with Sanders, I think that they play off one another very well.
The role of Simon Templar could well have been written for George Sanders, he fits the role like a glove. I love his performance and I like the elegant, suave and tough way he plays Simon.
Please share your thoughts on Sanders portrayal of Simon Templar. Which of these films are your favourites? I’ll be happy to receive comments about the books too.