In 1928, the author Leslie Charteris introduced readers to a man named Simon Templar. Simon was known to the Police and to criminals as The Saint. Simon Templar was a suave and very charming gentleman thief; he was also something of a Robin Hood type figure who stood up to injustice and remained one step ahead of the Police (and of any bad guys) when they pursued him. He was always on the side of good though and he would sometimes team up with the Police to help them stop bad and dangerous criminals. My favourite aspect of the novels (and the TV series adaptation)is Simon’s love/hate relationship with Inspector Teale of Scotland Yard; their banter is hysterical and I love how deep down they really like and respect one another. This friendship is found in the George Sanders films between Simon and Inspector Fernack.
Simon ended up becoming a very popular character with readers. Simon would leave a hand drawn stick figure man with a halo over his head as his signature mark on messages he had penned, or at the site of his own crime scenes. The stick man would feature in the opening of the RKO films starring George Sanders.
Simon first appeared in the novel Meet The Tiger (1928). This first novel also sees the introduction of the character Patricia Holm. Patricia becomes a frequent partner and girlfriend of Simon’s, she pops up in many of the novels but she doesn’t appear in the film adaptions. Charteris carried on writing the Saint novels until 1963.
There have been several screen adaptations of The Saint made over the years, for both film and also for television. There was also a 1940’s radio series adaption starring Vincent Price as Simon. Arguably though the most famous screen adaptation of Charteris’s work was the 1960’s British TV series starring Roger Moore as Simon. I totally dig that series(thanks dad for introducing me to Simon Templar and also to a pre-Bond Roger Moore) but I much prefer the 1930’s and 1940’s film series starring George Sanders as The Saint.
George took over the role of Simon Templar from Louis Hayward, who had played Simon in The Saint In New York (1938).The suave George Sanders was basically the go to actor in Hollywood at this time if you wanted someone to play a cad or villain in your film. As Simon, George got to show that he was actually just as adept at playing good guys and heroes as he was playing villains and heartbreakers. I also like how he plays Simon as a ladies man, but not in any way as a man who breaks the hearts of the women he dates or treats them badly (unlike the many cad characters George so often played in other films).
I was so excited when I first found out that George had played Simon in this film series. When I started to watch these films I became quite angry; I was so angry when I thought about how the studios didn’t let George play the hero more often on screen. What a wasted opportunity! When I read any of the Saint novels now it is George’s face that I see when I’m picturing Simon, he really is the perfect screen version of this character and is every inch the hero.
I quite like George’s other (relatively small number) good guy performances in films like Foreign Correspondent, Lured, The Lodger and The Falcon film series. His performance in the Saint series is a highlight in his career in my opinion. George Sanders perfectly captures Simon Templar’s wit, intellect, charm and (when necessary)his physical toughness. Through his portrayal I always get the sense that his Simon Templar is someone you would love to have as a friend and he would make you feel safe, but you certainly wouldn’t want him as your enemy.
I really love how George delivers his lines in these films, he shows us that words are Simon’s weapons and he throws them around like knives. George is clearly having a lot of fun during scenes where he fires off quips and insults at people he loathes. I also really love the look George has on his face when he’s playing scenes where Simon sees through another characters lies. I also don’t think you’re ever in doubt that his Simon can more than take care of himself in a fight. He’s also got no hesitation in dishing out a bit of violence to villains who deserve a taste of their own medicine.
George Sanders played Simon 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 to be a great shame that George didn’t get to star in any more Saint films. I think he was perfectly suited to the role of Simon and I consider him to be the best Simon Templar ever seen on screen. Given how much The Falcon resembled The Saint, you can watch those films and consider them a continuation of Simon’s adventures. Sanders tired of playing Laurence after only three films, his own brother Tom Conway went on to become that series lead playing Laurence’s brother. The Saint film series later continued on with two more films starring Hugh Sinclair as Simon.
I love George’s 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 any of his Saint films, but these three films in particular have become great favourites. In addition to George’s terrific performance throughout the series, I also want to give a shout out to the terrific supporting cast joining him.
Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Henry Fernack, friend and frequent professional thorn in Templar’s side. Fernack essentially replaces Simon’s friend, British Inspector Teale, once Templar moves across the pond to the US.
Hale is excellent and I think that he and George Sanders work very well together in these films. They are both terrific in comic moments involving the pair of them. I really love Hale in the scene where he has an allergic reaction to some seafood in The Saint Strikes Back.
Paul Guilfoyle adds a great deal of comedy to the films as another of Simon’s pals, Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates. He steals all the scenes he is in. I always look forward to him appearing in scenes, especially if he has scenes with George Sanders.
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 I think she is actually very good in these films. I like her in scenes with Sanders, and I think that they play off one another very well. She usually plays Simon’s love interest.
The role of Simon Templar could well have been written especially for George Sanders, he fits the role just like a glove. I love his performance and I like the elegant, suave and tough way he plays Simon. His performance as The Saint has become a great favourite of mine. I really enjoy returning to these films to watch his portrayal of Simon.
These films are great fun and are very enjoyable and quality B pictures. You could do far worse than spend an hour watching one of these films. If you’re a fan of George Sanders then I highly recommend that you check him out in these films.
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.