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Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Saint Strikes Back (1939) John Farrow

The novel is Angels of Doom but the film is called The Saint Strikes Back because the character name was almost always in the title in films like this. It's New Year in San Francisco and Tommy Voss gets shot and killed in the Colony Club while they're still playing Auld Lang Syne. The Saint is watching and is quietly and politely persuasive to Val Travers, who he whisks away from the scene. Apparently she's the daughter of a disgraced police officer who had been making decent headway in his war against the gangs until he got implicated and commited suicide. Now Inspector Fernack is asked down from New York to help investigate, as he knows Simon Templar better than any other policeman in the States.

The Saint is now being played by George Sanders, so there's a lot more charm on display than in the previous film with Louis Hayward, even when he's stealing a kiss from a lady. Wendy Barrie is a strong Val Travers, Jonathan Hale returns as Inspector Fernack and the supporting cast includes no less a name than Barry Fitzgerald as the colourful Zipper Dyson, one of the group of crooks Travers has built to annoy the police. He even offers to become the Saint's assistant and that would have been an awesome sight: four more George Sanders Saint movies with Barry Fitzgerald backing him up!

It isn't just charm that's present here that was missing in the first film. There's also a lot more consistency and a lot more mystery, and after all this is a crime movie: it's supposed to have mystery in it and plenty of it too. The first review I saw at IMDb suggested that this was the poorest entry in the entire series. If that's the case I'm in for a treat with the next three! Sanders is superb, Fitzgerald is excellent and Barrie is spot on. Even the police inspector, often one of the weakest characters in crime B-movies is less stereotypical and painful than in other series.

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