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Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943) Paul Stein

While this was the eighth Saint film to my counting, it was based on the first of Leslie Charteris's Saint novels. It's the second of two featuring Hugh Sinclair as Simon Templar, following one with Louis Hayward and five with George Sanders. It starts out as it means to go on, with a man being murdered just as he rings Templar's doorbell. It turns out to be Joe Gallo, a bookie who was caught up in a million pound robbery and leaves only tantalising hints at the mystery soon to be uncovered.

Templar heads off to the seaside village of Baycombe and embarks on a novel method of investigation, namely treading on as many toes as possible to see who'll complain. This brings him various suspicious characters along with Pat Holm, who would be his girlfriend for quite some time in the books. He also discovers a plan to 'discover' stolen gold in a South African gold mine and pass it off as something new. The story is reasonably rough but all the more real for it, just like Sinclair's performance, and there are further details still to rabbit out.

I thought it would be a difficult transition away from George Sanders, who was so definitive as Templar, but while Hugh Sinclair seemed completely out of place for a few minutes he soon became very believable indeed. He's not as slick and suave as Sanders but he's very believable indeed. He gets into fights and wins, even against strong odds, but he does at least look like he's been in a fight. He can't even wear a jacket properly but he's just as confident and he provides a grittier edge to the character that's most welcome.

The other benefit here is that the film was made in England. While it's not a powerful trip into the criminal underworld like many of the films noir that were starting to dominate in the States, it has a gritty and realistic English edge that includes many of the sort of things that couldn't be addressed under the Production Code. In the Saint books, Templar and Holm had something of a progressive relationship, sleeping together and even living together, that could only be hinted at in England but couldn't even be hinted at in the US. There are joyous hints and double entendres that really give the film life. Templar is also far from squeaky clean: while he's certainly the good guy, he's very much playing by his own rules. He's sharp with a knife, has no compunction from taking out the bad guys and not averse either to forcing Inspector Teal to lie to give him an alibi.

The cast is universally decent, even though I've hardly heard of anyone here. I don't think I've ever seen Hugh Sinclair before, or Jean Gillie or Gordon McLeod, and they're the three leads. I have seen John Salew, Clifford Evans and Wylie Watson, but I didn't know their names. The direction is solid and the story strong, and if anything the only fault I can really find is that some of the editing is a little rough. Even the comedic element, namely Templar's butler Horace being a devoted radio crime fan but rather new to experiencing it in real life, is done well. All in all, it's a far more consistent and realistic Saint movie without George Sanders. Who would have thought it?

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