Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Saint In Palm Springs

Errant Stamps

The Saint In Palm Springs
USA 1941 Directed by Jack Hively
Warner Archive Blu Ray Zone A

So here we have the next installment of my off and on rewatch of the movies based on The Saint. This is the sixth in the series and it’s also the fifth and final one for George Sanders in the title role. Sanders would jump ship on the Simon Templar but not the studio when he swapped this role out for another character who Leslie Charteris, writer of The Saint novels, once referred to as a ‘bargain basement’ version of his. I’m talking, of course, of the films where he played The Falcon... which was a series which also left him behind after a while but in a much more interesting fashion, if I recall correctly. Don’t worry, I’ll get to that when I start revisiting The Falcon movies for this blog. They’re on the ‘to watch’ pile.

It’s actually a bit of a film for ‘lasts’, actually. This is Jonathan Hale’s fifth and final appearance as Inspector Fernack. This is also Wendy Barrie’s third and final appearance in The Saint series of films but, strangely, she plays a different character in each one. She also followed her leading man Sanders into The Falcon series. Finally, we also have Paul Gullifoyle playing in his third and final of The Saint movies... although it’s only the second appearance of his character Clarence ‘Pearly’ Gates in this one.

The film is a short one but it’s a charming romp, like most of them and, although Sanders maybe is a little too ‘upper class’ for the role, he still does a great job and who can blame him with the quality dialogue he gets in these things. The words used in these 1930s and 1940s films positively sing themselves off the page and they really show up the movies that are thrust into our cinemas these days. Nobody is writing dialogue as good as this anymore.

The Saint In Palm Springs
starts off with a ticker tape directive to arrest The Saint as he disembarks from an ocean voyage but, of course, he gives the two welcoming policemen the slip and fastens them together with their own handcuffs when they try to take him in. When The Saint turns up shortly later, unnanounced, in Ferneck’s office, we find it was all an elaborate ruse by the inspector to attract The Saint’s attention so he could ask him for some unofficial help. That help being that he wants Simon Templar to escort his friend and the extremely valuable stamps he has on him to a close family member of the gentleman in question. These stamps are worth gazillions of dollars and there have already been two attempts made on his friend’s life.

Ferneck, who is a character I enjoy a lot, is only in the movie for... probably less than ten minutes but he starts the adventure off and he also has probably the best line for when his detectives return empty handed and cuffed together by The Saint... “Well, you'd better go down to the police garage and borrow a file. When you get those things off, you better use it to sharpen your wits.” Of course, one wonders why the heck he had to send out a false telegram to his own department to look for The Saint anyway, instead of just sending them out to discretely collect him but... um... no, I’ve got no answer for that one.

Alas, Ferneck’s friend bites the bullet, so to speak, just after Templar arrives. Templar manages to hold on to the stamps, however and agrees to deliver the ‘cargo’ to Wendy Barrie’s character Elna Johnson personally and look after her/them until they can be safely and officially squirreled away. On the way he meets a femme fatale who right away tips her hand to the audience that she is after the stamps but also, it seems, there is more than one interested party in these tiny scraps of paper.

The film then, for all its one hour and six minute running time, becomes a series of scenes in Palm Springs where The Saint, Elna and Pearly Gates try to keep up with the stamps as these little items leave a trail of corpses in their path. It's a flimsy plot but, with all that sparkling dialogue it's a pleasant enough watch and, although not his best, finishes Sander's run on the series fairly nicely (in fact, he literally rides of into the sunset on a horse at the end of the tale, like an old Western movie). There are some fairly silly things about it too though...

Like the fact that expert pickpocket Pearly Gates is on probation and he has to check in each day after his job with his parole officer to keep himself from going to jail for ten years... so what job have they found him to do while on parole? House Detective for the resort that Templar is staying in, of course. Seriously? How in heck do you give a seasoned criminal a tide over job as a house detective... this makes no sense. It’s almost as silly as the overhead model shot of Palm Springs used as an establishing shot when The Saint arrives. I’m pretty sure it’s a model because there are no people walking around it... then, when we cut to the resort itself, all the exterior locations seem to have been recreated in a studio. It’s not an uncommon thing for those days but it does look fairly silly at times.

Another silly thing is the presence of George Sanders’ stunt double during a ‘lights out’ fist fight during the story. I use the word ‘double’ loosely because, honestly, he looks nothing like the person he’s doubling for. And it’s not a particularly violent fist fight either, to be fair. One wonders why they needed a stunt double for this scene in the first place. Perhaps at Sanders insistence?

All silliness aside, though, The Saint In Palm Springs is still another good dose of Simon Templar’s shenanigans and, once again, features a Roy Webb score which utilises the ‘Saint jingle’ that Sanders whistles throughout. Whether it was actually Leslie Charteris or Roy Webb who came up with that jingle is a matter on which there is some disagreement but it gives the films some continuity (which even carried over to the Ian Ogilvy TV series Return Of The Saint in the late 1970s, if my memory is not failing me). So, much to be recommended in this one and, as I said earlier, I will be following Sanders’ transition into The Falcon series in a while (not to mention Tom Conway’s version of the character... which makes for an interesting story itself). In the meantime, I will carry on with The Saint series with an actor I don’t recall seeing in the part before, taking over from Sanders. The next three films, I think, are totally new to me. So look out for that next one at some point in the very near future.

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