Leslie Charteris’s character of Simon Templar—AKA The Saint—has been adapted numerous times over the years from his original book form, perhaps most memorably in the 1960s UK TV series that started a pre-James Bond Roger Moore.
But starting in the late 1930’s—some ten years after the character’s debut in 1928—American studio RKO bought rights to the character and made, “The Saint in New York,” starring Louis Hayward. The film was a surprise huge success for the studio, inspiring RKO to launch a B picture series of Saint films. Hayward wasn’t interested in coming back to do a B picture series, so they cast the always elegant George Saunders in the role.
In some ways, B picture series of the ‘40s were a preamble to today’s connected cinematic universe films and the coming of television. Films running an average time of 65 minutes— self-contained, but with some continuity between one another. RKO’s Saint films have been sporadically released on home video over the years, but Warner Archive has gathered the five films Saunders made as the suave, gentleman thief/detective into a two-disc set titled “The George Saunders Saint Movies Collection.” These five films make for a perfect pre-bed movie, not too long, and not too short. Light, not too frothy, and above all—fun. Mysteries with elegant settings and plenty of style.
As the ‘40s began, RKO set about starting another B picture series with “The Falcon” a character molded in the same vein as Simon Templar, created by writer Michael Arlen. RKO wanted to make sure they set up their new Falcon series for success by having Saunders play the role. The Saint’s creator, Charteris couldn’t help but notice what a rip off The Falcon was from his character, he sued the studio, but that didn’t stop The Falcon series from continuing or becoming a success. All in all, RKO made 13 films in their Falcon series, running from 1940 to 1946.
Saunders, growing tired of being in B-pictures, departed the series in the fourth film “The Falcon’s Brother” in which on screen the role is handed off to The Falcon’s brother—played by Saunders’ real life brother Tom Conway. Rarely during this time would you see a role in a film switched to another actor on screen. Saunders would go on to a most respectful leading man career, starring in films right up to his death in 1972. Saunders perhaps made his most indelible mark on the pop culture landscape by becoming the first actor to portray Mr. Freeze on the legendary 1966 “Batman” TV series.
The Falcon films have been split into two collections by Warner Archive, “The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection” Volume One and Two, respectively. I was a little more familiar with The Falcon films than I was The Saint series—Turner Classic Movies aired the Falcon films fairly regularly. Much like “The Saint,” the films in “The Falcon” series are great fun, completely delightful from start to finish. There’s a familiarity to the films, even if you’ve never seen them. Like cozying up with a well-loved book by the fire.
Warner Archive brings the films over both series to DVD in an unrestored, but perfectly watchable form. Picture quality varies film to film, but overall it’s fine. This is another case where it’s nice to have these on home video, collected together—regardless if they’ve been restored or not. Even if some may not swim beyond “Casablanca,” there are still lovely little oases of classic Hollywood to be discovered. Warner Archive makes it easier by having these films available.
Combined “The Saint” & “The Falcon” make for the perfect kind of viewing on the cold, wintery nights we’ve been having lately. Easily digestible and binge-able in two or three film blocks. Both sets from Warner Archive come highly recommended. See you next week.