Friday, December 7, 2012

Sanders shines again as Simon Templar in 'The Saint Takes Over'

By Doug Gibson

(Long-suffering?) readers of this blog know that I have recently discovered, and become a big fan of, George Sanders' portrayals as Simon Templar in several of the RKO Radio pictures of The Saint movies (late 1930s to early 1940s). TCM aired "The Saint Takes Over" last Saturday (tomorrow I'll be taping Sanders in "The Saint in Palm Springs," also on TCM). Of course, the missus and I watched "... Takes Over" and Sanders was every bit the cool, fashion-conscious "Robin Hood-type," as one cast member put it. Frankly, Sanders reminded my wife and I just a little bit of "Mr. Chapel," the enforcer, played by Michael Madsen, who righted wrongs in the too-short one-season ABC series "Vengeance Unlimited."

But enough babble, on with the review. "The Saint Takes Over" begins with Sanders' Simon Templar taking a cruise across the Atlantic to New York City. On deck he rescues a lovely young lady, played by Wendy Barrie, from card cheats. Her character, Ruth (he doesn't catch her last name) rebuffs his more amorous intentions, however. Coincidentally, later in NYC, the Saint rescues Ruth from some hoods who want to drag her into a car. He also buys her roses.

The Saint is in New York to bail out his feckless but diligent opponent/collaborator nspector Henry Fernack, played as always by Jonathan Hale. It seems the mob not only beat him at trial by killing his star witness, Johnny Summers, they've framed the inspector, sticking $50,000 in his safe.The Saint, Simon Templar, naturally is coming to his rescue.

This movie, while still a lot of fun and well done, is less sharply written. There are fewer plot twists and it's more of a standard Hollywood B tale. That may be because this is a studio-created story, and not based on any Saint tales by his creator/writer, Leslie Charteris. In any event, after a scene where the mobsters who framed Fernack meet and discuss raising the $90,000 it cost to clear case and frame the inspector, they start getting killed one by one. Strangely enough, Fernack, who is trying to clear his name, always seems to be around when a mob guy dies. This amuses the Saint, who teases the inspector at times not only about his probablt culpability, but about his absence of a badge -- he's on suspension. As is the case with most Saint films, there's a former baddie who goes good. In "... Takes Over," it's Clarence "Pearly" Gates, a low0level mug whose employed by one of the mob leaders. Veteran actor Paul Guifoyle does a good job as "Pearly."

The Saint has his own ideas about who might be committing the murders. In what is a rather heavy cinematic clue, he finds part of the roses he sent to Ruth at the scene of one killing. I'm giving away the murderer in this review for two reasons. One, viewers will guess soon that Ruth is the killer, and two, Ruth's fate in the film is directly tied to the Hollywood morality code of the early 1940s. That may be the most fascinating part of the film.

Rith's last name, we discover, is Ruth Summers. You see, she's the slain Johnny Summers' sister, grief-stricken and driven to revenge. As the plot nears its end, Simon Templar, no doubt having guessed all this, conveys an elaborate scheme that will solve the crimes, nail the mobsters for their murder and frame of Fernack, clear Fernack, of course, and absolve Ruth of any consequences for her killings. After all, she's a swell kid -- she even gave the $90,000 she took from the mob to her brother's widow.

Oh well, all goes well except the last part of The Saint's goal. Ruth gets mortally wounded in a gun battle with one of the mobsters. She kills the mobster, but then, with barely a wrinkle, dies in Simon Templar's arms. It seems that no matter how good a reason a young lovely might have for revenge, is she commits murder in a film the Hays Commission would never allow her to live!

Notes: This was Wendy Barrie's second of three appearances in The Saint films. Barrie, who bears a resemblance to Loretta Switt, best known for MASH TV series, played a different character in each film. Morgan Conway, who later played Dick Tracy a couple of times, plays a hood in the film. The 70-minute, 1940 film was directed by Jack Hively.

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