Monday, March 13, 2017

Bela Lugosi as character actor: The Saint's Double Trouble

By Doug Gibson

At Plan9Crunch, today's review is the 1940 film, "The Saint's Double Trouble," filmed in late 1939 for upper-tier film producer RKO. If you're a Bela Lugosi completist, you need to see this entry in the Saint, Simon Templar, series with starred George Sanders, and which is today the most popular offering precisely because Lugosi is featured in a supporting as -- literally -- the "partner" of a the Saint's adversary in this film, "Boss" Duke Bates, a ruthless jewel thief who casually kills anyone who gets in his way.

What's most interesting for Lugosi fans is that this marks the dawn of the era when Lugosi -- except for a few monster pics -- was shoved out of great roles in A upper-budget productions. In film after film that wasn't a Monogram or other low-budget offering, Lugosi would usually be wasted as either a "red herring butler type" or a "secondary criminal." He's the latter in "...Double Trouble." As the Egyptian partner of Boss Bates, he has decent screen time in the 68-minute programmer, but no real memorable lines. He's more cautious than the sociopathic Bates.

This is still a fun film and Lugosi provides good acting skills. Sanders absolutely a delight as the British, superficially polite rogue who matches wits with both police and crooks. The character, Simon Templar, is based on a popular detective series of the time penned by Leslie Charteris. "...Double Trouble," however, was the one flick that was not based on a book. The plot is a tad convoluted but clever, and it all warps up well. These programmer mysteries were forerunners to TV detective shows.

Today, the Saint might make a good series for cable or even HBO if the producers wanted to unclothe a few actors. Frankly, that would seem a bit gauche for Sanders' Saint, who has a fine time flirting with and protecting the gorgeous daughter (Helene Whitney) of a past professor of his who is, unfortunately, rubbed out by Bates before justice is served. The film was directed by Jack Hively and Jonathan Hale ably portrays Inspector Henry Fernack, who matches wits with the Saint in more than one film in the series. A fun film, so long as one accepts that Bela is only a minor presence in the movie.

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