Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Saint (1962 - 1969) * * *

Simon Templar (Roger Moore) is The Saint in one of the best cult TV series of all time. The Saint is a modern day Robin Hood. He steals from rich criminals and keeps the money for himself and the little guy or beautiful woman. Usually he manages to get the crooks put behind bars after he's stolen their goods. He's handsome, charming, suave and sophisticated, cool in a crisis and hot between the sheets--an impressive character, a great series, with an explosive blend of thrilling action and exciting adventure.

The daredevil gentleman adventurer who outswindles the swindlers was created by writer Leslie Charteris in 1928. Nineteen actors have portrayed Simon Templar. George Sanders is memorable in a film series from the 1930s, and Vincent Price voiced the character on radio in the 1940s. But the definitive Simon Templar is Roger Moore, who starred in this classic 1960s British TV series. Except for the gadgets, THE SAINT has all the trappings of the James Bond films: a real international man of mystery, exotic locations, cold war intrigue, sparkling bon mots, and beautiful women. He's one of the most popular of all fictional heroes, basically a self-hired and self-paid law enforcement officer constantly chased by a real lawman who doesn't see the difference between him and other criminals.

THE SAINT was adapted for television in 1962, with Roger Moore portraying the Saint in 71 black and white, and 47 color episodes with a runtime of 51 minutes each. In late 1961, Leslie Charteris sold the TV rights to THE SAINT to producer Robert S. Baker, who teamed up with Lew Grade of ITC to film 71 b & w shows. These episodes were based on the over 100 books and short stories written by Charteris, with additional material added by screenwriters including Harry Junkin, Gerald Kelsey, Terry Nation, and others. Few episodes were actually adapted from the novels, though many were based on the short stories. The show was well-received by British audiences, but ITC could not find a network in the US to carry the show. ITC syndicated "The Saint" in the US, and it became a huge hit, making it one of the most successful first-run syndicated shows in history.

With most of the original Charteris stories translated to the small screen, and the contract running down, ATV-ITC penned a new contract to continue the series in color. The producers had to submit the stories to Charteris, but unfortunately they were not legally obligated to take any of his advice. Along with the new contract came a deal with NBC in America to show THE SAINT in network prime time. The color series lasted 41 episodes, with many of the best being penned by John Kruse. It also proved popular beyond America and Britain, eventually broadcast in over 60 countries. With 118 episodes, the programme is exceeded only by "The Avengers" as the most productive show of its genre produced in Britain. "The Saint" came to an end in 1969.

Roger Moore drove a white Volvo P1800 during the series. His portrayal of Templar was a training ground for his later work as James Bond. Moore was reportedly offered the role of 007 at least twice during the run of the series, but had to turn it down due to his TV commitments. In one early episode of the series, a character actually mistakes Templar for James Bond. Chief Inspector Claude Eustace Teal (Ivor Dean ) regards him as a common thief, regardless of whom he steals from, so the Saint must always stay one step ahead of the doggedly persistent Inspector. Fortunately, his wit, charm, and savoir faire make this a fairly easy task, and the series chronicles his various exploits.

The Saint lives in London, though the exact address is never revealed, and is seen traveling to locations across London, the UK and around the world. In reality, the whole series was shot at Associated British Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, with very few scenes shot on locations outside of the studio. This was achieved by using the sets at Elstree Studios, blue screen technology to simulate different locations in the background, painted or projected backdrops, as well as revolving painted backdrops for moving scenes. There are a few exceptions, such as the extensive location shoot on the island of Malta in Italy for "Vendetta for the Saint". Lookalikes were used for location shoots where The Saint is seen in the distance entering a well known building or quickly driving past the camera.

The series began as a straightforward mystery series, but over the years adopted more secret agent and fantasy-style plots. The early b & w episodes are distinguished by having Moore break the fourth wall and speak to the audience at the start of every episode. With the switch to color, this gimmick was replaced by simple narration. Invariably, the pre-credits sequence ends with someone referring to the Saint as "the famous Simon Templar", at which point an animated halo appears above Templar's head as the actor usually looks at the camera or directly at the halo. Some episodes such as "Iris" break away from this formula and have Templar address the audience for the entire pre-credits sequence, setting up the story that follows. The first color series with a production run of 32 episodes, includes the two parter/feature film "The Fiction Makers". The second color production run consists of 15 episodes including the feature film/two parter "Vendetta for the Saint". This second color run has a revamped theme tune marking it out from the first batch of color episodes.

Roger Moore: "It was Bob's idea that we should address the camera to take the audience into our little secret and share it with everybody. Certainly, in portraying the Leslie Chateris creation, Simon Templar, otherwise known as "The Saint", I haven't drawn in any way on the impressions of him given by other actors, including George Sanders and Hugh Sinclair, who have played him in the past. Self-identification is something readers of books very often experience, and I have always felt this way about The Saint. I've been reading him since I was so high. I've always had a mental image of myself in his shoes. In latter years, he has become more and more the type of character I've felt I would rather play than anyone else--so much so, in fact, that I made efforts to obtain the television rights in the stories for myself. I failed (I'm not a millionaire!). So you can imagine my elation when producers Bob Baker and Monty Berman, being much richer than I am, obtained the rights and asked me if I would like to take the part."

"If my portrayal is of Roger Moore in some people's eyes it's because I happen to be Roger Moore and because, in my own arrogant way, I've got this feeling that the Saint and I have a devil a lot in common. For the record, let it be admitted that when Leslie Charteris himself heard that I had been cast for the part, he is reported to have made a beeline for the nearest bar, ordered the most exotic-sounding drink that came to mind, and tried hard to forget that such a diabolical thing should have happened to him. But it must be also recorded, in fairness to Leslie Charteris and to myself, that, after he had seen a few of the TV productions, he admitted that things could have been much worse, and that I was very much less unlike Simon Templar than he had anticipated. In fact, he admitted, he rather enjoyed the productions."

"Saint followers, of course, know Simon Templar's background. Those who meet hm for the first time on television may wonder how he earns a living. The answer is that he no longer has to do so. While he may have been regarded as a crook earlier in his career--but always as Robin Hood, charitable type of crook--it is no longer necessary for him to take his "cut" from the proceeds of his fabulous robberies. Though he takes the law into his own hands, he is certainly not against the law as such. Leslie Charteris has, in story after story, made it clear just what the Saint's outlook on life is. Let me quote: "I'm a sort of benevolent brigand. I raise hell for crooks and racketeers of all kinds, and make life miserable for policemen, and rescue damsels in distress, and all that sort of things". What more delightful character could any actor ask to portray?"

Nine episodes of the program were directed by Roger Moore (36, 40, 53, 68, 71, 85, 100, 107 and 112). When he signed his first contract to star in the show, he thought he was agreeing to do 26 one-half hour shows. Then he found out he actually agreed to appear in 26 one-hour shows and had signed for too little money. Moore had earlier tried to buy the production rights to THE SAINT books himself and eventually became co-owner of the show with Robert S. Baker when the show moved to color and the production credit became Bamore Productions. Most of the wardrobe Moore wore in the series was actually his own.

In 1979 ITC decided to renew the Saint and continue the series. Robert Baker proposed "The Return of The Saint" (aka "The Son of The Saint") solution to the age problem, with Roger Moore appearing in various episodes as the new Saint's father. This was scrapped, and Ian Ogilvy took over the halo for 24 episodes as Simon Templar. The show featured very high-quality production values, and was shot on location all over the world. People still saw the Saint as Roger Moore, and while some were beginning to accept Ian Ogilvy in the role, the show was cut short before he had a chance to turn the majority to his rendition.

Robert Baker still believed in the Saint, and in 1987 decided to give it another go with Australian Andrew Clarke in the lead role. He teamed with D.L. Taffner Ltd., to produce a one-hour pilot episode that aired on CBS. The show did not make the fall schedule. In 1989 the Saint was once again welcomed back to television in six 2-hour movies featuring Simon Dutton as Simon Templar, alias the Saint. D.L. Taffner Ltd., produced the episodes as part of "The Mystery Wheel of Adventure", a series of ten new made-for-TV movies. Bob Baker was involved as a consultant to the series. Moore never played the role again after 1969, though he can be heard speaking on a car radio during the 1997 film THE SAINT, starring Val Kilmer as Templar. Although the film bore little similarity to the TV series", the executive producer of the film was Robert S. Baker.

All of the color episodes in this series are available in DVD sets from A&E Home Entertainment. A&E initially was not planning to release the black and white seasons, but changed its mind due to public demand. A pair of two-part episodes from later seasons, "Vendetta for the Saint" and "The Fiction Makers", were compiled into feature films which were distributed to theaters in Europe and often show up on late-night television in America. They are also available on DVD.

In Region 2, Network DVD has released two multi-disc sets, with all the monochrome episodes available in an 18-disc set, and all the color ones separately in a 14-disc set. The color set includes both the theatrical versions of the two double-length stories, as well as the original 50-minute two-part versions. Also included are a 40-minute documentary and isolated music tracks. Prior to this, Carlton Video had released four separate discs, the first one with the first two episodes, and the rest with four episodes each. There is also a 10-disc set that repackages the previous four discs alongside six more, containing the first 39 monochrome episodes.

Umbrella Entertainment in Australia has released the entire series in five boxed sets with six discs each. These are in PAL format, but with no region code (typically, Australian DVDs are a Region 4 code). The box sets feature numerous extras including a series of audio commentaries recorded in 2004 with surviving members of the cast and crew, ranging from guest stars through to Roger Moore. The series is also available on DVD in France and Spain.

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