George Sanders stars in THE SAINT TAKES OVER, directed by Jack Hively for RKO Radio Pictures.

The Saint Takes Over (1940, Jack Hively)

Speedily paced. The Saint Takes Over is somehow fast, running sixty-nine minutes, but quite full of content. It’s so full of content, in the first act, I was convinced George Sanders was somehow going to remain non-central to the picture, since so much time was being spent establishing the ground situation he finds himself in. And there’s no mystery either… the murder, if not the motive, is revealed rather early on. But it all still works–and this Saint is my first (besides the tragically unappreciated Val Kilmer one); I waited until after it was over to check IMDb and now I understand I would have known what was going on were I familiar with the series.

The story is engaging because, instead of revealing clues, the characters are continually wrapped tighter and tighter in an impossible situation. Eventually, it’s all up to Sanders to get them out of it, which of course he will, but he does so in a–while not unpredictable–always entertaining way. It’s a solid amusement.

The whole thing, in terms of being entertaining, rests on Sanders’s shoulders. I wanted to see one of his Saint films because it’s Sanders and he’s usually enough… except, I had no idea how amazing his performance was going to be. The film starts on a cruise ship and Sanders intrudes into an existing situation, establishing himself very quickly. It’s a series and establishing the main character in a series is always difficult. What if someone hasn’t seen the previous film or what if the character were played by a different actor… whatever. But Sanders sort of–well, oozes sounds bad–he’s funny, charming, and sophisticated. He’s just amazing. His comic delivery, his sarcastic comments, all perfect. But there’s also another element to the film, the one pushing it beyond the b-programmer. It’s sensitive. The Saint is sensitive and so is the film. The director has some really nice moves for showing the emotional effect of these fantastic, b-movie situations on the characters.

Besides Sanders’s unspeakably great performance, there are a handful of other good ones. Most are mediocre, especially Wendy Barrie, who’s too much the mystery woman, but she does have a couple good scenes. Paul Guilfoyle and Jonathan Hale are both good and after that lengthy establishing period is over, it’s really all about the three (Sanders, Guilfoyle, and Hale) hanging out and being really funny together. It’s a pleasure to watch them, though Hale’s the only one who wouldn’t have anything to do if it weren’t for the others’ great comic performances.

The film is rather simple, but it’s not condescending and it is centered around its characters, even if it sets itself up as being centered around its setpieces. It’s got some depth to it, making it funny, engaging, and deep, which a lot of a-list movies are not. And they don’t have Sanders as the lead… and Sanders makes a great leading man. He’s an acting leading man–that uncommon variety, though there are always the rather obvious exceptions–but he’s actually able to shrink (and Sanders is a big guy) when the Saint needs to shrink. He’s just great.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Desmond Marquette; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Ruth Summers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Paul Guilfoyle (‘Pearly’ Gates), Morgan Conway (Sam Reese), Robert Emmett Keane (Leo Sloan) and Cy Kendall (Max Bremer).


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