George Sanders and Helene Whitney star in THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE, directed by Jack Hively for RKO Radio Pictures.

The Saint’s Double Trouble (1940, Jack Hively)

George Sanders can do no wrong in The Saint’s Double Trouble, so much so, he has the ability to smooth the film over. He’s such a joy to watch, the critical part of the brain shuts down. Eventually, as the film nears the conclusion, Sanders looses his control, letting judgments percolate to the surface. This condition isn’t particularly rare, but what makes Double Trouble is the repeating effect. Even after it’s clear the film’s charm is pulling the wool over the viewer’s eyes, it goes ahead and charms him or her again, setting up another realization a few minutes further into the running time. It keeps it up until the final shot, which plays on the surface like it should get a pass… but it’s really quite hollow.

There’s a distressing lack of content to The Saint’s Double Trouble. It opens rather grandiosely–or, with grandiose promise–in Cairo. Bela Lugosi shows up, mailing a coffin back to the States (there’s no reference to Dracula, which is kind of unfortunate, because it’s got to be what the viewer’s thinking). Lugosi’s actually quite good in Double Trouble–it might be his best performance (or the best performance I’ve seen from him). But then the film skips to Philadelphia and in The Saint’s Double Trouble, Philadelphia only has one exterior street corner. There’s a depressing lack of scale, with the script, budget and direction failing each other. Hively doesn’t do anything to make the film feel like it’s taking place anywhere other than a backlot. He’s a decent director, even if he likes cheap shots occasionally–and he can’t direct a suspenseful scene–but he’s generally fine.

The script’s a different story. It’s got some good one-liners and some fine conversations, but the film’s plot is so addlebrained, the incredibly complex series of double crosses–occurring off-screen–is never unraveled. It’s not as important as the film’s hook, George Sanders playing both the Saint and the villain. These two characters apparently know each other–it’s implied, at least–but there’s never anything more about it. I’m all for letting the viewer figure things out for him or herself, but The Saint’s Double Trouble asks the viewer to ignore critical reasoning and it goes down like castor oil.

The film’s abbreviated running time–sixty-six minutes soaking wet–means not only does Lugosi get short-changed (he’s even funny at one point), but so does second-billed Helene Whitney. She has a bunch of history with Sanders–thank you expository dialogue–but it doesn’t go anywhere. Their scenes together are wasted, accelerating the plot. Sanders is great in the scenes, but the film doesn’t have a single payoff. It keeps deferring the payoff–it really does seem like it’ll come at the end–but no. The film pulls it away again… and the end is so cheaply done, it makes The Saint’s Double Trouble seem like a low budget impression, filmed in someone’s backyard. Hively’s not entirely at fault–RKO controlled the budget–but he doesn’t do anything creative.

The supporting cast is good. Jonathan Hale’s hilarious as Sanders’s erstwhile sidekick slash pursuer. Whitney certainly shows potential. Elliot Sullivan’s a solid henchman….

It’s a fine diversion, but Double Trouble wastes its ingredients.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Hively; screenplay by Ben Holmes, based on the novel by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth and Desmond Marquette; music by Roy Webb; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar / Boss Duke Bates), Helene Whitney (Anne Bitts), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Bela Lugosi (The Partner), Donald MacBride (Chief of Detectives John H. Bohlen), John F. Hamilton (Limpy, a Henchman), Thomas W. Ross (Professor Horatio T. Bitts) and Elliott Sullivan (Monk).

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