Thursday, July 14, 2011

GEORGE SANDERS SAINT MOVIES COLLECTION

The character of gentleman rogue Simon Templar, alias The Saint, originated in a series of novels written between 1928 and 1963 by author Leslie Charteris. Often referred to as "the Robin Hood of modern crime," the character was a thief who stole from criminals, and who, simply for the excitement, often turned his questionable skills toward aiding the authorities (who never quite trusted his motives) in fighting racketeers and other nefarious criminals.

The debonair character was hugely popular, inspiring dramatic radio programs, comic books and newspaper strips, several television series and numerous feature motion pictures. Five of these features, starring British actor George Sanders and produced in the 1930s and 40s by RKO Studios, have just been released by Warner Archive as a two-disc, MOD DVD package: THE GEORGE SANDERS SAINT MOVIES COLLECTION.

The first film in the set, THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939), introduces both Templar and his New York police confidante, Inspector Henry Farnack (Jonathan Hale), as the Saint exposes a mysterious criminal mastermind in San Francisco. In THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939), Templar travels to England and foils a counterfeiting ring. In THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE (1940), our hero comes face-to-face with his diamond-smuggling doppelganger (Sanders, in a double role). This one also has the great Bela Lugosi on hand to provide a little added villainy. In the fourth film in the set, THE SAINT TAKES OVER (1940), Inspector Farnack is framed by a criminal gang, and the Saint has to clear his friend's name. Finally, Simon Templar goes west in THE SAINT IN PALM SPRINGS (1941) to protect some very valuable postage stamps from thieves.

All five films are slick programmers, made with considerable efficiency and skill by RKO's B-film unit, and are well cast with a stock company of talented character actors. Aside from the suave, droll Sanders and crusty Jonathan Hale, several other performers appear in recurring roles throughout the series - and sometimes as different characters entirely. Actress Wendy Barrie, for instance, is the female lead in three of the five films - and plays a different character in each!

Previously issued on VHS in the 90s, this manufactured-on-demand set from Warner Archive marks the digital debut of these films on DVD. All five movies are presented in their correct 1.33:1 "full frame" Academy aspect ratio and sport Dolby Digital mono soundtracks. No restoration or remastering appears to have been done; all five films are littered with dirt, white specks, "cigarette burns" reel change markers, and other age-related print wear. Contrast is poor, and the image is generally on the soft side. All in all, they're still quite watchable, but they definitely show their age. No extra features have been included.

For fans of Golden Age Hollywood mystery series, THE GEORGE SANDERS SAINT MOVIE COLLECTION is certainly welcome, although it's unfortunate that Warners didn't feel it economical to restore the films for DVD. Still, they are highly engaging entertainments, with smart, twisty scripts, appealing casts and plenty of monochrome thrills. Recommended.

BUY: The George Sanders Saint Movies Collection (The Saint Strikes Back / The Saint In London / The Saint's Double Trouble / The Saint Takes Over / The Saint In Palm Springs)