Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In short: The Saint’s Double Trouble (1940)

Gentleman thief and adventurer Simon Templar (George Sanders), aka “The Saint”, comes to beautiful Philadelphia to visit his old teacher, Professor Bitts (Thomas W. Ross) and his old flame, Bitts’s daughter (Helene Whitney).

However, there’s another man walking around with the Saint’s face, leaving Templar’s typical calling card on dead bodies. Murder is not a thing Templar approves of, so he jumps right into a rather convoluted and even more silly plot of doubles, peculiar traps, and cops and robbers with a decided lack in gray matter. Frightening stupidity (is it a virus!?) rules everyone except The Saint himself and Templar’s old friend and theoretical nemesis Inspector Fernack (Jonathan Hale), who just happens to be on vacation in Philadelphia too. Fernack, however, does really rather like Templar and his tendency for needlessly complicated shenanigans.

I can’t pretend to know much of or about the various incarnations of Leslie Charteris’s The Saint beyond vague memories of the Moore show and one or two books I must have read ages ago. Consequently, placing The Saint’s Double Trouble into the context of its series would consist of me repeating stuff anyone can read up on on Wikipedia, so I might just as well not pretend.

What I do know a bit about by now is the kind of programmer Jack Hively’s film is, a light concoction of convoluted plotting, a charming rogue protagonist doing charming rogue things, some action, and some moments of the film just playing around to fill out the running time. So I am quite able to identify The Saint’s Double Trouble as an entertaining example of its kind, pleasantly paced, shot straightforwardly but not without care, and acted by an ensemble that knows what its doing, and, particularly in the cases of Sanders and Hale, seems to have fun with it.

The film does of course need an audience tolerant of the contrived plot, Templar’s even more contrived manoeuvring to thwart it, the general silly stupidity of everyone involved, and the crimes’ basic improbability but then, it is charming enough to deserve this tolerance, and at least from me, had no trouble acquiring it.

The only thing I found rather disappointing was the waste of a perfectly fine Bela Lugosi in a forgettable role as The Partner (caps mandatory) of Templar’s evil double, but at least he isn’t playing a sinister butler.

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