Saturday, January 7, 2017

In short: The Saint in New York (1938)

New York is held in the death grip of organized crime! The police can’t do anything, because – unlike today’s police in that very same city (and look how that’s working out) – they’re actually holding themselves to the laws, and consequently see guilty men go free in the seemingly eternal way of vigilante movies.

A group of concerned citizens – and the police commissioner – decide that the city would become peaceful again if only someone would murder, I mean bring to justice, six particular members of organized crime. They send out one among their number (Frederick Burton) to find gentleman criminal against criminals, inciter of revolutions, adventurer and part-time vigilante Simon Templar aka “The Saint” (Louis Hayward) and ask for his help.

Templar is all too happy to become involved, and soon the gangsters are dropping left and right. But Templar finds out something very interesting: the people he murders all work for a mysterious, shadowy figure only known under the less than sinister moniker “The Big Fella”. Looks as if his list of people to kill needs an addition.

Ben Holmes’s lone Simon Templar movie is also the only time Louis Hayward was playing the character, and I can’t say I’m all that surprised. It’s not that Hayward is a bad Templar – he certainly plays a memorable version of the character - but his Saint tends to read as creepily smug rather than suavely charming, keeping more to the tastes of the 2010s when it comes to the way heroic polite sociopaths are played than to those of 1938. I’d argue Hayward’s portrayal fits the vigilante version of the character as seen here well, perhaps better than a nicer, softer version would do, but I can’t see this guy getting into the more heroic or light-hearted troubles some of the coming Saint films demand.

Apart from its interpretation of the hero, The Saint in New York is your typically entertaining programmer of its era, filling out its slot in day at the movies nicely thanks to its zippy pacing, straightforwardly effective direction by Holmes – with some moments that become downright moody or clever in your patented late 30s style – and blunt yet competent acting by everyone involved. I suspect The Saint in New York’s audience at the time felt themselves pleasantly entertained, and I still found myself having a good time nearly eighty years later when sitting down to watch it.


Unknown said...

Louis Hayward also starred in the 1953 THE SAINT'S GIRL FRIDAY.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Huh, overlooked that one. Now I'm probably have to find and watch that one too, if only to compare if Hayward kept to the budding serial killer approach to the character fifteen years later.