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
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.