Jack Hively | 64 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | PG*
After two fun adventures, here RKO’s series turns in my least favourite film to star George Sanders as the Saint.
In the first film to not be directly based on a Leslie Charteris book (though he did contribute the story, according to the opening credits), the Saint arrives in Philadelphia to meet an old friend, only to get entangled in a series of murders that he may or may not have perpetrated. And that’s fine, but the way events unfold feels like no one paid a huge amount of attention to the plot. It all just about makes sense, if you care to think about it, and some of it is deliberately confusing — the “double trouble” of the title is a criminal who’s the spitting image of the Saint, meaning there’s occasional confusion about who we’re watching. But I don’t think that excuses everything; instead, I believe it’s structured to sweep you along from one bit of derring do to the next. I’ve noted before that I feel like I’m not adequately following some these films, and again I did worry I was being outsmarted, which feels somehow preposterous. I’ve come to the conclusion that a couple of them just don’t hang together as well as they could, and this one in particular.
It also runs foul of being a bit samey. Inspector Fernack is roped in by coincidence — it’s always entertaining to have Jonathan Hale and his double act with George Sanders along for the ride, but here Fernack happens to be visiting police force friends in Philadelphia when the Saint happens to turn up in town. Ugh. Then there’s yet another pretty young blonde who’s in love with the Saint but will never pin him down — Helene Whitney is fine in this role, but her character’s not a patch on The Saint Strikes Back‘s Val Travers or The Saint in London‘s Penny.
Sanders is as slick as ever, even if it can be hard work differentiating between the Saint and his doppelgänger even when they’re in the same scene. When we’re not meant to be able to tell, that’s fine; when we are, it’s sometimes tricky. I’m pretty sure the difference is entirely held in one wearing a dark-grey-and-black suit and one wearing a black suit, though even now I can’t remember which was which. A bit more effort in establishing who was in which suit wouldn’t have gone amiss. Either way, Sanders isn’t given quite as much wit to work with as normal. There’s some fun to be had when the henchman don’t realise whether they’re talking to their lookalike boss or the man he looks like — their frequent misunderstandings naturally mean Hilarity Ensues — but the rest of the film doesn’t have the same knowing edge as normal.
Almost every film series has its duds, and I imagine churning out two or three a year is only likely to increase that likelihood. Fortunately the remaining two films to star Sanders — both of them again directed by Jack Hively, incidentally — would be better than this.