Paul Stein | 66 mins | TV | 4:3 | UK / English | PG*
Produced in 1941 but not released until 1943, owing to Saint creator Leslie Charteris’ dispute with RKO over their new Falcon series (which is fairly unashamedly a rip-off of the successful Saint films), The Saint Meets the Tiger is a belated adaptation of Charteris’ first Saint tale, but was to be the series’ final film. Fortunately, it’s quite a good one.
Whether it be by conscious effort or serendipity, several of the problems suffered by The Saint’s Vacation are rectified here. Consensus seems to hold this is even worse than Hugh Sinclair’s first Saint film, but I definitely preferred it. The plot is not only engaging but makes sense, flowing onwards rather than going round in circles and not trying to push ‘twists’ that can be seen a mile off. The sense of place is also back: it’s very much The Saint in Cornwall. The downside is that’s a bit less glamorous than New York or trotting around Europe, the tiny Cornish village setting giving a low-key and quaint sensation, despite the story concerning international gold thieves. Secret passages, a smugglers’ cave and a yacht add some Boy’s Own excitement and borderline grandeur nonetheless.
Unfortunately the titular villain is a damp squib. Clifford Evans’ performance is good enough, and the notion of him working with our heroes under an alias is a good one, but ultimately he’s not the kind of crime lord the dramatic title and initial setup serve to imply. His underlings are the focus of the Saint’s investigations at first, and then they overthrow the Tiger with a basic double cross and become the focus for the climax too. Insert some predictable comment about him being a tiger without teeth here.
It still lacks the wit and light touch that make the Sanders films so entertaining, with only vague attempts at humour that generally raise little more than a smile. Sinclair doesn’t seem quite as wooden this time out, but he’s a straight-cut hero-type, not the kind of charmer this series really wants. In fact, one moment when he bursts into laughter, only to suddenly cut it short, is actually quite creepy. Perhaps he was trying to emulate Sanders more — the film does feel lighter than Vacation — but he still comes up short.
Gordon McLeod is Inspector Teal for the third time, but is still no Fernack; and Wylie Watson as Templar’s butler-butler (as opposed to the usual criminal-turned-butler) isn’t the series’ best sidekick either. Still, they’re both light years ahead of the ones offered in Vacation. Jean Gillie is actually one of the better ‘Saint girls’, though.
All in, Meets the Tiger plays as a straight-up thriller in the ’40s filler model. It’s fine for what it is, with some nice moments particularly during the third act, but it’s not quite as entertainingly memorable as the series’ middle entries.
Read more of my thoughts on Sinclair’s time as the Saint here.
* As with many of the Saint films, this has apparently not been passed by the BBFC since 1941 (when it was also 12 minutes longer — that’s not just PAL speed-up!). Nonetheless, it’s available on DVD, rated PG. ^