The Saint – The Covetous Headsman

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The ever-optimistic Simon is hopeful that his travelling companion on the flight from America to France will be a beautiful young woman.  And his wishes are answered after Valerie North (Barbara Shelley) takes the place next to him.  With seven hours to fill they have plenty of time to chat, so she tells him that she’s making the trip to Paris in order to be reunited with her brother, Charles, who she hasn’t seen since they were separated as children during the strife of WW2.

But there will be no happy reunion as Valerie arrives to receive the terrible news that her brother is dead, his body recently fished out of the Seine.  And when her life also appears to be in danger, things look even bleaker.  Luckily for her, she has a Knight Errant – the ever resourceful Simon Templar ….

This week we’re in Paris, which is inevitably represented by stock footage.  It’s sadly rather grainy and therefore stands out somewhat from the sharp picture elsewhere (as so often during ITC series of this vintage, suspension of disbelief is required).

There are some interesting French accents on offer here, although some actors – such as Eugene Deckers, playing Inspector Quercy – were born a little closer to France (Belgium) so he’s pretty credible.  The veteran American actress Josephine Brown seemed an odd choice to play a French crone, Madame Duras, but she’s splendidly entertaining during her scenes.  Madame Duras was Charles’ landlady and her quick tongue manages to infuriate the police (who unchivalrously refer to her as an old bag!).

After a few average episodes, this feels more like classic Saint.  Simon has a beautiful damsel in distress – Valerie – to protect and a collection of ungodly ruffians to beat up.  Chief amongst the ungodly is the ever watchable George Pastell as Georges Ollivant.  Ollivant was a collaborator during WW2 and it quickly becomes clear that the mystery of Charles’ death is connected to buried secrets from the war.

Although it initially seems unlikely that the youthful Simon could have been a member of the resistance during WW2, it’s just about credible.  Roger Moore was born in 1927, so if Simon’s the same age then the Saint would have been eighteen in 1945.  And when Simon later runs into an old colleague from his war days, Antoine Louvois (Esmond Knight), Antoine does comment that Simon was “so brave, and so very, very young”.

Simon later entertains the beautiful nightclub singer Josie Clavel (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it).  Although to be fair to the Saint, it’s strictly business, as he’s hopeful that Josie – a close friend of Charles – might be able to shine some light on the mystery of why Charles was robbed of a medallion (the fact that Valerie – who owns an almost identical medallion – was also targeted, suggests that it’s key to solving the mystery).

The Covetous Headsman ticks along nicely.  Pastell, a vision in his smoking jacket, oozes menace as he confides to his parrot that they’ll soon be rich again.  Barbara Shelley is luminously beautiful, although Valerie is rather a passive character, content to be rescued rather than striking out on her own.  Carole Gray, as Josie, has less to do but she’s rather gorgeous (and Josie’s character is given an extra bit of spice when it’s revealed she’s in cahoots with Ollivant).  Esmond Knight may be a touch hammy, but Louvios helps to articulate the argument that traitors such as Ollivant should face the justice of their peers.  Simon disagrees (although the literary Saint probably would have had fewer scruples).

The climatic scene between Simon and Ollivant is more than decent and it’s a neat touch that Ollivant does receive justice from the hands of the law, although not in the way you might expect.

Roger Moore continues to impress.  I love the scene where he confronts several thugs – first there’s a bout of fisticuffs and then he threatens to shoot one of them (his first shot goes wide – just – which is enough to convince the quaking baddy that Simon means business).  Always a pleasure to see the Saint get his hands dirty.

The more violent or grisly aspects of Leslie Charteris’ original stories tended to get watered down before they hit the screen, and this one is no different. In Charteris’ story, Valerie’s brother is beheaded (which makes you view the title in a different light).

The plot may be slightly flaky, but the performances alone are enough to make me rate this four halos out of five.

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