The Saint – The Bunco Artists

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After the elderly Sophie Yarmouth (Mary Merrall) is cheated by two confidence tricksters, Simon – along with Mrs Yarmouth’s daughter Jean (Justine Lord) – decides to turn the tables and play the tricksters at their own game ….

We open in London’s glittering West End.  The scene-setting stock footage tells us that Phyllis Calvert, Marius Goring and Elizabeth Sheppard are playing in Menage A Trois whilst next door David Tomlinson is appearing in Boeing Boeing.

Simon is cooling his heels by the stage door, waiting for Jean to appear.  She’s delayed, which allows the Stage Door Keeper (played by Meadows White) to wax lyrical (“all the world’s a stage”, etc).  He also has one of the most arch deliveries of “why, you’re the famous Simon Templar” seen in the series to date.

She’s worth waiting for though (Justine Lord is a vision in white).  Jean’s a not terribly successful actress, but she’s hopeful that her big break is just around the corner.  I love her breathless précis of the exciting new role she’s hoping to snag.  “I go insane in act two, I yell and scream and carry on. And then in the end I put three bullets in my husband’s heart”.

But whilst Simon is squiring Jean around town, what of her mother?  She lives in a picturesque English village and is a big wheel at the Netherdon Parish Church.  She’s approached by a pleasant young American woman, Amelia Wade (Louise King), who tells her that the church is in line to receive a handsome donation from a mysterious American foundation (which would allow them to meet their restoration target).

This seems too good to be true – and alarm bells really start to ring when Amelia tells Sophie that she actually needs to see the money they’ve collected so far for the church restoration (records and receipts aren’t acceptable – only sight of the actual cash will do).  Of course, we’ve already got a good idea about what might happen, since Simon’s primed us in the pre-credits sequence about con artists.

But it seems as if Simon won’t be needed as Mr Henderson (Peter Dyneley), from the International Detective Agency in New York turns up, hot on Amelia’s heels.  Hurrah!  Along with the local copper, Charlie Lewis (Victor Platt), they ask Sophie to play along – if they can catch Amelia in the act, actually attempting to steal the cash, then she’ll be bang to rights.  But of course, Henderson isn’t what he seems either (he and Amelia – or Joyce, as she’s really called – are husband and wife confidence tricksters) so poor Sophie finds herself conned, good and proper.

The con is done very neatly – it’s not quite Hustle, but it’s still an effective set piece.  What’s especially entertaining is how Henderson explains to a rapt Charlie and Sophie exactly how “Amelia” carried out the switch (a case with a false bottom) only for him to then pull the same trick.  Dyneley and King make for an effective double act.  This was Dyneley’s second of three Saint appearances (it’s certainly a better role than his first, The Careful Terrorist).  American-born King made a string of appearances in British series during this period (her final credit was in 1964).  Her character is allowed a little twinge of conscience – after all, conning an old lady out of six thousand pounds (what will happen to the church roof now?) is a bit mean.

It doesn’t take Simon too long to work out that they’re actually called Mr and Mrs Richard Eade and have made their way to the South of France.  They can’t be terribly good criminals if they leave such an obvious trail ….

So the Saint and Jean set off for France and after the usual orgy of stock footage, Simon adopts the role of a friendly Texan and impresses Eade by flashing his cash about.  I’ve commented before about Moore’s interesting range of accents, and this is another good example.  Although as before, I’m not sure whether it’s supposed to be deliberately bad or not.  What’s certain is that Moore’s comic timing is put to good effect during these scenes (I like his bootlace tie as well).  But Simon’s not the only one with a silly accent as Jean’s gone all French.  Like Moore, Lord plays the comic scenes well.

There’s some familiar faces lurking about in the background. André Maranne makes his second and final Saint appearance. It’s not a terribly interesting role (hotel barman) but he does get a few lines.  John Standing plays a Gendarme whilst an uncredited Ingrid Pitt can be seen lounging by the hotel pool.

Charteris’ original tale appeared in the short-story collection, Thanks to the Saint (1957).  A fair bit of retooling went on during the first half of the adaptation (in the short story, Mrs Yarmouth believed she was handing over the money in order to make her nephew a film star) but the second half (Simon turns the tables with a sting revolving around a valueless necklace) was pretty much the same.

This change of emphasis – from film stardom to church welfare – allows Simon to make an amusingly impassioned speech after he and the Gendarme (Standing) run the crooks to ground.  “All over Netherdon parish, old people, widows, children, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, ordinary people, contributed their pennies and their shillings to the Netherdon Church restoration fund and these parasites stole it”.  Standing gets to react in a suitably shocked manner (“oh no”).

A lovely comic episode where everyone’s on fine form.  Roger Moore, of course, was made for this sort of role whilst Justine Lord is also very watchable.  Hard to see how this one could have been any better – five halos out of five.

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