Simon’s gone to Paris in order to spend a little time with the attractive Juliette (Yoland Turner). But this pleasant sojourn is cut short after Juliette’s brother, Andre (Alex Scott), is accused of murdering his business partner, Jean Bougrenet (John Bailey). Unbeknown to Andre, Jean was a member of an Algerian rebel organisation and since he recently defrauded Andre out of five hundred thousand francs, Andre had a clear motive for murder.
Attempting to clear Andre’s name, the Saint finds himself tangling with the implacable Major Quintana (Martin Benson) as well as Vladek Urivetsky (Hamilton Dyce), known as the Master Forger of Europe …..
The pre-credits sequence shows Simon relaxing at a street café. Everything is calm and peaceful, at least until the police turn up and drag a seemingly inoffensive man into the back of their police car. You might expect that this will have some bearing on the plot, but no – the man simply exists in order for Simon to tell the viewers that whilst Paris looks calm on the surface, revolutionary intrigue is bubbling away in the most unlikely quarters. It’s a slightly clumsy way of signalling what the thrust of the story will be, but no matter it’s only a passing irritation.
John Bailey was one of those actors who suffered beautifully (he had a wonderfully expressive face which could express a world of pain). He’s therefore perfect as the twitchy Jean, a man on the run from the imposing Major Quintana. Jean works for Quintana, but Quintana has come to distrust him (easy to see why, since Jean radiates unease and guilt). It’s therefore no surprise that Jean doesn’t last terribly long – he’s throttled to death within the first twenty minutes.
If the opening half of the story is rather dour and humourless – it’s mainly comprised of a number of grim looking men looking grimly at each other – then the arrival of Mère Lafond (Hazel Hughes) helps to lighten matters somewhat. Hughes – an experienced actress with a career which dated back to 1938 – is great fun as the fiery Madame Lafond. She’s a woman who operates on the shadier side of the law and expresses disbelief that the Saint may now be aligned with the godly! Hughes’ appearance is only brief but it helps to provide the episode with a much needed injection of levity.
Yolande Turner, in the first of her two Saint appearances, manages a decent French accent as the alluring Juliette. It’s not the greatest of parts, but she does her best. Robert Cawdron is given some decent comic material as the long-suffering Sergeant Ludic. Tasked with the job of staying by the Saint’s side at all times, it’s no surprise that Simon delights in leading him a merry dance.
At one point, Ludic is dragged along to a fancy dress party. He remains in plain clothes whilst Simon enters into the spirt of things by dressing as a clown (some twenty years before he did so again in Octopussy). It’s difficult not to love the groovy music and general revelries, although it won’t surprise you to learn that Simon organised this treat as something of a diversion ….
Part of the problem with The Work of Art is that the Algerian question isn’t really examined in much detail (we therefore never really know exactly what Major Quintana is fighting for). Urivetsky – although he barely features – at least is given a clear motivation. Unlike Quintana he’s not interested in politics – money is his only goal.
Roger Moore gets the opportunity to demonstrate yet again that the Saint is very handy in a fistfight, whilst his trademark calm under fire is also in evidence. It’s a pity that Simon doesn’t meet Quintana and Urivestsky until the last ten minutes or so, as when he does the story starts to pick up a little impetus.
Adapted from Charteris’ 1937 novella The Spanish War, Harry Junkin’s teleplay retooled the original quite considerably – changing many of the names and relocating the action from London to Paris. The Work of Art is solid enough, but isn’t terribly engaging and so only rates two and a half halos out of five.
Watch for the sign of the Saint, he will return …..