The Saint – The Careful Terrorist

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The Saint’s in New York.  He bumps into an old friend, Lester Boyd (Gary Cockrell), who later launches a blistering television attack against Nat Grendell (Peter Dyneley).  Lester accuses union big-wig Grendell of numerous counts of corruption and promises to lay all the facts before the audience during his next broadcast.  But before he can do this, Lester is killed in a bomb attack.  Simon, convinced that Grendell was responsible, vows to pick up where Lester left off.

It’s a shame that Lester didn’t pre-record his programme, that would have saved everybody a great deal of trouble ….

The Saint seems to be resident in New York (or at the least, has his own apartment).  He’s not alone though, as he has the assistance of Hoppy (Percy Herbert).  Hoppy Uniatiz popped up a fair few times during Charteris’ original stories, but like most of the book regulars (apart from Inspector Teal) he didn’t become a fixture throughout the series.  A slight pity, but it’s possible that Hoppy’s dumbness might have become grating over time.  Having said that, I do like Hoppy’s delight that Simon, following in the footsteps of Lester, might become a television star.  “Another Jack Benny. Another Bob Hope. Another Mr Jelly Wobbly. Hey, he’s a big old fat guy who does a kid’s show”!

Although Simon begins by declaring that Lester is wrong to believe that the pen is always mightier than the sword, since the police are convinced that he’s going to extract violent revenge against Grendell, the Saint is forced to try and defeat his nemesis without any overt display of force.  Grendell is under no such restrictions though and elects to use a loose cannon called Herman Uberlasch (David Kossoff) to finish off Simon.

Grendell may be depicted as a union boss, but this is never a factor in the story (he could just as easily be a politician or a businessman).  Peter Dyneley’s pretty solid, although his entourage offers slightly more vivid character pickings.  Dorinda Stevens is good value as the brassy Verna, his sharp-tonged moll, whilst David Kossoff is ever so slightly deranged as the bomber.  Grendell and Uberlasch are clearly men of limited imaginations since they decide to blow up Lester with a bomb and later elect to dispose of Simon with …. wait for it, two bombs!

If the story is rather slight, then Roger Moore is once again working overtime to make bricks out of straw.  Simon’s confrontation with Grendell sparkles, thanks to the Saint’s passionate oratory.   “You are a parasite and an extortionist.  You’ve had dozens of men beaten up by your hired thugs, just because they attempted to vote you out and get a decent, honest union boss in your place”.  I also love the way he insouciantly blows smoke into Grendell’s face!

Sally Bazely has a small, but key, role as Lester’s girlfriend, Jenny Hallam.  She elects to deal with Grendell in her own way – taking a potshot at him – but of course she’s unsuccessful (had her aim been better then the story would have ended somewhat prematurely).  As it is, Simon’s able to deal with Grendell quite neatly – as he later tells Sally, the man was hoist with his own petard.

Maybe the most memorable part of The Careful Terrorist is Simon’s closing television announcement.  He uses it to reassure the public that Grendell was an isolated rotten apple, stating that all the other union bosses up and down the country are fine upstanding men who are only interested in furthering the interests of their members.  This was obviously slotted in by an anxious production team, worried that the American viewing public might be upset by the episode-long attack on the probity of their public servants (today, people wouldn’t probably bat an eyelid at revelations of corruption).

This clumsy ending is a slight problem (and the rest of the story isn’t terribly compelling either) but with Roger Moore pulling out all the stops, I’m happy to add an extra half point to this one – leaving The Careful Terrorist with a respectable three and a half halos out of five.

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Espionage – Covenant with Death

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Covenant with Death opens in 1942, with two young men – Magnus Anderssen (Bradford Dillman) and Ivar Kolstrom (Don Borisenko) – leading an elderly couple through the woods.  Joseph and Sarah Blumfield (Arnold Marle and Lily Freud-Marle) show signs of flagging and stop for a rest.  Magnus and Ivar then both pick up rocks and it’s clear that they intend to kill the Blumfields.

The action then moves to a courtroom shortly after the end of WW2.  Magnus and Ivar are in the dock, accused of the Blumfields’ murder.  But why would two war heroes (they had been members of the Norwegian resistance) kill a defenceless couple?  The prosecutor (Allan Cuthbertson) is convinced of their guilt, whilst their defense attorney (David Kossoff) struggles to find a way to prove their innocence.  As might be expected, there’s more to this story that meets the eye …..

After the opening credits, a caption helpfully tells us the exact setting and time – Tonstrand, Norway, October 9th 1947.  You might wonder why so many Norwegian nationals (like Cuthbertson) speak perfect English, but that’s par for the course with a series shot in the UK.  It may be a little incongruous but it’s preferable to everybody attempting dodgy Norwegian accents.  And as touched on previously, the fact this was an American co-production necessitated that the two Norwegians in the dock, Magnus and Ivar, were played by an American and a Canadian respectively.

Allan Cuthbertson is his usual immaculate self as the prosecutor.  He seems to have a very solid case – both Magnus and Ivar confessed their guilt to the police and when Ivar was arrested he had Joseph’s gold pocket watch in his possession (he also admitted to the police that he took the watch from Joseph’s dead body).

A recess provides an opportunity for Ivar and Magnus’ attorney to speak to them.  He urges them to change their plea to guilty, but Magnus refuses – they may have killed the couple, but he tells him it wasn’t murder.  This intriguing statement drives the rest of the narrative as slowly the events of five years earlier are uncovered.

Several lengthy flashbacks help to stop the story from being a static courtroom tale.  The first flashback also helps to bring the character of Joseph Blumfield into sharp focus – his Jewish heritage meant that he was under increasing pressure from the Nazis, one of the reasons why he and his wife decided to flee.

Kossoff, like Cutherbertson, impresses, as he slowly teases out the story from the defendants.  Ivar tells the court what happened immediately after the deaths of Joseph and Sarah.  “After we did it, it was suddenly very quiet. Like we’d killed everything in the forest except ourselves. The old man bled a lot, for some reason the woman didn’t seem to, but we knew they were both dead.”  Don Borisenko is perfect as the twitchy Ivar, a man who lacks the certainty of his friend Magnus that they did the right thing.

Although Joseph and Sarah have been presented as harmless and helpless victims, Peter Stone’s screenplay constantly teases us that there must be more to the story than a simple tale of opportunistic murder and robbery.   It’s strongly hinted on several occasions that during wartime people have to do things which would be unthinkable during a time of peace.  If Magnus and Ivar felt that the security of their organisation was threatened by the old couple it would explain why they had to die.

Apart from Cuthbertson and Kossoff, other familiar faces pop up, most notably Alfred Burke and Aubrey Morris.  In the present day, Burke (as Ivar’s brother, Gustave), sports a natty eye patch, which is absent when the action flashes back to 1942.   Burke’s contribution is small but he was such a good actor that he could make even a handful of lines come alive.  His jousting with Cuthbertson is a special treat – Gustave angrily wonders why the court is attempting to prosecute two war heroes, which incenses the prosecutor.  “Many of the men in this room, and the women too, risked their lives in the struggle against the Nazi occupation. Some of us suffered just as much as you. Torture, imprisonment under death sentence, but we didn’t sink so low as to murder those we had pledged to protect, to save our own skins.”  It’s an electrifying scene.

Covenant with Death shows how moral absolutes are a luxury often denied during a time of war.  The scene of Joseph and Sarah in the moments before their deaths is very powerful – both know they will shortly die, both are afraid, but they’re also reconciled that it’s the only way.  But was it?  It’s is a question that remains right until the end and no doubt each viewer will have their own opinion as to whether Magnus and Ivar were guilty or innocent.

Although espionage doesn’t form any part of the story, this is a deeply thought-provoking tale that, even when the verdict is delivered, doesn’t seem to bring closure for the men in the dock.