Simon is relaxing in the Bahamas. It’s an idyllic paradise – or it would be if Floyd Vosper (Anthony Dawson) wasn’t polluting the atmosphere. Simon explains that he’s the lowest of the low – a gossip columnist who gleefully uses the power of the press to spread embarrasing nuggets of information about the great and good of Bahamian society. When Vosper is brutally murdered at a party held by Herbert Wrexall (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) there’s no shortage of suspects as all of the well-heeled guests – including Simon – had motives for bumping him off ….
A generous helping of stock footage (running to a minute) helps to create the illusion that we’re in Nassau. Vosper’s slippery personality is then established as a number of people, including Wrexall’s wife Lucy (Elspeth March), line up to give him less than glowing character references. Simon and Lucy discuss how Vosper is nothing more than a gutter journalist, although it’s ironic that Lucy then admits she always reads his column!
Also ironic is the eventual reveal that all the information he held on Wrexall’s party guests is completly accurate. So whilst they may bemoan his manner and attitude, some of their own behaviour is shown to be rather questionable. Therefore the tensions between Vosper (positioned as an uncouth outsider) and the likes of Wrexall (cultured but slightly impoverished – hence his need of Vosper’s support) plays along class lines. Simon, despite his buccaneer status, has no difficulty in allying himself with Wrexall and the others (in his well-tailored dinner jacket, the Saint is every inch the gentleman).
As we’ve already been primed that Vosper is a bit of a rotter, this means that his eventual arrival carries even more impact. Anthony Dawson is simply delightful – spitting venom with a smile on his lips, Vosper manages to sow discord wherever he goes. Moore and Dawson aren’t the only familiar faces from the James Bond films, as Honor Blackman – playing Wrexall’s secretary Pauline Stone – also appears. The fact that Wrexall and Pauline are conducting a less than clandestine affair is all grist to Vosper’s mill (and provides the story with yet another motive for murder).
If you enjoy watching Simon beating up the ungodly, then The Arrow of God is likely to disappoint. Simon does offer at one point to give Vosper a spanking, but that doesn’t really count! But I’ve no complaints as it’s an entertaining murder mystery which features a score of familiar faces. Apart from those mentioned, John Arnatt is his usual solid self as Major Fanshawe whilst John Carson, browned up as an Indian mystic called Astron, somewhat receives the short end of the stick. It’s hard not to be reminded of Peter Sellers (“goodness gracious me”) during his scenes.
Other potential suspects include the smoothly handsome tennis player John Herrick (Tony Wright) and the brash American businessman Arthur Gresson (Gordon Tanner).
The Saint retreats a little into the background during the first half of this story. Until the murder occurs he’s simply one of the house-guests (he gets to cross verbal swords with Vosper a few times, although the honours are about even). One notable change between Charteris’ original story (part of the collection The Saint on the Spanish Main) and this adaptation relates to the murder weapon. Here it’s an actual arrow, in the short story Vosper was skewered with a large beach umbrella (which would have been a striking image, but possibly too gory to pass the censors).
Once Vosper’s dead body is discovered, the law – in the form of Major Fanshawe – quickly arrives on the scene and John Arnatt, puffing on his pipe, forms a decent partnership with Roger Moore. It’s interesting how quickly Simon is able to reposition himself from suspect to police helper – given the Saint’s colourful reputation you might have expected the police to treat him with a little more caution. Indeed, it doesn’t take long before Simon completely supplants Fanshawe (effectively turning into Hercule Poirot for good measure).
The drawing room denouement – as Simon explains how the murder was committed (and unmasks the murderer for good measure) – is nicely done and tops off a highly entertaining episode. Four and a half halos out of five.