The Saint – The Arrow of God

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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.

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H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Blind Justice

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A friend of Brady’s, airline pilot Arthur Holt (Philip Friend), is convinced that his plane is being used for drug smuggling.  His co-pilot Sandy Mason (Jack Watling) is implicated in the smuggling ring and frames Arthur.  Before Arthur can tell the authorities all he knows about the smugglers, he’s shot – with the only witness to his attempted murder being his blind wife, Katherine (Honor Blackman).

A generous amount of the story – the first five minutes – is used to set everything up.  It’s pretty evident right from the start that Arthur is honest whilst Sandy has something to hide (Watling ensures that Sandy looks more than a little shifty).

Jack Watling, father of Invisible Man co-star Deborah, had form for appearing in series which featured his daughter (Doctor Who being the other notable example).  He’s just one member of a very strong cast who help to enliven this story.  Honor Blackman, a few years away from finding fame as Cathy Gale in The Avengers, is another but it’s Leslie Phillips as the cold-hearted Sparrow who makes the most vivid impression.

More used to playing comedy, Phillips plays it dead straight as the well-spoken “Cock” Sparrow, who calls at Arthur’s house, claiming to be a friend of his.  But when Arthur turns up, he shoots him and makes a swift exit.  Did Sparrow know that Katherine was blind and would therefore struggle to describe him?  Even if he did, it seems a little foolhardy to have struck up a conversation with her, as proves to be key in bringing him to justice.

Robert Raglan plays Detective Inspector Heath, yet another police officer completely unfazed at the prospect of receiving assistance from an invisible man, whilst the very recognisable Desmond Llewelyn hovers in the background as his sergeant.

Blind Justice (ah, do you see what they did there?) makes few calls on Brady’s special power until the last few minutes – as Brady convinces Katherine to pretend she can see (and helps her along the way)  so that she can walk up to Sparrow and convince him that she saw him shoot her husband.  Brady hopes that this will break his nerve and make him confess all.

A fairly routine crime story then, but the London location filming and the incredibly impressive guest cast (especially Honor Blackman and Leslie Phillips) are more than adequate compensation.

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Probation Officer – Series One, Episode Two


Running between 1959 and 1962, Probation Officer was a series that wasn’t afraid to tackle heavyweight topics – as seen in this episode (available on YouTube as a taster for the upcoming DVD release).  The colour problem was a fruitful area for television drama across numerous decades and we it tackled here by Julian Bond in a very uncompromising fashion.

Probation officer Philip Main (John Paul) is approached by a middle-aged black man called Mr Alexander (Earl Cameron).  Alexander is concerned about his son, Johnny (Lloyd Reckord), who’s in a relationship with a white girl, Mary Sadler (Felicity Young) and Alexander can only see grief ahead for the pair of them.  Cameron, a physically imposing actor, comes across well here as he expresses fear that the relationship will force Johnny to hit back against the wall of prejudice he is sure to meet (as we’ll see, this is exactly what happens).

The most notable thing about Paul in this first scene is how often he blinks.  Maybe this was a deliberate touch to suggest that Main (still very much a newcomer to the probation service) is keen, but a little out of his depth.  He agrees to talk to Johnny though, and he asks his colleague Iris Cope (Honor Blackman) if she’ll speak to Mary.

After Alexander exits the office, two of Main’s colleagues – Jim Blake (David Davies) and Bert Belman (John Scott) – enter.  Because this is only the second episode (and I’ve yet to see the first) it’s impossible to know how Bert was previously presented.  It’s probable though that he was positioned in episode one as just another member of the team – if so it makes his racial outburst all the more jarring.  Referring to Alexander as Sambo and a Darkie, he makes his views quite clear in just a few sentences.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that Johnny is very touchy and quick to rise to offence (Main refers to the large chip on his shoulder).  Main’s conversation with him doesn’t achieve a great deal and it’s an eye-opener that Main suggests maybe he and Mary should move to a different part of the country where they’d be more accepted.  Truly the past is a foreign country.

Iris fares little better with Mary’s parents.  How they’re presented to us is another interesting touch.  First we see Mrs Sadler (Dee Duffell), who appears to be reasonable enough, but dig a little under the surface and she displays a strong racist streak.  The loud slam of the front door indicates that Mr Sadler (Toke Townley) has returned home.  It might have been expected that he’d be just as uncompromising as his wife, but instead he’s a mild man who – unlike Mrs Sadler – genuinely wants the best for his daughter.  If that means a relationship with Johnny, then so be it.

Johnny confronts a gang of youths (led by Larry Martin).  They are nebulous characters (lacking names for example) who exist only to further this part of the plot – the reason why they dislike Johnny aren’t articulated, presumably because they’re obvious.  Fight scenes in videotaped drama could often come across as rather amateurish, this problem is seen here as the gang give Johnny a beating.  He fights back – badly injuring one of them – and within seconds the police and a doctor are on the scene.  The others have vanished, leaving just the unconscious youth and Johnny.

With Johnny facing the prospect of prison, events have taken a dark turn.  But salvation is at hand from a very unlikely source.  Johnny is found guilty, but the Judge (A.J. Brown) is sympathetic and decides to put him on probation for three years.  “I urge you to govern your temper, to return good manners for ill, to meet insults with fair words.  It is because it is my sincere belief that only so will you shame my fellow countrymen into giving you the place which is rightly yours. Violence is a sign of weakness, Alexander. Your strength lies in the justice of your cause.”

This may be a little preachy, but it’s a noble sentiment nonetheless.  As to whether Alexander and Mary will have any sort of life together is left for the audience to decide.  We see the pair of them walk past the gang.  This time there was no confrontation, but if they continue to live in the same streets how long will it be until tempers boil over again?  And even if they move, will they encounter similar people elsewhere?

Julian Bond’s script offers no sugar-coated conclusion, but neither is it without hope.  This is a well-acted instalment which bodes well for the forthcoming DVD.  The guest cast, especially Cameron and Record are impressive and if the story feels a little contrived in places (the trial, and Mary’s last minute dash to give evidence, is dealt with rather hastily) it’s a still a thought-provoking piece.