The Saint – Marcia

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Simon is mourning the death of Marcia Landon, famous film star, who took her own life after being disfigured in an acid attack.  Rising starlet Claire Avery (Samantha Eggar) has taken over the role Marcia was due to play in an upcoming film and after receiving a threatening letter – stating that unless she hands over five thousand pounds she too will be disfigured – calls on Simon for help.  So the Saint finds himself with a film studio full of suspects to investigate …..

The pre-credits sequence has a bleakness which wasn’t typical for the series, as we see Simon pay Marcia a fullsome eulogy.  Her face – prior to the attack – is prominently displayed both in the newspapers and on the studio walls where Simon has called to see Claire (and Marcia’s image will continue to appear throughout the episode).  The attack is shown in flashback – shot from distance and mostly using shadows, it’s effectively moody (and also isn’t explicit – which was always a consideration).

It’s a cliché but Samantha Eggar – just like Claire Avery – has undeniable star quality.  Director John Krish favours close-ups in the early part of the episode – as Claire and Simon chat about Marcia – and these shots, along with Eggar’s low, breathy voice helps to create a considerable impression.  The camera loves her and, to be honest, so do I.

Johnny Briggs creates an immediate impression as the chirpy runner, Johnny Desmond – he’s an upbeat sort of chap, always ready with a bad joke.  Marion Mathie, later to be the third and final television She Who Must Be Obeyed in Rumpole of the Bailey, is another familiar face who pops up (she plays Sheila – wife of Mike Sentinal, the director).

Jill Melford is deliciously bitchy as Irene Cromwell, an older actress who clearly believes that she should have been given Marcia’s role.  Dripping with honey-tongued venom, she’s highly entertaining.  Mix in Tony Beckley as Claire’s very disgruntled co-star and Philip Stone as a dogged police inspector and it’s hard to see how this story could have been better cast.

What’s nice about this one is that it gives us a rare chance to look behind the scenes at the studios where The Saint was shot.  It’s nowhere as self-reverential as some of the later UFO episodes, but it’s still interesting (and I daresay since it was pretty cheap to shoot, it would have pleased the producers).

As the story progresses, Claire continues to stress.  Things come to a head when a prop gun, used in the recording of the film, is substituted for a real one.  Simon, standing off-camera, shouts “drop that gun and nobody move!” in an incredibly forceful way (very uncharacteristic) whilst Claire just screams.  Oddly, she does so after the shot’s been fired (she appears to be working on a slight delay).  John Krish doesn’t really do Eggar any favours by zooming into her screaming mouth – it’s an arresting image, but not terribly flattering.

Towards the end of the episode, there’s a chance to see even more of the studio as Simon pursues a mysterious stranger through its various nooks and crannies.  This might be little more than padding, but it’s shot so well that it’s hard not to enjoy it.  Indeed, that sums up the story as a whole.  The mystery is fairly slight, but with such a strong cast it’s easy to be totally absorbed.

The use of Marcia’s photograph is an especially memorable touch.  It’s seen so often, in various different locations, that it’s almost like she’s always present – albeit as a passive, non-speaking observer.  This is one of the reasons why Marcia is a fascinating story which rates four and a half halos out of five.

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Sergeant Cork – The Case of the Two Drowned Men


Cork and Marriott are hunting two men who killed a bank messenger and made away with a thousand sovereigns.  A tip off leads them to the docks, where Sergeant Dempsey (Victor Brooks) has some news – he says that one of their suspects, Jack Simons, has been fished out of the river.  The ever-suspicious Cork isn’t too sure, since the man’s face was so disfigured as to make a physical identification impossible.  Dempsey responds that they found several papers in the dead man’s pockets which positively identified him as Simons.  The next day, the other man they were looking for, Steve Gurling, is also found dead in the river.  But Cork’s still not happy – why weren’t both men killed at the same time?

The mystery of whether Simons and Gurling are alive or dead isn’t one that’s played out for very long.  Within the opening ten minutes or so we see a boat tie up at the docks and two men get out.  They call each other Steve and Jack which makes it obvious that these are the two men Cork and Marriott are searching for.  It’s a pity this is so explicitly (and rather clumsily) explained straightaway, as it dissipates the mystery somewhat.

Steve Gurling was played by Tony Beckley.  Beckley tended to play rather fey characters, such as Freddie in The Italian Job, Rene Joinville in the Callan episode Suddenly – At Home and most memorably of all, the monomaniacal plant lover Harrison Chase in the Doctor Who serial The Seeds of Doom.  Since Gurling is a rough, tough, East End type it’s not really a part that plays to Beckley’s strengths, but he still makes a decent fist of it (even if his performance isn’t terribly subtle).  He’s not alone in this though, as some of the other inhabitants of the waterfront offer equally broad turns (the cackling crone especially).  But although there’s more than a touch of “gor blimey guvnor” about this episode, it still offers a decent portrait of the underbelly of Victorian London.

Cork views the area with extreme disfavour.  “Do you know what this place could do with, lad? A terrible thing to say, but it could do with another fire. Another Great Fire of London, burn out all these slums. They breed vice and they breed vermin.”  Marriott replies that it’s no use getting rid of the slums if you don’t get rid of the poverty that causes them – a point which the Sergeant agrees with.

Production design is impressive.  Without ever leaving the studio, designer Anthony Waller was able to create a convincing outdoors environment.  The Adam and Eve is a nicely designed waterfront dive (complete with parrot!) and there’s enough water to create the illusion that the docks are close by.  The use of sound effects (such as the constant hooting of tugboats) and a touch of smoke (to simulate the London fog) are also simple, but effective, ways of enhancing the atmosphere.

William Gaunt shows a flair for comedy as Marriott goes undercover at the Adam and Eve.  He’s disguised as a sailor with a fake beard and an even faker Irish accent, but only gets a black eye for his trouble.  Later he’s bashed about the head after he follows a suspect, to the despair of Cork who expresses his exasperation quite forcibly!

As I’ve said, this is pretty ripe stuff, but John Barrie continues to impress.