The Saint – The King of the Beggars

beggars 01.jpg

Simon, back in Rome, becomes aware of an odious protection racket targeting the city-wide population of beggars.  They’ve been forced to give a percentage of the money they collect to a mysterious figure known only as the King of the Beggars.  A young actress, Theresa (Yvonne Romain), has gone undercover in order to identify the “King” and Simon, suitably disguised, quickly takes her place (after all, he’s got much more experience of tangling with the ungodly than she has).  But events take a sinister turn after Theresa is kidnapped …..

The King of the Beggars touches upon a theme previously raised in The Charitable Countess, specifically the divide between Rome’s rich and poor.  As before, Simon shows sympathy towards those who have nothing, especially when one of them is brutally mown down before his eyes.

There’s plenty of familiar faces in this one – Oliver Reed (more of him in a minute), Ronnie Corbett (credited more formally as Ronald) and Warren Mitchell, who was making his third and final appearance as Simon’s Rome-based helper, Marco.  Moore and Mitchell slip easily back into their bantering partnership (Simon offers Marco a drink – he asks for a large whisky, but receives a small coffee instead!).  Marco is again partly present to give us the opposite view about beggars – he regards them as a workshy nuisance, whilst Simon is much more forgiving about the plight they’ve found themselves in.

Oliver Reed’s imposing physical presence is immediately evident.  As Joe Catilli, a member of the protection racket, he glowers splendidly and it isn’t long before he and the Saint come to blows.  Their bout of fisticuffs may be brief, but it feels quite convincing.  They tangle on several later occasions as well, with the most entertaining being when the Saint uses Catalli as an unwilling guinea pig in order to demonstrate to a group of impressively bearded vagrants the best way to defend yourself from unwanted street attacks!

Last time, I raised an eyebrow (in tribute to Roger of course) at the Saint’s previously unheralded skill with disguises.  Remarkably he’s at it again today – a pair of dark glasses, a little bit of stubble, mussed hair and he’s instantly transformed into a blind beggar.  It’s ever so slightly awkward though that he’s then approached by Catilli, who doesn’t seem to connect this blind beggar to the young chap who had earlier duffed him up.  I mean, it’s not that great a disguise.

Marco and Simon are teamed up for several very enjoyable scenes.  One of my favourites sees them interrogating an uncommunicative member of the gang.  But never fear, Marco has a pair of pliers in his pocket and attempts to give him an instant spot of rough dentistry!

Who could the King of the Beggars be?  We’re introduced to Stephen Elliot (John McLaren), a philanthropic American who appears to share Simon’s distress at the plight of Rome’s displaced citizens.  But everything points to the fact that this upstanding man will later be revealed to be the “King”.  Or will there be a twist?  Hmm ……

John McLaren seems a little stiff, although this may be due to the character he’s playing and not a lack of acting ability.  More naturalistic is Maxine Audley as the Contessa Dolores Marcello.  Dolores and Elliot first encountered the Saint when he was wearing his beggar disguise and when they all meet again at a swanky party she quickly makes the connection (which is more than Elliot did).

But it seems that Catalli eventually did twig as well, as Simon finds himself drinking a cup of drugged chocolate at the flop house run by Maria Calvetti (Jessie Robins).  As Simon slumps to the floor, Catalli pops up in a typically menacing fashion.  Maria and Catalli then team up to interrogate the kidnapped Theresa.  A shame that Robins’ role isn’t larger as Maria’s got a nice line in threats.  “Miss Mantania, don’t get rough with me. I can knock you right through the wall”.  I believe her ….

One of two novellas from the 1948 book Call for the Saint, Charteris’ story was set in Chicago, with Simon’s regular sidekick – Hoppy – assisting him.  Marco performs a similar function in the teleplay (and is considerably less irritating).  Many of the characters are essentially the same, although the names have naturally been changed to rather more Italianate ones.

John Gillings’ teleplay retains all the essential story beats of the original, including the chess piece left behind by the abducted Theresa (which gives Simon a vital clue).  The identity of the “King” is a decent twist and together with the strong guest cast, headed by Reed and Mitchell, it helps to make this another very solid story.  Four halos out of five.

beggars 02.jpg

The Saint – The Charitable Countess

Simon is in Rome in order to attend a charity ball held by the Countess Christina Rovagna (Patricia Donahue).  Although it’s ostensibly been arranged to benefit Father Bellini’s charity for destitute children, little of the money collected actually reaches the needy.  So the Saint decides to tilt the balance back in Father Bellini’s favour ….
Simon is well aware of the irony inherent in the Countess’ charitable soiree. A group of incredibly wealthy people paying exorbitant sums in order to enjoy the finest food and wines available (secure in the knowledge that their excesses will, in some way, help those less fortunate than themselves).  The Saint may be a part of polite society – feted for his notoriety – but he’s also content to also remain an outsider.

This is evident in the way he interacts with the Countess.  At first glance she appears to be a pleasant enough person – and a charitable lady to boot – so Simon is happy to flirt outrageously with her.  But are his feelings for her genuine, or is he simply dissembling – telling her what she wants to hear?  As we’ll discover later, it’s clearly the latter.  Simon is always the arch manipulator, content to play along with whatever the current situation might be (although he does seem shocked to discover that the Countess is making such a substantial profit from her charity).

So after learning that only nine thousand out of the fifty thousand dollars raised was donated to Father Bellini (Anthony Newlands) we’re forced to reassess everything we’ve learnt about the Countess to date.  Father Bellini is very pleased with this sum though – considering it to be a fortune – so clearly he’s not the worldliest of people ….

In sharp counterpoint to the pampered lifestyle of the Countess, we’re also privy to the miserable existence of a group of street urchins, led by the voluble Franco (Philip Needs).  True, they’re all rather grubby, but the dirt looks like it’s been applied by a make-up artist (these children seem just a little too well-behaved and mannered to convince as genuinely feral creatures).

If they don’t quite seem natural when they’re sharing scenes together (although the relationship between Franco and Angelina – played by Loretta Parry – is quite touching) then Franco develops into a more rounded character once Simon and Marco (Warren Mitchell) take him under their wing.  Simon instantly feels a sense of obligation towards the boy (Marco less so).   The scenes between Moore and Needs are strong ones, with Moore pitching his performance at just the right level in order to ensure that Needs gets a chance to shine.

If he’s good when acting alongside Needs, then Roger Moore really sparkles when he returns to confront the Countess.  Also present is Aldo Petri (Nigel Davenport), the Countess’ current companion.  Simon delights in explaining to Petri that the Countess Christina Rovagna began her life as Maggie Oakes of New Jersey.  She was a vaudeville artiste famed for taking off her clothes ….

The Countess is a cool customer though, not at all fazed by Simon’s full frontal attack.  She’s strongly disinclined to hand over the rest of the charity money and reacts with scorn when Simon suggests that she sells her necklace in order to raise the sum he’s requested.  So Simon elects to steal it – which meets with her whole-hearted approval.  In many ways she’s almost the female version of the Saint – outwardly frivolous but with a core of steel – which makes their battle so entertaining.  Had she simply been a run-of-the-mill criminal then the story would be much less interesting.  She’s convinced that he’ll fail dismally and be humiliated – but we know the outcome will be somewhat different.

Charteris’ short story was originally published in 1939 (as part of the collection entitled The Happy Highwayman).  This adaptation relocated the action from New York to Rome (and added the subplot of the urchins) but otherwise the main thrust of the story – the Saint sets out to steal the Countess’ necklace in order to repay her charity debt – remained intact.  In both the original story and teleplay he doesn’t do it in a Raffles-style way though, instead he removes all the jewels from the Countess’ dinner guests at gunpoint.  However, the adaptation scores by the way that Simon is able to bring Franco and the others into the dining room in order to show his victims the reason why they should be happy to give up their baubles.

Another good showcase for Roger Moore, The Charitable Countess manages to keep the essence of the original story – featuring the earlier, more criminally-inclined Saint – intact.  It rates four halos out of five.

charitable 02

The Saint – The Latin Touch

latin 01

The Saint, vacationing in Rome, spots a damsel in distress, Sue Inverest (Suzan Farmer), who is locked in an argument with a stroppy cab-driver, Marco (Warren Mitchell).  Simon smoothly sorts out Marco and equally smoothly proposes to show Sue the sights – starting with the Colosseum.  But he’s hardly begun to display his impressive knowledge of history before he’s coshed by two thugs, who then abduct Sue.  Since she’s the daughter of an American politician, Hudson Inverest (Alexander Knox), it seems clear this wasn’t a random abduction.  But why was she kidnapped – for money, or is there some other reason?

The Saint‘s ability to travel all over the world despite rarely leaving the leafy environment of Borehamwood is well known.  But The Latin Touch does manage an early spot (albeit very brief) of genuine location shooting and these shots mingle pretty well with the studio work.  It also has to be said that the studio Colosseum set is quite impressive – we only see it for a short time, but it was money well spent.

It’s easy to spot that the two men who target Simon and Sue are bad ‘uns – the Frank Sinatra hats and flashy shoes are dead giveaways.  The revelation that Sue is the daughter of an American governor comes as something of a surprise, since Suzan Farmer doesn’t display a trace of an American accent.  Presumably accents weren’t her strongpoint.

She’s only onscreen for a few minutes before being nabbed, but  Farmer still manages to create a vivid impression.  It’s interesting that after Sue’s taken we don’t see her again until the 39th minute.  You’d have expected a few scenes with her to have been scattered through the story in order to ramp up the tension, but instead the human side of the drama is played out by Hudson and his wife, Maude (Doris Nolan).  Hudson puts duty first whilst Maude, as might be expected, is concerned only about her daughter.

Hudson faces a difficult moral dilemma.  Sue has been snatched by Mafia kingpin Tony Unciello (Bill Nagy), who demands that his younger brother, Nick, languishing in an American jail (his death warrant signed by Hudson), is reprieved from death row.  It’s highly debatable that Hudson would have the authority to do this (it’s hard to believe that the American government would agree to such a course either) but the way the story plays out it does seem that he has the power of life and death over Nick.

Warren Mitchell gives a lovely performance as Marco, this episode’s comic relief.  Marco is a rather slippery petty criminal, but Simon’s easily able to recruit him to the side of the godly.  Tony Unciello, like Sue, is rather lacking in screentime until the last ten minutes or so but Nagy’s scenes with Moore when they do arrive are good.  Hungarian-born Nagy might have seemed an odd choice to play an Italian/American gangster, but he’d do so again later (in Goldfinger).

With Tony remaining camera shy for most of the episode, it falls to others to sketch in aspects of his personality, such as the glamourous nightclub singer Maria (Carroll Simpson).  Maria’s short scene – she pulls back her hair to reveal a nasty scar (a legacy of her time with Tony) – helps to illustrate precisely what sort of man he is.  Since The Saint was extremely restricted in how it could depict violence (Leslie Charteris’ original stories often, much to his chagrin, had to be toned down) this scene is useful in the way that it suggests Tony’s violent nature without having to depict it.  Slightly surprising that Carroll Simpson, who is rather compelling, only seems to have made this single screen appearance.

Warren Mitchell’s entertaining as always and Bill Nagy’s nicely menacing, but The Latin Touch does suffer from a lack of tension, since it’s impossible to believe that Sue won’t be rescued in the end.  Given this, it rates a solid, but not spectacular, three halos out of five.

latin 02.jpg

Till Death us do Part to be released by Network – 5th December 2016

till death.jpg

Till Death us do Part will be released by Network in December.

Highly popular – and more than a little controversial – Johnny Speight’s classic sitcom satirised the less acceptable aspects of conservative working-class culture and the yawning generation gap, creating a sea change in television comedy that influenced just about every sitcom that followed.  As relevant today as when first transmitted, Speight’s liberal attitude to comedy shone a light on some of the more unsavoury aspects of the national character to great effect.

Starring Warren Mitchell as highly opinionated, true-blue bigot Alf Garnett, Till Death Us Do Part sees him mouthing off on race, immigration, party politics and any other issues that take his fancy. His rantings meet fierce opposition in the form of his left-wing, Liverpudlian layabout son-in-law Mike, while liberal daughter Rita despairs and long-suffering wife Else occasionally wields a sharp put-down of her own.

Though all colour episodes exist, many early black and white episodes were wiped decades ago. The recent recovery of the episode Intolerance, however, alongside off-air audio recordings made on original transmission allow us to present a near-complete run of the series from beginning to end.

The Galton and Simpson Playhouse – Big Deal at York City

big

Albert Cakebread (Warren Mitchell) has had a good day at York Races.  On the train back to London, he flashes his winnings (over two thousand pounds) in the bar and offers to buy everyone a drink.  This catches the attention of one of the passengers, Basil Trenchard (Gerald Flood).

Later on, Trenchard, along with two other people (played by Alister Williamson and Robert Dorning), asks Albert if he fancies a friendly game of cards to while away the journey.  Albert agrees, as does another passenger in the carriage (a businessman played by Robin Parkinson).  In order to keep things fair, Albert asks the imposing figure of the Bishop (Lockwood West) to deal the cards.

It’s obvious that Flood and his two friends are con-men who plan to fleece the ebullient Albert out of his winnings.  Each hand reduces Albert’s money little by little, so that by the last hand he desperately stakes everything he has  The others do as well and it seems that Trenchard is going to walk away with the lot.  But amazingly, it’s the mild-mannered businessman (Parkinson) who actually has the winning hand and he scoops the whole pot.  The twist is that he, Albert and the Bishop are also a gang of con-men (who have managed to outfox the other three by being a little more subtle).

Big Deal at York City boasts an interesting performance from Warren Mitchell who affects an accent which I believe is a West Country one.  Why he didn’t use his more familiar London tones is a bit of a mystery, unless it was supposed to lull the three marks into believing him to be a country bumpkin.  His character certainly comes over as something of a simple, trusting soul (although as we see that isn’t the case at all).

Gerald Flood (bad King John, or at least something that looked like him, in the Doctor Who story The Kings Demons) is rather good as the card-sharp who spies what he thinks is an easy mark, only to be taken to the cleaners himself.  Another solid performance comes from Lockwood West as a man of the cloth who seems to gain a great deal of knowledge about poker as the game goes on!

Although Mitchell’s accent and slight overplaying is a little distracting, Big Deal at York City is an entertaining twenty-five minutes that brings the Galton and Simpson Playhouse to a close.  Although the quality of the series was a little variable, the first-rate casts in each episode do help to sometimes lift the material.  It’s not Hancock or early Steptoe standard by any means, but it’s certainly worth a look.