7:30am Thursday 10th May 2012
By Parky at the Pictures
It was always one of the drawbacks of the B-movie series produced in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s that the star would outgrow the role and it would be taken over by a less imposing personality. In the case of The Saint, the opposite proved to be the case, as Louis Hayward was succeeded by George Sanders, who was perfectly as cast in the role of Simon Templar as he was as that equally debonair, but less well remembered troubleshooter Gay Lawrence, aka The Falcon. When Sanders quit the Leslie Charteris franchise, he was replaced by Hugh Sinclair, while his successor in the Michael Arlen series was none other than his own brother, Tom Conway.
Neither could match Sanders for lazy wit or the simmering sense of suave menace that made his such a convincing gentleman sleuth. But they eventually made the roles their own, much as John Bentley did in Britain when he took over from Anthony Hulme in the Nettlefold Studios adaptations of Francis Durbridge's popular Paul Temple radio series. This week, there's a chance to see these hard-boiled adventurers in action and to compare US and UK approaches to second features. The films are formulaic, frantic and often far-fetched. But they rattle along splendidly and it's a crying shame television programmers no longer deem them worthy of a slot in schedules stuffed with fifth-rate reality, quiz and makeover shows.
At one time slated for John Cromwell (with Fredric March in the title role) and then for Alfred Hitchcock's Stateside debut, The Saint in New York (1938) was competently handled by Ben Holmes, a journeyman director who had started in features in the early sound era and racked up some 60 credits before his death in 1943. Based on a 1935 Charteris novel, the action is surprisingly dark for a studio picture released after imposition of the Production Code in 1934. However, as crime was not seen to pay, RKO's cynically vigilante storyline was passed by the Breen Office.
Following the murder of the lieutenant leading the NYPD crackdown on gangland crime, Lester Dorr escapes conviction when key witnesses refuse to testify or mysteriously disappear, leaving defence lawyer Charles Halton to make a mockery of the trial process. Enraged by this flagrant abuse of the system, Frederick Burton forms a citizen's committee and tracks lone wolf Louis Hayward to South American to ask him to dispose of the six of the city's most notorious criminals.
Hayward agrees and disguises himself as a nun to shoot Dorr as he about to gun down his nemesis, Inspector Jonathan Hale. Next on the list is Jay Adler, who runs an illegal poker club and Hayward takes to the tables using money stolen from Halton to bankroll a fact-finding visit. In addition to meeting alluring moll Kay Sutton and Adler's sidekicks Paul Guilfoyle, Ben Welden and Jack Carson, Hayward also discovers that the syndicates are controlled by a mastermind nicknamed `The Big Fellow' and begins to suspect that his mission is not as straightforward as it initially appeared.
Persuading Welden to turn informer, Hayward ascertains that Adler has kidnapped a young girl and he manages to rescue her during a struggle in a darkened room. Sig Rumann accuses Welden of being a traitor and he is bumped off in Hayward's car just before he can reveal the identity of the Big Fellow. But, with Sutton's assistance, Hayward avoids a similar fate at Rumann's hands and he learns of the existence of a secret bank account that is the real reason for what turns out to have been a turf war.
Ably abetted by Sutton and Hale (as the long-suffering Inspector Fernack), Hayward makes a disarmingly debonair assassin, who is spared accusations of cold-blooded murder by the fact that he saves Hale's life in plugging his first target and accounts for the others through a mixture of self-defence and internecine coercion. Cinematographers Joseph August and Frank Redman cast achieve a noirish chiaroscuro for much of the action, but the sets by the capable pairing of Van Nest Polglase and Perry Ferguson are an atmospheric blend of chic and dank. If only the identity of the villain had been shrouded in a little more shadow. George Sanders was drafted in for John Paddy Carstairs's The Saint in London (1939), which was filmed in Britain from the Charteris story `The Million Pound Day'. However, the original edge is replaced by an air of insouciant daredevilry, which suits Sanders's laconic charm, but makes the action feel more like a caper than a thriller. Stylishly photographed by Claude Friese-Greene (whose father was the kinematographic pioneer William Friese-Greene), this is also notable for a supporting role for Ballard Berkeley, who would find late-career fame as The Major in Fawlty Towers, and for the fact that Carstairs would later return to the franchise to direct Roger Moore in the fondly regarded 1960s TV spin-off While attending a dinner party thrown by her aunt (Norah Howard), Sally Gray notices the attention that Sanders is paying to fellow guest, Henry Oscar, and follows him when he breaks into his home to purloin a document from the safe. Bumping into Gray while making his escape, Sanders finds himself giving succour to the wounded John Abbott, a count who had been abducted and forced to print £1 million of counterfeit banknotes that can be used to destabilise his Mitteleuropean state.
Abbott insists he was snatched by Ralph Truman, a business partner of Oscar. But, when Gray tries following him, she is kidnapped herself and Truman offers to exchange her for Abbott. However, despite Sanders hiding him away under a false name at Athene Seyler's hotel, Abbott is murdered and Inspector Gordon McLeod arrests Sanders in a bid to flush out the real killer.
Released for lack of proof, Sanders impersonates McLeod to gain entry to Abbott's embassy and makes the acquaintance of Carl Jaffe, a sinister type who is later captured at Oscar's home by Sanders's mettlesomely light-fingered American valet, David Burns. However, the triumph is short lived and Sanders has to rescue Burns and Gray when Truman and Oscar threaten to kill them unless Sanders hands over the stolen document that is not only at the heart of the currency racket, but also an espionage conspiracy that is cleared up by Ballard Berkeley during the final showdown.
Little attempt is made to disguise the villains of this piece, so nothing is lost by exposing them here. Indeed, as in keeping with so many British spy pictures in the five years before the outbreak of the Second World War, every effort is made to avoid a direct reference to Germany or Italy for fear of provoking a diplomatic incident. The American studios were even more cautious, bearing in mind the nation's prevailing mood of isolationism. Yet it's obvious that this is a covert piece of propagandist entertainment, with bulldog pluck and ingenuity overcoming the machinations of the dastardly foreign foe and their treacherous cohorts. The brisk banter adds to the enjoyment, but this lacks the polish of the Hollywood-produced outings.
Sanders crossed the Atlantic for Jack Hively's The Saint Takes Over (1940), with the action even starting on a liner so he can stop the sassy socialite Wendy Barrie from being duped in a card game. On arriving in New York, Sanders learns that old friend Jonathan Hale has been suspended by the NYPD for supposedly taking $90,000 in bribes from a racket headed by Pierre Watkin. However, there is no honour among these thieves and rival mobster Roland Drew sends petty thief Paul Guilfoyle to rob Watkin's safe.
When Sanders and Hale arrive at Watkins's home, they find him dead with a photograph of Guilfoyle near the corpse. Suspecting that Drew is behind the killing, Sanders goes to his nightclub, where he is surprised to find Barrie and fears she may be allowing herself to be suckered into bad company. He puts pressure on Guilfoyle to help him clear Hale's name. But an attempt to force syndicate bigwig Robert Emmett Keane backfires and Hale is now suspected of systematically murdering the men who had bought him.
Convinced that one of the last two remaining members of the cabal must be responsible, Sanders goes after Morgan Conway and Cyrus W. Kendall. But when he breaks into Conway's apartment to catch the killer in the act, Sanders gets an unpleasant surprise and has to evade cops and hoods alike to prove Hale's innocence and have him reinstated to the force.
Some nifty caricaturing cannot quite hide the contrivances and inadequacies of the fifth entry in the RKO series. Reprising the title role for the fourth time, Sanders looks a little bored by a plot that owed nothing to Charteris and his exit following The Saint in Palm Springs (1941) is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, he is capably supported here by the dependable Hale and Guilfoyle as slow-witted criminous sidekick. But the most intriguing performance comes from Wendy Barrie, the goddaughter of JM Barrie whose affair with gangster Benjamin `Bugsy' Siegel once led to her brawling with his short-fused moll, Virginia Hill.
Following Sanders's departure, RKO decided to make its Saint features in Britain in order to free up assets frozen by the wartime government. Producer William Sistrom was entrusted with the switch and he cast Hugh Sinclair in The Saint's Vacation (1941), which was gleaned from the 1932 novel, Getaway, and updated by Charteris and Jeffrey Dell to serve the flagwaving purpose of pitching Simon Templar against the Third Reich.
Sailing to the continent for a Swiss holiday (presumably in the summer of 1939), Sinclair and best chum Arthur Macrae are tailed by ace reporter Sally Grey, who suspects Sinclair is on a case. He checks into the Hotel Regina and is puzzled when old friend Leueen MacGrath denies knowing him and speeds off in John Warwick's car with the sinister German Cecil Parker in hot pursuit. Shortly afterwards, the plot thickens when the man Sinclair rescues from a beating in the forest is murdered in his room while he is showing a mysterious locked box to Macrae and Gray.
Naturally, Parker is keen to get hold of the box and has his henchman Manning Whiley seize it at gunpoint. However, Sinclair follows them to their lair and tries to steal the box while they are interrogating Warwick. Unfortunately, Parker proves too cunning for him and slips through a secret panel and heads to St Gallen crossroads where Sinclair had arranged a rendezvous with Gray. However, Macrae comes in her stead disguised as Swiss policeman and he returns to box to Parker in the hope that he can get on with his vacation.
But Sinclair had pocketed the contents of the box and realises that it is a musical box cylinder whose engraved metal roll contains some kind of code. He decides to keep it safe by posting it to himself and catches the mail train to keep an eye on his package. But Parker and his goons are also on board and murder Warwick while ransacking the baggage car. Parker has Sinclair arrested at a remote station, but finds the parcel only contains a first aid kit and takes Macrae hostage to force Sinclair into co-operating. But Sinclair has to pluck further deals and deceptions from his sleeve before he can deliver his precious cargo to Inspector Gordon McLeod and War Office bod, Felix Aylmer.
As was often the case with spy movies involving a top secret weapon, the supposedly resourceful hero proves surprisingly inept in keeping it out of the clutches of his enemies. But the twists and turns keep the action rattling along and Sinclair overcomes his stage-trained stiffness to make an engaging lead, whose doggedness seems more a suitable wartime trait than invincibility. However, RKO was so disappointed with the results and postponed the release of Paul L. Stein's take on Charteris's first novel, The Saint Meets the Tiger, which finally reached cinemas in 1943 after the distribution rights were purchased by the Poverty Row outfit, Republic.
Shortly after receiving a phone call from a stranger offering him £1 million in gold, Hugh Sinclair finds Ben Williams dying on his doorstep and muttering something about The Tiger and the Cornish resort of Baycombe. Inspector Gordon McLeod informs Sinclair that Williams was a prominent bookmaker who had been involved in a bank robbery and, so, he heads south with valet Wylie Watson to track down the missing loot.
On settling in at his rented cottage, Sinclair meets the pert Jean Gillie, as well as newspaper reporter Clifford Evans, banker Dennis Arundell and his business associate Charles Victor. He is also taken aback to encounter McLeod posing as a famous geologist. But neither is surprised when an assassination attempt is made on Sinclair and McLeod warns him that he has shown his hand too soon.
Arundell has taken a healthy dislike to Sinclair and resents his interference when he advises Gillie against selling her shares in a defunct gold mine. Undaunted, Sinclair sneaks into Arundell's office through a secret passage and accuses him of seeking to acquire the mine so they can pass off the stolen gold as mined metal. He also suggests that Williams had been killed to prevent him from betraying the scheme and only manages to escape from a tricky situation when The Tiger orders his underlings to concentrate on secreting the gold and attempts to have Sinclair arrested for murder.
However, McLeod is persuaded to give Sinclair an alibi and he is soon on the trail of the gang after he questions museum curator John Salew about a network of smugglers' caves. As Sinclair is taken into custody as a ruse by McLeod, the identity of The Tiger becomes apparent, as does his plan to dispatch Arundell and Victor so that he doesn't have to share the ill-gotten proceeds. But, as he tries to slip away by boat, Sinclair catches up with him and not only wins the day, but also lands himself a nice windfall.
What is most noticeable about this lacklustre picture is the absence of ambiguity. It's obvious from the outset who the baddies are and the only doubt is whether Sinclair and McLeod can set aside their rivalry long enough to outwit foes whose greed renders them virtually inept. As before, Sinclair is dapper rather than dynamic and Evans makes a decent ringleader. But while cinematographer Bernard Knowles capably contrasts the seascapes, passages and caves, this would be the last Templar adventure for a decade, when Hayward attempted to revive his flagging fortunes with The Saint's Return (1953) and The Saint's Girl Friday (1954).
Although George Sanders had made an easy transition from The Saint to The Falcon, he quickly tired of his new role and passed the baton to his sibling Tom Conway in The Falcon's Brother (1942) and he struck out on his own in Edward Dmytryk's The Falcon Strikes Back (1943). Reuniting with Rita Corday, with whom he had appeared in Jacques Tourneur's majestic Cat People (1942) for Val Lewton's RKO horror unit, Conway revels in the slick mix of quips and clues that is made all the more enjoyable by some accomplished ensemble playing.
Awoken in his apartment at gunpoint by Rita Corday, Conway goes against the advice of sidekick Cliff Edwards, houseboy Richard Loo and journalist paramour Jane Randolph and agrees to help Corday locate her missing brother. However, on reaching a cocktail bar assignation, Conway is coshed and his car is used in the theft of $250,000 in war bonds. He escapes before Inspector Cliff Clark and Detective Edward Gargan can nab him, but when he returns to the bar to prove his innocence, he discovers that it has been turned into a knitting school run by the prim Wynne Gibson.
Randolph goes under cover to check up on Gibson and finds the address of the country hotel where she lives. Conway checks in and persuades manager Harriet Hilliard to hire Edwards to replace her mysteriously disgraced house detective. He also acquaints himself with a guest list that includes Corday, Gibson, puppeteer Edgar Kennedy and German refugee André Charlot, who is accompanied by Erford Gage, who Conway once had arrested. But one becomes a murder suspect after Corday is murdered by the pool and Conway realises that he has stumbled into the orbit of a fabled crackswoman nicknamed `The Duchess'. However, his attempts at solving the crime(s) are constantly frustrated by the blundering of Clark and Gargan and it's only after Loo poses as an antiques dealer, Conway overhears a blackmail threat, another murder victim bites the dust and the power is cut to the hotel that the guilty party can finally be unmasked.
In truth, the scenario by Stuart Palmer, Edward Dein and Gerald Geraghty tries to pack too many twists into the 66-minute running time. But Dmytryk - who would prove himself a director of great flair with efforts like Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Crossfire (1947) before he blotted his copybook by naming names to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee that had branded him one of the Hollywood Ten during the so-called Communist witch-hunt - keeps things cogent, while also handling such striking set-pieces as Kennedy's puppet show. A founding member of the Keystone Kops and a long-time stooge for such slapstick clowns as Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe `Fatty' Arbuckle, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy, Kennedy steals the show. But Harriet Hilliard (of Ozzie and Harriet fame) and Cliff Edwards (who was better known by his nickname `Ukulele Ike' and who first performed `Singin' in the Rain' on screen) also show well.
Key to creating the atmosphere are the hotel sets designed by Albert S. D'Agostino and Walter E. Keller and the former is on fine solo form in William Clemens's The Falcon and the Co-Eds (1943), as his interiors for Blue Cliff Seminary for Girls add an `old dark house' element to the sinuously convoluted storyline, which was unusual for a Hollywood crime B in having a female screenwriter in Ardel Wray, who was teamed by producer Maurice Geraghty with his brother Gerald.
Playboy sleuth Tom Conway is persuaded to come to the school by Amelita Ward, who is convinced that one of her favourite teachers did not die of natural causes. She tells Conway that roommate Rita Corday had predicted his demise and he begins to believe Ward's version of events after meeting Dean Barbara Brown and sinister psychology teacher George Givot, who seems to have signed the death certificate with undue alacrity.
Conway also wonders at the motives of music tutor Isabel Jewell when he finds her searching the deceased's quarters, supposedly for a book of poetry. But drama specialist Jean Brooks seems no more trustworthy and, following a rehearsal in which Corday complains about the lethality of a prop sword, he trails her into town, where she has a furtive meeting with undertake Ian Wolfe, who concedes that the dead professor probably took a fatal overdose of sleeping pills.
As Inspector Cliff Clark and oppo Edward Gargan arrive belatedly to start their investigation, Brown is found murdered and, when Corday runs screaming from the scene, Conway overhears her confiding in Givot that she fears she has inherited her father's insanity. Snooping around in the office, Conway finds a photo of Brooks aboard a ship and Givot confesses that he married her to secure American citizenship but keeps the fact secret as the school forbids married staff. However, Brooks tells a very different tale and Conway only deduces who was responsible for the killings after a gunshot rings out in the dormitory and the culprit ventures too close to the edge of Blue Cliff.
With future star Dorothy Malone making an early appearance as a student and Juanita and Ruth Alvarez and Nancy McCollum providing some bizarre light relief as Wolfe's mischievous daughters, this is a curious blend of whodunit and comic chiller. Conway is typically urbane, but he allows Brooks, Jewell, Corday and Givot to steal much of the limelight as the action moves inexorably towards the reveal on the ledge above the Devil's Ladder cut into the rock face. Moreover, the contributions of the overlooked Clemens and cinematographer Roy Hunt also ensure that this is one of the more intriguing entries in the entire series.
Equally replete with serpentine action, William Berke's The Falcon in Mexico (1944) is one of the more colourful offerings, courtesy of a handful of song-and-dance routines and a carnival finale that rounds off a satisfying tale of duplicity, forgery, bigamy and debt. For once leaving Conway to operate without cop stooges Cliff Clark and Edward Gargan, this is also noteworthy for the fact that some of the location footage was supposedly recycled from Orson Welles's abandoned RKO project It's All True (1942), which was intended to be a Good Neighbour portmanteau of three stories capturing the variety of life across the Americas.
Returning home on an ordinary Manhattan night, Tom Conway spots Cecilia Callejo trying to break into an art gallery. She insists she is trying to retrieve a stolen portrait she has painted and the ever-gallant sleuth agrees to help her. Inside, however, they find the body of a murdered art dealer and Conway only just manages to escape with the purloined painting. He takes it to collector Emory Parnell, who recognises it as the work of Bryant Washburn, who committed suicide some year earlier in Mexico and, thus, could not have used a model as young as Callejo.
Intrigued, Conway seeks out Washburn's daughter, Martha Vickers, who confides that she believes her father is still alive and accompanies Conway to Mexico City. No sooner have they landed, however, than she gives him the slip and Conway hires taxi driver Nestor Paiva and his son Fernando Alvarado to track her down to the remote Casa Del Laga Inn, where Washburn had his studio. Among the other residents are Vickers's dancer stepmother, Mona Maris, and her snarling partner-husband Joseph Vitale, and desk clerk, Mary Currier, who was devoted to Washburn and has kept his possessions exactly as he left them.
Naturally, Parnell and Callejo also show up, with the latter's father (Pedro de Cordoba) informing Conway that he fears for his daughter's safety. Sure enough, she is found dead in the lake by some fisherman shortly after Conway and Vickers discover a freshly painted picture in Washburn's studio and accuse Currier of producing fakes. But, this being a B thriller, the truth is much more complicated and, before the culprit can be unmasked, Vickers has to survive an attempted poisoning, an island cemetery has to yield its secret and another two murders have to be committed.
The New York Times rather cruelly claimed that Berke ended the film too early, as another reel would have allowed the murderer to bump off The Falcon, too, and, thus, put an end to a series that the critic `PPK' clearly found tedious. However, this is to do a grave disservice to George Worthington Yates and Gerald Geraghty's pugnacious screenplay and the efforts of eager actors like Nestor Paiva, who not only provides comic relief, but also turns out to be an undercover cop whose resourcefulness often matches Conway's own. Clearly this isn't a masterpiece. But it's a bit harsh to suggest, as the unidentifiable PPK does, that the only change in dramatic pace occurs when Conway delivers his lines with both hands in his pockets instead of one.
The ensemble is even more impressive in Ray McCarey's The Falcon's Alibi (1946), with such noir stalwarts as Jane Greer and Elisha Cook, Jr. bringing a touch of classy menace to proceedings. There's even a cameo by Jason Robards, Sr. However, screenwriter Paul Yawitz does little but rework the scenario from The Gay Falcon, which had launched the franchise back in 1941.
While at the races with his factotum Vince Barnett, Tom Conway is invited to the hotel birthday party of socialite Esther Howard by her companion, Rita Corday. She informs Conway that her employer is being tailed by insurance investigator Emory Parnell, whose company recently shelled out substantial payment after the theft of a pearl necklace. In fact, Corday had commissioned a copy of the necklace and discovered that it was a fake and she is worried that Howard has unwittingly found herself at the centre of a scam.
Conway quickly comes to share her suspicions when waiter Alphonse Martel is killed in Howard's suite and he and Corday are standing over the body when Inspector Al Bridge bursts in to accuse the pair of murder and robbery. Naturally, Conway talks his way out of the charge and survives an attempt on his life in his own room. Unbeknownst to anyone but the audience, the shot seems to have been fired by Elisha Cook, Jr., who is the DJ for an in-house radio station that broadcasts to the penthouse suites. However, he frequently pre-records segments so he can sneak out through a secret passage while retaining a cast iron alibi.
While lounging by the pool, Conway notices that Jane Greer, a torch singer in the hotel nightclub, is wearing a flashy ring. She assures him it's a replica, but his suspicions have been aroused and he sends Barnett to set a wastepaper basket fire in the room of Howard's friend Jason Robards, Sr., who retrieves the stolen necklace from a false book before beating his retreat. Conway bides his time and steals the pearls, which he proceeds to offer to nightclub boss Morgan Wallace, who denies he is a fence.
Conway isn't convinced by his protestations and mails himself the jewellery to ward off an attack by Wallace's thugs. By the time they arrive, however, Robards has been murdered and Bridge is so certain that Conway is guilty that he has to plead to be given 24 hours to identify the killer and discover the secret at the heart of the ménage involving Cook, Greer and her shady manager, Paul Brooks.
Although the plot may not be particularly original, this is still a solid watch, with the excellence of the supporting cast adding a certain frisson. Greer and Cook are especially impressive, although Corday shows well in what was her sixth (and last) appearance in the series. Emory Parnell also provides some droll relief as the busybodying adjuster. But, while he may never have become a star on a par with his sibling, Conway contributes another smooth display as the unflappable Falcon, whose talent for extricating himself from tricky situations would be exercised one last time in William Berke's The Falcon's Adventure (1946).
Despite being about to go on a fishing trip in the Adirondacks with loyal cohort Edward S. Brophy, Tom Conway cannot resist helping Madge Meredith, after she signals to him that she is being bundled into the back of a New York taxi against her will. Naturally, the duo free her from the clutches of the lunkish Phil Warren, who flees the scene, leaving Conway to escort Meredith to her hotel room, where she explains that her uncle, André Charlot, has invented a method of creating industrial diamonds and that she is on her way to Miami to meet with gem expert Ian Wolfe to secure the funding to complete the research. .
However, Warren has followed them to the hotel and kills Charlot, who mutters to Inspector Joseph Crehan that Conway is somehow involved with his death. Giving the NYPD the slip, Conway and Brophy board a train for Florida with the formula entrusted to them by Meredith. They succeed in passing off a bogus version after Myrna Dell and Steve Brodie try to double team them and accompany Meredith to Wolfe's home. Conway is suspicious about the behaviour of maid Carol Forman and realises she and husband Tony Barrett are in cahoots with Warren and Brodie. But he is unable to prevent Wolfe dying of a heart attack during a punch-up and, once again, he just manages to evade the clutches of the police. Meredith has now been contacted by diamond merchant Robert Warwick and she is inclined to trust him. Indeed, she even disregards Conway's warning against sailing to Brazil on Warwick's yacht and it takes some quick thinking and a little derring-do to prevent the formula from being destroyed.
Scripted by Aubrey Wisberg, this has a fin-de-franchise feel. Too few of the secondary characters are convincingly bound into the backstory and exist simply to pad out scenes and provide obstacles to the success of the mission. However, Edward Brophy - the third of the four actors to play Goldie Locke and the only one to reprise it after The Falcon in San Franciso (1945) - proves an amusing sidekick, whether he is posing as an alligator or falling overboard. Myrna Dell also produces some slinky femme fatality as she dupes Conway into coming to her aid on the sleeper.
But even Conway seems to be going through the motions and, with the series over, he soon found himself slipping down movie cast lists. Having already played Sherlock Holmes on radio, he followed George Sanders again in taking to the airwaves in the early 1950s to essay The Saint. Conway also headlined Inspector Mark Saber - Homicide Detective (1951-54), but he succumbed to alcoholism and spent many of his later years in dire poverty and suffering from a range of eye and liver complaints. He died in April 1967, having been disowned by the brother who would himself commit suicide five years later, leaving an infamous note that read: `Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.'
The same year that RKO discontinued The Falcon, the British distributor Butcher's Film Service acquired the rights to Francis Durbridge's popular radio troubleshooter Paul Temple. Made on a shoestring at Nettlefold Studios at Walton-on-Thames, the resulting four programmers have all-but been forgotten. However, Renown has gathered them for a boxed set that contain the long-thought lost Paul Temple's Triumph (1950). There's no point pretending these are rediscovered classics. But each picture makes adept use of outdoor locations and the strength of Durbridge's storytelling is indisputable, as each case keeps its culprit cleverly concealed until the last reel.
Pipping radio regular Kim Peacock for the title role in John Argyle's Send for Paul Temple (1946) was Anthony Hulme, a Welsh character actor who had appeared in a handful of flagwaving comedies with the likes of The Crazy Gang, Tommy Trinder and Will Fyffe before serving in the RAF during the war. He landed this rare lead after cameoing as a flying instructor in John Boulting's 1945 tribute to `the few', Journey Together, but vanished from the screen in 1957. However, like fellow Temples Peter Coke (95) and John Bentley (92), Hulme lived to a ripe old age, dying at 97 in Canada in 2007. Happily, Francis Matthews, who is fondly remembered by many for his dashing BBC TV stint between 1969-71 is hale and hearty at the age of 84 and long may he continue to thrive.
Even though Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of robberies being committed by the Midland jewel gang, Commissioner Jack Raine refuses to call in novelist Anthony Hulme, who has helped crack a number of recent cases. The press is clamouring for his involvement after a nightwatchman dies in Nottingham with the words `Green Finger' on his lips. And the cry gets louder when Inspector Meville Crawford dies in the Little General inn while on a visit to Hulme at his Bramley Lodge estate near Evesham and his journalist sister Joy Shelton arrives to convince Hulme that her brother was the victim of murder not suicide.
Learning that Crawford had been on the trail of a South African thief nicknamed the Knave of Diamonds and his Russian moll when his partner was killed, Hulme is persuaded to return to the inn. Inside, Doctor Hylton Allen is warning landlord Philip Ray to keep off the sauce or he will blow everything and have the Knave down on him like a ton of bricks. However, as he has socialised with Allen and his niece Tamara Desni, Hulme is more suspicious of Beatrice Varley, who claims to be an academic on a walking tour of historic country hostelries and reveals that the Little General was originally known as The Green Finger.
Meanwhile, H Victor Weske and Michael Golden rob a jeweller's shop rammed by lorry driver Leslie Weston and it becomes clear that Desni is the mysterious Russian accomplice. But, even though Hulme and Shelton discover the reason why Ray keeps homing pigeons and nearly capture the gang during a midnight rendezvous at the abandoned First Penguin pub on the river bank, it takes the arrival of Raine and inspectors Richard Shayne and Edward V. Robson for the Knave's identity to become known. While it may be easy to deride the clumsiness of the heists and the stiffness of some of the playing, this is a spirited whodunit with plenty of red herrings and one splendidly misleading performance. Argyle sticks closely to Durbridge's eight-part 1938 radio serial and leaks the clues without giving the game away. However, he rather regrettably plays up the eager buffoonery of Rikki, the Burmese houseboy played by Charles Wade. His dreadful cooking and coffee would become a running gag throughout the series, but it now smacks of shocking post-imperial arrogance.
Hulme makes a dashing enough lead and sparks nicely with Joy Shelton, whose intrepid Steve Trent ends up becoming Mrs Temple. However, they would be replaced for the next outing by John Bentley and Dinah Sheridan, who, by curious coincidence had teamed in the musical romance The Hills of Donegal (1947), which was one of the last features Argyle made before he began specialising in African travelogues In Maclean Rogers's Calling Paul Temple (1948), Bentley and Sheridan are a newly married couple living in a London flat, with Shaym Bahadur as their Burmese servant. They are intrigued by a string of murders that are characterised by the word `Rex' being scrawled somewhere near the body - the latest of which saw Marion Taylor killed on guard George Merritt's train in the compartment next to that of travelling kettle salesman, Hugh Pryse. However, the next victim is more high profile, as singer Celia Lipton collapses while on stage at the chic Pompadour Club and the only clue from maid Merle Tottenham is that she saw a woman in grey enter her dressing-room shortly after she had been visited by agent Alan Wheatley and his pal John McLaren, who knows Bentley from their wartime service.
Learning from past mistakes, Commissioner Jack Raine and Inspector Ian McLean get Bentley involved early and he deduces that three of the victims had been patients of psychiatrist Abraham Sofaer, whose secretary, Margaretta Scott, happens to have a thing for grey outfits and the brand of Egyptian lipstick that Sheridan found at the murder scene. Scott insists that she is in danger and arranges to meet Bentley and Sheridan at her home, where they find a typewritten list of names notable for the wonky `A' and the address of a hotel in Kent.
Having narrowly escaped a bomb planted in Scott's sitting room and an attempted shooting by Michael Golden (in the guise of Sofaer's chauffeur), Bentley and Sheridan head for the Falcon Inn in Canterbury, leaving car thief Wally Patch to check up on who stole Sofaer's car from its garage. Among their fellow guests is Pryse and they follow his sidekick when he strides out across the water meadows abutting the cathedral. The pair take a boat trip and discover a secret entrance to a ruined monastery. However, they are called back to London when Patch is murdered before he can reveal who took Sofaer's motor and, shortly after another visit from Scott, the girl in grey from the Pompadour (Mary Midwinter), is found murdered in Bentley's flat by the snooping McLean.
Raine convinces his underling that Bentley is not a suspect and he is freed to accept a call from Wheatley, who reveals that he is being blackmailed for something that happened in Cairo in 1937 and has to deposit a suitcase full of used notes on the abbot's tomb in the crypt of the ruined monastery. The now terrified Scott is ready to reveal what she knows. But Sofaer puts her in a hypnotic trance to silence her. Raine and McLean are deeply frustrated. However, Bentley is more concerned by the fact that Sheridan has been lured back to Canterbury by a call supposedly from McLaren, who had been dispatched to keep tabs on Pryse and Golden. He arrives to be captured with her and tied to a pillar as the sluice gates from the river are opened. But, even after an eleventh-hour rescue, there are still loose ends to be tied before the villain can be apprehended.
With cinematographer Geoffrey Faithfull making fine use of the evocative setting, this is a lively adaptation of the radio adventure Paul Temple and the Canterbury Case. Sofaer and Scott prove splendid chief suspects and, even if the plot does become a little convoluted towards the end, the action rattles along in the Bulldog Drummond tradition. The revelation, however, are Bentley and the ever-wonderful Sheridan, who play Paul and Steve like a cross between Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles and Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.
They would be just as effective in Paul Temple's Triumph (1950), which was written adapted by AR Rawlinson from the serial News of Paul Temple. Clearly working on a restricted budget, Maclean Rogers stages too many scenes in hotel rooms and relies on the dialogue to tell too much of the story. However, there is so much going on here that it is handy to have some of the peripheral characters explaining who they are and how they fit into the scheme of things.
The opening sequence shows nuclear scientist Andrew Leigh being kidnapped from his home at gunpoint and Sheridan learns of his disappearance from his daughter Anne Hayes, as she is heading to Northolt to welcome back Bentley from a book promoting visit to Berlin. At the airfield, Sheridan bumps into old reporter pal Bruce Seton, who is keen to interview German boffin Leo de Pokorny, who is arriving on Bentley's plane to give a radio talk on the BBC.
The following day, Hayes receives a letter from Leigh. But she is murdered almost as soon as she opens it and Sheridan notices a distinctive perfume in the air as she and Bentley scour the crime scene for clues. They find Hayes's body in a filing cabinet, with a torn fragment of a map of the New Forest in her hand and head south on the track of an international network known as the Z Organisation.
En route to the Bolde Grange hotel, the furtive Michael Brennan hands Bentley a letter for a resident and he succeeds in palming off a set of Sheridan's postcards when they are stopped further along the road by Ivan Samson and Dino Galvani posing as Brennan's concerned father and his doctor. However, they are ruthless assassins and kill both Brennan and telephone engineer Peter Butterworth when they start snooping at Barbara Couper's village shop.
Despite winning over motor-mouthed bellhop Gerald Rex, Bentley and Sheridan receive a frosty welcome from proprietors Ben Williams and Beatrice Varley. Moreover, they are surprised to discover Commissioner Jack Livesey (inheriting the role of Sir Graham Forbes from Jack Raine) among the guests alongside De Pokorny, Seton, French singer Jenny Mathot, her ardent admirer Hugh Dempster and the mysterious Hamilton Keene, who always seems to be passing just as a key conversation is taking place.
Livesey explains that Leigh has designed a shield that can safely detonate nuclear missiles in flight and he knows that the Z agents have him held somewhere nearby. A message from Brennan seems to put them on the right lines, but Bentley and Livesey are nearly killed by a bomb attached to his booby-trapped body. While they are absent, Mathot searches the room after singing for Sheridan while she smokes a drugged cigarette. Nothing is stolen, but Sheridan recognises Mathot's scent from Hayes's office. Yet when Inspector Joseph O'Connor takes her to the train station in handcuffs, she is rescued by Samson and Galvani, who order her to flee at top speed in a car with sabotaged brakes.
Before she expires in hospital, Mathot gives Bentley the codename `Black Rose' and he realises this must apply to Couper, who is due to meet with the Z chief that night at the Old Priory. Convinced that Bentley and Sheridan have stumbled on to their petrol siphoning racket, Williams and Varley try to hold them up. But Bentley and Livesey arrive just as Williams leads Sheridan through a passage to the priory from an abandoned air-raid shelter. But the cornered Z isn't going to go quietly.
The mystery element is less successfully shrouded here, but this is still an eventful caper. A hint of Cold War paranoia pervades the action, although the nefarious cabal is more cosmopolitan than Russian. Moreover, there's a chance for Carry On fans to see Peter Butterworth in an early screen role. As for Sheridan and Bentley, they appeared to have the makings of an enduring team. But, by the time Rogers got round to making Paul Temple Returns in 1952, the role of Steve had passed to Patricia Dainton and Sheridan had departed for bigger and better things like Harry Watt's Where No Vultures Fly (1951), David Lean's The Sound Barrier (1952) and Henry Cornelius's ever-popular motoring comedy, Genevieve (1953). By the way, Sheridan is another member of the Temple longevity club, as she celebrated her 91st birthday last September, while Dainton isn't doing too badly, either, having entered her 83rd year on 13 April.
Despite being scripted by Durbridge himself from the radio saga Paul Temple Intervenes and featuring a typically imposing performance from Christopher Lee (who will be 90 on 27 May), this is the least coherent or convincing entry in the quartet. But Bombay Waterfront (as it is also known) is also the darkest of the stories, with the killings being more pitiless than usual and the involvement of American narcotics agents contrasting sharply with the jokey banter between Bentley, Dainton and Dan Jackson, who plays Rikki's brother Sakki, who has arrived from Rangoon with plenty more stomach-churning recipes from their well-meaning mother.
As the action opens, Bentley and Dainton are in New York, where he is giving his first television interview to promote his latest bestseller. They receive an urgent message from Commissioner Peter Gawthorne (replaced Jack Livesey) saying that an American woman has become the latest victim of a killer known as the Marquis. Their return is greeted with frustration by Superintendant Valentine Dyall and Inspector Ronald Leigh-Hunt, who resent amateurs getting involved in Yard business. However, Bentley soon twigs that Bombay Wharf in the East India Docks is key to the mystery and he is slightly perplexed to arrive there to find Leigh-Hunt bent over the body of his trusted contact Andreas Malandrinos.
But he gets to hear his last words about Ben Williams and a shooting gallery at a funfair camped in the West End and Bentley is only prevented from speeding across the capital to find him by a crash witnessed by Grey Blake, the fiancé of the Marquis's second victim, who was funding a North African dig by archaeologist Christopher Lee that had unearthed something that could prove of great harm or great benefit to humanity, depending into whose hands it fell.
On finding Williams the next morning, Bentley learns that he saw the American agent's body being dumped in the Thames and he is about to expose the Marquis when he is murdered. However, he gives Bentley a toggle that was snatched from the killer's duffle coat and the address of Lee's mansion in the Surrey countryside.
Bentley and Dainton venture into Suburbia and are disconcerted by both Lee's giant Arab servant (George Patterson) and a vast statue dominating a room decked out like a shrine. Lee insists that Blake is a fraud, who was jealous of his friendship with his fiancée. However, he refuses to divulge anything about his discovery and the pair are somewhat relieved to leave.
Shortly afterwards, Blake arrives with his arm in a sling after his car was rammed by trucker Robert Urquhart and Bentley recognises him as an actor who had appeared in a stage version of one of his books. He is dubious, therefore, when Urquhart reveals that he was due to collect his fee that afternoon from the isolated Calloway's Folly. But Leigh-Hunt allows him to slip away as they approach the gate and while he chases Urquhart through the woods, Bentley and Gawthorne creep inside and find a charred letter implicating Lee in the fire grate. Suddenly, Patterson jumps through a trapdoor in the ceiling and he runs towards the perimeter. But someone has connected the electric fence and Patterson is killed.
Dainton is waiting for Bentley at the nearby Anchor Inn and Lee invites her for drinks that evening. However, when she and Bentley arrive, they find the house in darkness and Dainton screams when a snake slithers across the floor. As Bentley shoots at the reptile, he loosens a tile and finds an ancient parchment, as well as Urquhart's corpse. But the plot thickens further when the press reports that Lee has been found dead in a Parisian hotel and, thus, Bentley and Dainton aren't sure who will show up when they and Scotland Yard's finest assemble at Bombay Wharf for the unloading of Lee's treasures.
The change of such key personnel as Steve and Sir Graham proves a major distraction here. Dainton tries hard, but is too young for the role and lacks Sheridan's pugnacious vulnerability. Consequently, there is little sense of teamwork, as Bentley spends more time investigating with Gawthorne. Furthermore, there are simply too few suspects and, once the body count begins to mount, it's not difficult to deduce who the Marquis might be.
Cinema magazine once claimed that a Paul Temple film without Bentley was `as unthinkable as Quo without Vadis'. But the series didn't make him a star. Neither did his brief stint as the Honourable Richard Rollison in Hammer the Toff and Salute the Toff (both 1952), which were spun off from John Creasey's crime novels. He remained a stalwart of the British B scene until the late 1950s, when he drifted into television. From 1965, he was a regular on the soap opera Crossroads and reached his biggest ever audience (of 18 million) a decade later when he married motel owner Noele Gordon in St Philip's Cathedral in Birmingham, with comedian and superfan Larry Grayson driving their white Rolls-Royce.
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