THE SAINT: Bond Before Bond? Or Better?

by Jake on November 27, 2012

Leslie CharterisSimon Templar? Who is he, really? Why does he use that name? How did he make his fortune? What’s with the halo?

Seriously, that Val Kilmer movie, what’s THAT about? Let’s try to find at least some answers as we look back on the Saint.

Leslie Charteris created the Saint in the 1920′s – a sort of modern-day Robin Hood who steals from the rich and helps the poor. Later, the Saint’s criminal background was largely abandoned, and the character just became a gentleman adventurer, righting wrongs, solving mysteries and punishing evildoers. Still, his shady past continued to make him an object of suspicion for his perennial antagonist, Inspector Teal.

So basically, think of James Bond before there was such a character as Bond, although Simon Templar is not a government agent. You have a suave, impeccably dressed ladies’ man with a cool car and an unflappable calm – very much James Bond qualities! In fact, the connection runs even deeper than that, as we’ll see.

There were around 50 books written about the Saint, so it was inevitable he’d make his way into other forms of entertainment. During the golden age of radio, Vincent Price (among others) provided the voice for Simon Templar. Then, there were a whole slew of movies throughout the 1940′s and ’50′s. Louis Hayward, George Sanders and Hugh Sinclair each played the title role for several films.

But then, in the 1960′s, came the most recognizable version of the Saint – the TV series. This starred a man who would later play Bond, James Bond: Roger Moore.

The SaintNow, Moore LOVED the Saint. He clearly enjoyed playing the part and is a pleasure to watch, even now. Oddly, as the show was not a comedy, Moore’s Simon Templar frequently broke the “fourth wall”, often speaking directly to the audience while explaining the storyline to that week’s episode. Plus, whenever anyone referred to him before the credits rolled, Templar always looked up to see a halo form above his head. This mimics the famous Saint logo, a stick figure with a halo, which has now been ripped off by the New Orleans Saints. This stick figure was a big part of the opening credits, a cartoon version running around and such. Strange stuff for a show that was basically an action adventure series, but it worked. Moore MADE it work. His Simon Templar was just so cool, you didn’t care how weird it was when these things happened.

(I personally think this is where Zack Morris picked up the same trick on ‘Saved By The Bell’. Zack was a lot like a young Simon Templar!)

I still say Moore was a far better Saint than he was 007; I think his lighter, more humorous tone simply worked better as Templar than Bond. Maybe it’s just me.

The show was a huge success, running for seven seasons. Then in 1978 came ‘Return of the Saint’, a direct continuation of the show, with Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar. This only lasted one season – Roger Moore was a tough act to follow! Still, the show was pretty good, but the fashions have aged rather badly – 1960′s Saint still looks cool while the late 70′s version looks comical and dated by comparison!

Ogilvy was also in talks to play Bond, but nothing came of it. Which is a shame; he’d have been great as 007. I think he was pretty good as Templar.

There were other attempts to bring back the character on television, but they didn’t work out so well. Finally, it was time for the Saint to return to the big screen!

Sort of.

The Saint Movie Poster1997′s ‘The Saint’ starred Val Kilmer as Simon Templar. In this version, the Saint is very much a thief for hire. He is also a master of disguise, who usually uses the names of Catholic saints as aliases. He doesn’t have an English accent, either. Despite all this, the movie has a huge cult following and, to be fair, by the end, Templar has become the more noble adventurer of other versions. He even has a stick-pin of the Saint logo! So there’s that, I guess. Still, it’s not quite the same.

And that’s it, so far. There have been other attempts to get the Saint back in action, either in movies or on TV, but nothing so far. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he pops up again, halo in place – in true Simon Templar fashion, just when you least expect him.


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