Saturday, October 18, 2008


The extraordinary thing about director Leslie Fenton's "The Saint's Vacation" is that RKO Studio produced this black & white thriller in England during World War II. For whatever reason, however, the filmmakers made no mention of the war. Apart from the use of exterior stock footage, such as the train hurtling along the countryside, RKO filmed "The Saint's Vacation" entirely on interior sound stages, even the outdoor scenes. Later, the characters gather at Dover on the pier and much later on they discuss a Paris stopover during a cross-continental trip. Obviously, neither an excursion to Paris nor catching a ship at Dover would have been possible under wartime conditions. Mind you, by this time, Nazi troops had occupied Paris, and British subjects would never have been permitted to sail in hostile waters without a Royal Navy escort. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the British had been battling Hitler since 1939, RKO Studio lets the action play out with no references to the war. In the final scene, one character does mention the War Office, but he doesn't make reference to the war. Most likely, postwar audiences that have watched "The Saint's Vacation" probably thought it was filmed either before the war or after it, not during the darkest hours before the war turned in the favor of the Allies in 1942. Another interesting thing about this modest "Saint" film is that author Leslie Charteris penned the screenplay from his original novel "Getaway" with "Sanders of the River" scenarist Jeffrey Dell.

Monte Hayward (Arthur Macrae of "Silver Blaze") panics at the last minute as his butler and he pack his luggage for a trip abroad. Not only is Monte in a lather because his close friend Simon Templar, (Hugh Sinclair of "The Saint Meets the Tiger"), a.k.a., 'The Saint,' hasn't arrived for their 11:30 AM departure, but also because nosy journalists are bugging Monte about the whereabouts of the Saint. .Indeed, the Saint surprises Monte by sneaking in through the fire escape to avoid the journalists staking out Monte's front door. Interestingly, RKO conceived the series as a man who operates on the fringes of the law. The Saint has a shady reputation, but British authorities appear to have granted our hero some kind of dispensation, perhaps because of the war. Detectives in the George Sanders' "Saint" movies were always trying to lock him up. Anyway, Monte is adamant that Simon and he enjoy a quiet, uneventful vacation. "Remember, we're going away on holiday. We're not going to get mixed up in anything." Simon agrees, but they decide to go their separate ways until they meet on the ship so that they have thrown the news hounds off their trail.

Eventually, to the chagrin of the press, the Saint avoids the journalists and sneaks aboard the ship wearing a fake mustache and beard. He removes both mustache and beard as they watch from the pier. One reporter refuses to concede defeat so readily. "Gazette" writer Mary Langdon (Sally Gray of "Dangerous Moonlight") takes a plane to catch the Saint. Again, during wartime, she couldn't hire a plane on such short notice and brave the Luftwaffe infested skies over Europe. She catches up with the Saint in Switzerland at a hotel. "She thinks you're up to something," vigilant Monte warns the Saint about Mary. She brightens visibly when she meets Simon in the hotel. Mary explains, "So much depends on this. If I don't get a story, I'm through." Once again, the comings and goings of the Saint supersede anything about the war. "Don't you think you could rake up a little trouble somehow," Mary pleads. "I don't mean anything drastic, of course." No sooner has Mary uttered these words than the Saint stumbles upon a mysterious woman in black, Valerie (Leueen MacGrath of "Pygmalion"), who is mixed up with a man named Gregory. After she rebuffs the Saint, Valerie meets with Gregory (John Warwick of "The Desperate Man") and bundles off into the night in a hired car. Not long after, Gregory is pursued by the villain, Rudolf Hauser (Cecil Parker of "The Ladykillers"), who wants something that Gregory has. Later, we learn Gregory possesses a small music box concealed in a larger wooden cigar box. The Saint and Rudolf play a game of cat and mouse over this mysterious little box. At one point, the Saint sneaks into Rudolf's mountainside castle in Switzerland by riding on the rear bumper of Rudolf's car. Rudolf's last name implies Teutonic origins, but no mention is ever made about his ancestry or nationality and neither play a role in the story. At one point, Rudolf convinces the Swiss authorities to arrest the Saint and imprison him, but the Saint makes a deal for his freedom with Rudolf.

"The Saint's Vacation" boasts several fistfights and shoot-outs, with one of them in a British train as Rudolf steals Gregory's music box from Royal Mail bags. Unfortunately, the Saint's life is never in jeopardy, and neither the Swiss authorities nor the villains pose much of a threat to Templar. The mystery about the contents of the music box is solved in the last scene. The revelation that the metal cylinder in the music box contains a blueprint of the electric circuit for 'the best sound detector in the world' is at best bland. Tall, lanky, urbane Hugh Sinclair with his clipped mustache qualifies as a passable Saint. He is rather handy with a revolver and he knows out to get himself out of close scrapes. He isn't as suave as either George Sanders or Tom Conway in the pre-war "Saint" sagas or the postwar "Saint" escapades. Arthur Macrae is good at acting flustered throughout the twists and turns of the plot. Sally Gray and Leueen MacGrath are pretty distractions, and Cecil Parker is ideally suited as the gruff villain Rudolf. Mary replies that the Saint may have to marry Valerie. Altogether, the derogatory term potboiler pretty much sums up this lukewarm RKO production.

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