January 19, 2013

Enter: The Saint

As I mentioned on New Year's Eve, one of my better discoveries last year was The Saint. I was (vaguely) familiar with the old British TV series starring Roger Moore, having seen a few episodes now and then. But it wasn't until late last summer that I learned the Saint was a full-fledged media empire.

The Saint began as a series of novels and short stories by Chinese-British author Leslie Charteris, featuring his Robin Hood-like thief-detective, Simon Templar (aka the Saint). The first began with Enter—The Tiger!, published in 1928. Charteris wrote Saint stories until 1963, after which his name was used for many collaborations by multiple authors, until 1986. In the meantime, it spawned several movies, comic books, two TV series, and a radio serial.

Apart from the novels, it was the radio series that intrigued me most—especially after I discovered that amongst the several voice actors to play the debonair Saint was the legendary Vincent Price, somewhat before he became known for his roles in ironic horror movies. Mainly, though, what kept me interested was the dialogue. The writers have a certain flair for witty repartee, which is also the reason I'm such a big fan of the Coen brothers' films and Decoder Ring Theatre. Here is a wonderful bit of banter from an episode titled "Nineteen Santa Clauses" (which is dated in 1947, but I strongly suspect that not to be the case):

[The Saint is in his apartment, where he has changed into a Santa outfit for a charity event. His friend Louie the cabbie has come to pick him up. They are interrupted by a blonde with a gun.]

Blonde: Get in.

Louie: I'm already in!

Blonde: Back up.

Louie: Backin' up.

Blonde: Now reach, gents.

Saint: You know, that gun in her hand looks loaded.

Louie: Now that you mention—

Blonde: Reach!

Saint: For what?

Blonde: Uh, er, for the chandelier!

Saint: Can't.

Blonde: Why not?

Saint: No chandelier.

Blonde: Oh, a wise guy, huh?

Saint: If you're going to shoot me, I insist on knowing your name.

Blonde: Uh, just call me Sally.

Saint: Sally. And your last name?

Sally: Never mind that! How would you like to get plugged in the—in the—

Saint: Breadbasket?

Sally: Where?

Saint: Oh, let's pass lightly over that. I wouldn't like to get plugged anywhere!

Sally: Then shut up.

Saint: All right.

Sally: Where is it?

Saint: Uh, right down the hall, and—

Sally: Are you trying to be smart?

Saint: Not especially.

Sally: So it's gonna be like that, huh?

Saint: Like what?

Sally: Now you listen to me, Fats Boylen—

Saint: Huh?

Sally: Now you shut up, too.

Louie: I didn't say anything!

Sally: Well, shut up anyway.

Louie: I'm shuttin' up.

Sally: Uh—what was I saying?

Saint: You just finished calling me Fats Boylen.

Sally: That's right.

Saint: That's wrong. I'm not Fats Boylen.

Sally: Ha!

Saint: Well, it helps keep the conversation going, and—

Sally: Look, Fats, are you going to stop stalling and hand over the stuff, or will I have to shoot?

Saint: Since I am not Fats Boylen and I have no stuff to hand over, I'm afraid you'll have to shoot.

Louie: Mr. Templar! That could be fatal.

Sally: You keep quiet, punk.

Louie: Who's a punk?

Sally: You're a punk.

Louie: Mr. Templar, am I a punk?

Saint: Well, Sally is just a little confused this evening, Lou.

Louie: Confused or not, she shouldn't call me a—

Sally: [starts sobbing] Oh, shut up!

Louie: Well, you don't have to start bawling.

Sally: I am not bawling! I am . . . [trails off, bawling]

Saint: You were just about to shoot me.

Sally: Well, I know, but . . . then you'd bleed.

Saint: Oh, I'm sorry.

Sally: I can't stand the sight of blood.

Louie: Why dont you strangle him?

Saint: Louie, don't be unkind.

That stack of rapid-fire wordplay and double entendres takes place in just under two minutes.

All the known extant episodes of The Saint are available at the Internet Archive. Note that the collection includes repeat episodes, of which there are many, and as often as not under more than one title. Still, that leaves (by my estimation) about 30 distinct episodes of The Saint. Supposedly, some of the scripts were penned by Leslie Charteris himself, to take advantage of Vincent Price's particular talent.

Regular Saturday Serials will restart next Saturday, with the return of Superman.