Friday, July 25


"So You're the Infamous Simon Templar": A Hagiographic Note (Not Really)

I don't know if any of you are aficionados of sixties spy TV shows, but the other night we finished watching a set of A&E DVDs of The Saint. It was based on some books by Leslie Charteris from back in the '30s, I think. It's about midway on the Serious-Silly Mod Spy Three-Way Continuum between the Rule Britannia wackiness of The Avengers, the manic self-referential absurdism of Get Smart and the Graham Greene grimyness of Secret Agent (sing it with me now, you know you wanna: "Seeee-cret AAy-gent MAN! Seee-cret Ay-GENT mannnn..."). On the theme-music scale, it's also kinda nifty, though it could really use some Johnny Rivers…and then there was that unfortunate season when they changed the opening credits to make it sound almost like Christmas music.

Now, don't go and confuse it with the 1997 remake, an abomination staring Val Mr. "Excitement" Kilmer as the (amoral and rather dull) hero. Gag me with una cuchara. The sole highlight of this one was being able to look at Elisabeth Shue in the process, and even then that wasn't nearly enough to rescue this wrecked Volvo P1800 of a film. I say, look: rather than listen: nobody would want to hear the technobabble she spouted in her woefully-miscast and unintentionally funny role. She played a dippy Oxfordian nuclear physicist (!) with a geeky librarian-chic wardrobe that included the quintessential Catholic Girl Nerd's garment, The Jumper. Sadly, she wasn't a Catholic, or a Nerd, just a ditz. Nor was plaid involved, for those of you who read Envoy. On top of this, the producers managed, against all odds, to shove in some utterly out-of-left-field anti-Catholicism into the first five minutes of the film. That’s gotta set some sort of Hollywood record.

The original show is, however, a hoot. The plot and motivation's a bit thin: rich, goodhearted, sharp-dressing Simon "The Saint" Templar (Roger Moore, pre-007) jet-sets into international intrigue, beating up bad guys and saving damsels in distress against a melange of stock footage of exotic locales and charmingly obvious sound-stages. The production values were fairly high for the late 1960s, but still, I think I’ve seen the same underground cellar stage used for episodes set in South America, Venice and Loch Ness (!). Though it’s fun. Simon is, when you get down to it, a modern knight-errant (hence his last name, and his first, which puts one in mind of the valiant Simon de Montfort). The show is surprisingly chaste for a sixties production where Our Hero necked with the Damsel of the Week fairly regularly. While probably tres hep in its time, it seems weirdly wholesome today. And I welcome that.

Admittedly, high art it ain't, though it has its moments of James Bond coolness, and the fact we never really learn who Templar is, why he likes saving these people all the time, and especially where the heck he gets his moolah to finance all this only adds to the mystique. Or maybe it's just laziness. Heck, you decide.

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