It’s been three years since Roger Moore passed away, and it’s still hard to imagine a world without him. Moore was the James Bond of my childhood and some part of me still thought that anyone who could beat Francisco Scaramanga and Jaws, run across the backs of crocodiles, turn his car into a submarine, and fly a space shuttle was pretty much immortal. Having said that, I guess I should admit that Moore was not my favorite James Bond. I like my Bond more gritty, on the Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig end of the spectrum. But still, Bond is Bond, and I can watch the Moore Bond films any time and enjoy his take on the character.
I may like my Bond a little meaner, but I have no such issues with the Saint. I’m perfectly fine with my Simon Templar being suave, witty, and charming, so I was happily surprised to find the original Saint TV series on Amazon Prime recently. Moore played the dashing, heroic, if not always entirely law-abiding Simon Templar from 1962 to 1969, and established a persona that would largely carry over into his portrayal of Bond.
I knew about this show, but I’d never seen any of it. Oddly enough, I was more familiar with the series of Saint films from the late 1930s and early 1940s with George Sanders in the role. These were made by RKO, and I saw them through an accident of history. When American Movie Classics (AMC) first began, it was very different than the cable juggernaut it is today. They ran old movies, two of them a day, in rotation. When the second one was done, they ran the first one again, and so on until the next day when they’d have two more movies. But rights to most of the old studio libraries were held by big media conglomerates, like MGM which ended up belonging to Ted Turner, and would form the basis for Turner Classic Movies.
But RKO’s back catalog was available cheap, and so AMC started out running two RKO films a day, including the Saint movies. RKO cranked out eight Saint movies, six of them with Sanders, between 1938 and 1941, before realizing that if they just called the character The Falcon, they wouldn’t have to pay Leslie Charteris anymore. So Sanders became The Falcon and played pretty much the same character for three more films while RKO fought Charteris in court. When Sanders grew tired of the role, RKO simply replaced him with his brother, Tom Conway playing…The Falcon’s brother, and kept on going for nine more movies through 1946.
I digress, but when I started watching the Moore Saint episodes, I started to see it as a link in a chain that ran all the way from those old Sanders movies to The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.
Moore’s Saint episodes are more than fifty years old now and come from a different world. But once you get into the vibe of a world where just taking a PanAm flight out of Idlewild is considered exciting and glamorous, the show is a whole lot of fun. If I was writing John Crane in the 1960s, he’d probably look a bit like this. The Saint is available to stream on Amazon. If you have Prime, the first three seasons are free. Check it out, and raise a glass to Roger Moore.