Watching 1939: The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  The Saint Strikes Back (1939)

Release date:  March 8, 1939

Cast:  George Sanders, Wendy Barrie, Jonathan Hale, Jerome Cowan, Barry Fitzgerald, Neil Hamilton, Robert Elliott, Russell Hopton, Edward Gargan, Nella Walker, James Burke, Willie Best

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  John Farrow

Plot:
On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, an underground leader is killed at a nightclub celebration. Simon Templar, the Saint, (Sanders) and Val Travers (Barrie) are both connected to the killing and were seen by witnesses. New York police inspector Henry Fernack (Hale) is enlisted to help solve the gangland crime. Templar works with Inspector Fernack to solve the crime and clear Travers’ name.

1939 Notes:
• The second of The Saint film series and is one of two “Saint” films released in 1939. There were nine Saint films in total.
• The first time Wendy Barrie appeared in a “Saint” film. This was one of six films that Barrie was in 1939.
• George Sanders’ first film acting as The Saint. Louis Hayward was the Saint in the first film. Sanders was in a total of eight films released in 1939, two of which were the Saint.
• The first film of Tristram Coffin, who was an uncredited newscaster.
• John Farrow directed six films in 1939.
• Willie Best was in 12 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• The working title was “The Saint Strikes Twice.”
• The film is based on the story “Angels of Doom” by Leslie Charteris

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Simon Templar, known as “The Saint,” was a Robin Hood-like character. While usually the hero of the story, he was distrusted by the police and usually solved crimes while committing them.

The character created by Leslie Charteris’ was officially introduced to the public in the 1928 book, “Meet the Tiger.”

Ten years later, The Saint was seen on the silver screen for the first time.

The film series began with Louis Hayward in the title role. But in 1939, George Sanders took over the character with “The Saint Strikes Back,” and made it his own. Later Roger Moore would become known for “The Saint” when he played the character on television from 1962 to 1969.

Contemporary reviews of “The Saint Strikes Back” say that this second film is when the story found it’s stride.

Sanders plays the criminal hero who “steals from the crooked rich.” While it was the first time George Sanders appeared in the role, it was also the first time Wendy Barrie appeared in The Saint films. Barrie went on to co-star in five other Saint films but as a different character in each film.

Where The Saint films usually have character actors you may not recognize, “The Saint Strikes Back” features some outstanding co-stars such as Barry Fitzgerald, Jonathan Hale, Jerome Cowan and Neil Hamilton.

Jonathan Hale plays The Saint’s friendly opponent, Inspector Henry Fernack. One of the highlights of the film is when Hale has a bizarre, but hilarious dream after The Saint feeds him lobster knowing that Hale has an allergy to fish and shellfish. The inspector dreams of fish and lobster swinging from trapezes.

“The Saint Strikes Back” isn’t the best film of 1939, but it helped get George Sanders create one of his most recognizable film roles.

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