DVD Review:

The Return of ‘The Saint’

By Craig Henderson

He's the infamous, the notorious, the famous Simon Templar, also known in every mass medium of the last 70 years as The Saint. His best known incarnation is undoubtedly the 1960s TV series starring Roger Moore, now debuting on DVD from A&E Home Video.


Templar first appeared in the 1928 novel Meet the Tiger, written by then 21-year-old Leslie Charteris, the son of an English nurse and Chinese doctor who was determined to become a successful author of crime fiction. The Saint went on to appear in dozens of books and magazine stories, several radio series (in which he was voiced by Vincent Price among others), comic strips and movies — a series of B pictures in the 30s and 40s starring George Sanders, as well as the recent travesty starring Val Kilmer.

But most people who know Templar know him in the form of Roger Moore, star of the TV series produced by Britain's ITC from 1962 to 1969. By then the character had been toned down quite a bit from Charteris's early stories of a modern-day buccaneer, the "Robin Hood of modern crime" who wielded a lethal knife and didn't hesitate to take the law into his own hands if he thought it was for the greater good and might enrich him in the process.

On the TV series, all that buccaneering was often referred to—mostly by every policeman who crossed Templar's path—but seldom seen. The Saint's reputation preceded him everywhere he went, conveniently getting him into trouble every week and lending the series its standard opening. During the teaser of every episode, someone would recognize The Saint and exclaim something along the lines of, "Why, you're the famous Simon Templar." Moore's eyes then rolled upward as a halo appeared over his head just before the cut to the flashy opening titles and Edwin Astley's terrific theme music. It was as much fun as hearing "Who was that masked man?" as the Lone Ranger rode off every week.

Fortunately, Templar's adventures, which took him all over Europe and the Americas, were more sophisticated than the Lone Ranger's. The series adapted nearly every story Charteris wrote, not always to the author's liking, but at least the show had a firm and consistent basis for turning out scripts for what proved to be a seven-year run of 118 episodes.

The first 71 episodes were shot in black-and-white, and those appeared in the United States only in syndication. ITC's legendary chief, Sir Lew Grade, tried early on to sell the show to NBC's equally legendary 60s programming chief, Mort Werner. Werner reportedly looked at two episodes and declared, "I've never seen so much crap in all my life." Nevertheless, after The Saint proved its popularity in American syndication and in other countries, NBC made a deal with Grade to produce the show in color and air it on NBC. But The Saint's network run was anything but smooth. It appeared as a summer replacement in 1967, a mid-season replacement in 1968, and returned for a short run in April 1969. NBC eventually aired only 32 of the 47 color episodes.

Roger Moore had a so-so movie career before starring in the British TV series Ivanhoe. He returned to Hollywood to play a shifty rascal in the short-lived series The Alaskans, then replaced James Garner as one of the infamous Maverick clan. By the time The Saint came along, Moore was more than adept at socking bad guys and dropping bon mots. As an amusing but determined righter of wrongs, Moore was perfectly cast as Templar, more so than he was as an older and sillier James Bond.

The series benefited enormously from its variety of storylines and locales, and even got in a bit of location shooting around Europe. While it lacked the panache of The Avengers, or the crisp aplomb of Secret Agent, Templar's adventures were generally clever, fast-paced and quite enjoyable. Compared to the painfully contrived and inept drivel that's passed for TV adventure shows since the 1960s, The Saint is an absolute gem.


The Saint follows what's become the A&E Home Video standard for TV shows on DVD: three episodes on a disk in two-disk sets, with top-notch source material and transfers. Picture and sound are far beyond the realm of broadcast, cable and videocassette.

Not surprisingly, A&E is releasing the color episodes, more or less in the order they were made beginning in 1966, which is not necessarily the order in which NBC ran them. And for some reason, one episode in the second set is from the very end of the series in 1969.

The dozen episodes in the first DVD sets are a good example of the show's mix of stories. Templar helps a Russian professor defect to the West at a Geneva disarmament conference. Then he tracks down an Italian murderer who fancies himself a descendent of Roman emperors. Then he's off to Scotland where a clever killer blames the Loch Ness monster for his victims' deaths.

Templar also safeguards a deposed king's crown jewels while giving the queen a lesson in humility, saves an American heiress from her scheming relatives, visits East Germany to recover stolen documents for British Intelligence, finds himself framed by French jewel thieves, and uncovers a nest of Nazi war criminals in Peru. It's globetrotting 60s action and adventure in a nutshell.

Bonus material on these DVDs is pretty slim. There's the usual photo gallery, and some text features on the history of The Saint and Roger Moore's career. A most welcome extra are the "scenes from next week" trailers that ran on NBC but are never seen in reruns.

A&E's packaging is always well designed but they sure do need a proofreader. Somebody came up with a dopey slogan to describe The Saint: "Unmistakable. Unstoppable. Unequalled." This appears on the front and back of every disk case and each set's slipcase, and "unmistakable" is misspelled everywhere it appears.

Also on every disk case and box, the regular cast is identified as "Roger Moore as Simon Templar, Ivor Dean as Cheif (sic) Inspector Teal." Aside from the fact that Templar's friendly nemesis, Inspector Claude Eustace Teal of Scotland Yard, does not appear in any of the 12 episodes in these sets, how does anyone consistently misspell a word as simple as "chief"? And allow the mistake to go all the way through proofing, production and distribution?

The Saint

From A&E Home Video



Color, original television aspect ratio (1.33:1),

keep case in cardboard box set

Special Features

Original broadcast trailers

Production stills

Scene selection

History of The Saint

Roger Moore biography

SRP: $39.95 per two-disk set

Released June 2001