Vendetta For The Saint: Elegy for Fallen Eyebrows

When the tragic news of the death of Roger Moore broke, I was mentally compiling a schedule for the next tranche of things to review. I can’t even remember what the others were. It doesn’t matter. As someone said on Twitter that day, in the midst of a week of horrible news, it was a measure of the impact that an 89-year-old man’s life had had on their own that his passing still affected them so. I have to agree. So many of us who have blogs and sites devoted to cult TV and films are in it in no small part due to Moore’s contribution, often with drink and cigar in hand, one eyebrow sardonically arched.

This one’s for you- RIP, Sir Roger Moore.

This 1969 cinematic outing for Simon Templar was edited together from two of the later episodes of the ITC series, in turn adapted from a Saint novel ghost written by sci-fi author Harry Harrison. Unlike many ITC shows, where the overseas setting is usually established by some stock footage of wherever, a quick caption to say where they’re meant to be and- hey presto- back to Elstree by way of some dodgy back projection, the extensive shooting in Naples raises it above the norm.

That’s not all. Vendetta For The Saint plays like an audition reel for Roger Moore’s James Bond, only more so. Whereas his 007 ended up closer to Brett Sinclair in The Persuaders, Moore’s turn as Simon Templar in this has more edge. When he sets out to expose local gangster Destamio (Ian Hendry) and avenge the death of expat James Euston, The Saint has a degree of grit more associated with the Bond of the Sixties that can only leave some fans wondering what could have been. He hijacks a bus at gunpoint (despite speaking no Italian!). There are some wonderfully Moore-ish flourishes, though, such as escaping a flotilla of gangsters on the back of a truck, lounging louchely as it makes its way through the Sicilian countryside.

The plot itself is remarkably hard-hitting for a supposedly family series. Destamio is keeping a British girl, Lily (Aimi McDonald) a virtual prisoner at his hillside villa. Lily has scars from where he’s stubbed cigars out on her hands; she flinches at any sudden movement he makes. Dubious Italian-American accent aside, Ian Hendry brings some film-star clout to proceedings as the Mafioso with a secret to protect if he is to succeed to the regional throne. The final showdown between the Mafia and the Italian police and army, led by Templar, is also rather brutal, with several people meeting their ends at the shotgun wielded by The Saint.

The majority of the casting is a fairly de rigueur list of character actors seen in these series at the time: Fulton Mackay, then in Special Branch, plays the doomed Euston, George Pastell (Doctor Who, From Russia With Love) is police chief Ponti and there are other recognisable faces doing ropey ‘Italian’ accents in return for a trip to the sun, including Steven Berkoff who would go on to do equally rubbish accents in bigger things, including Octopussy, opposite Moore’s Bond, in 1983. Plus ca change, as they say. The love interest is provided by Destamio’s ‘niece’, Gina, played by the beautiful Rosemary Dexter, who was at the time famous in Italy for appearing in a number of art-house and giallo movies.

By the time Vendetta For The Saint hit the big screen, The Saint had finished on British TV. Roger Moore was on his way to The Persuaders via Buckshot Brogue Library guilty pleasure The Man Who Haunted Himself and then onward to the Bond movies. Simon Templar would rise again on TV in the guises of Ian Ogilvy and Simon Dutton but, mixing franchises for a moment, to date nobody has done it better than Moore.