It had been about 20 years since I had last seen 1969's Vendetta for the Saint. I stayed up late to watch it on television one night and was convinced afterwards it was one of the coolest movies I'd ever seen. But that was a long time ago, and to be honest, I was more than a little apprehensive to watch it when the new DVD--released this week--showed up on my desk.
You see, it's like this: A lot has changed over the past two decades, not the least of which is my opinion of Roger Moore, the man who inherited the James Bond throne in 1973's Live and Let Die, when Sean Connery bowed out of the series for the second time. When I was a kid--which is when I first saw Vendetta for the Saint--I actually thought Roger Moore was a decent James Bond. He was no Connery, mind you, but he wasn't half-bad. And then one day I came to my senses and realized Roger Moore wasn't that good of an actor, especially in everything that came after The Spy Who Loved Me. That's why I was so hesitant even to watch Vendetta. I was worried it would be an experience akin to watching Moonraker on cable years ago and coming to the conclusion that the guy playing James Bond was gay.
Much to my surprise, Vendetta for the Saint manages to hold up quite well (much better than nearly all of Moore's Bond films), remaining a highly entertaining entry in the Saint's mythology. Moore stars as Simon Templar, a.k.a. the Saint, Leslie Charteris' antihero made popular in a series of novels, comic strips and radio programs. Like Robin Hood, the Saint was famous for robbing from the rich and championing the poor and downtrodden.
While on holiday in Naples, the Saint witnesses an altercation between an innocuous bank teller and a man who is clearly in the Mafia. Templar intervenes, but when the bank teller turns up dead, the roguish Saint decides to get to the bottom of the murder and see the killers brought to justice. His investigation leads him into a head-on confrontation with a cold-blooded mobster (Ian Hendry) who is poised to become the godfather.
Moore ascended to international stardom as the Saint in the popular British television series that ran for 118 episodes from 1962 to 1969. Vendetta for the Saint was a made-for-television movie born out of the original series. Watching a young Moore in action, you can almost see why someone would think he'd make a good James Bond (and in all fairness, not all of his 007 movies totally sucked). Moore's charm and style worked well for his turn as the Saint, before they became mere tiresome shtick in his later Bond films. This is the actor at his best.