It’s the day of the Vincent Price Blogathon, when we celebrate one of the most iconic, elegant and versatile actors ever to grace the silver screen, Vincent Price. Most of us know him for his huge catalog of horror movies, but Price was also a star in film noir and in costume dramas, he had a fine comic spirit and one of the most distinctive voices in Hollywood.
He worked in movies, TV and radio, and outside of his acting career, he was an art expert and an excellent cook.
The blogathon is hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis, so point your browser in that direction, for a huge selection of posts about Vincent Price, his life and his art.
And then come back here, because we are going to take a look at a side of Price’s work hat is often overlooked, and we’ll explore Price’s own take on one of the great iconic characters of classic thriller fiction… Simon Templar, aka The Saint.
The Saint was created by Leslie Charteris in 1928, as a sympathetic rogue fighting on the side of good. Often compared to Robin Hood, Simon Templar is an outlaw that fights crime on his own terms, and is therefore often at odds with the law. Elegant, smart and witty, always impeccably dressed, Simon Templar went through various phases in his existence, from his mysterious past to being “The Robin Hood of modern crime”, to fighting Nazis during the Second World War and finally settling on a career as an adventurer (do adventurers have careers? Nice question).
Simon Templar had his distinctive quirks – like always using aliases with the letters S and T (apparently, not to change the monograms on his shirts) and he left a calling card on the scene of his exploits – the stick-man with a halo that is a trademark of the series.
Through his long run – Charteris stopped writing Templar in the late ’60s but other authors picked up the character with Charteris acting as editor and mastermind – Simon Templar was often brought top the screen, his most famous incarnation wearing the face of Roger Moore. And he was on the radio too, starting in 1945. The series was supervised by Charteris himself – either adapting his novels and stories or writing all-new material. The original sponsor for the series was Bromo Seltzer. Campbell Soups and Ford Motors would sponsor later runs of the radio show.
Vincent Price picked up the role of the Saint in 1947, after Edgar Barrier and Brian Aherne.
For anyone used to Roger Moore’s portrayal of Simon Templar, the first impact with Price can be baffling. Price’s cultured, quietly witty voice is superimposed in our mind with Moore’s features, and the end result is weird.
And yet there is no denying that Price is perfectly fitting for the role.
While quite capable of violence, Simon Templar is not a hard-boiled detective in the Mike Hammer tradition – he’s rather a suave con man and a man about town, a fascinating individual with a varied culture. Between 1947 and 1951 Price brought the character to life, in what is today considered the best and truest portrayal of the original Simon Templar.
With an excellent cast and good music, the department in which the series was maybe a little less than stellar was the plots – confined to 30-minutes episodes produced with obvious of budget and of themes (this was a wholesome radio drama, and the Saint’s more brutal aspects were downplayed) Charteris’ stories suffered, but the author’s personal supervision granted that the quality of the scripts, if not always top notch, is always above par.
In the end, Price recorded 68 half-an-hour episodes of the show over a period of four years (with frequent hiatuses), and they can be found today in various versions, of varying quality.
The radio episodes also feature another of Templar’s trademarks – the musical cue that opens the soundtrack, and that is to be found in all the radio and screen outings of The Saint.
Starting halfway through his run, Price decided to add a “final remarks” section to the shows, in which he would talk briefly about one of the social issues he considered relevant (he was a well known activist for integration and progressive causes), possibly in some way connected with the episode. Indeed, as the series hit its stride, it was clear the episodes were written to fit Vincent Price’s persona – his personal style and his interests, helping consolidate his portrayal of the protagonist. For this reason, the radio adventures of The Saint featured a higher-than-usual number of art crimes and a certain penchant for good food and other from Price wide array of interests. At the same time, it is sometimes possible to see how working with Price helped Charteris shape his hero in the later part of his adventurous career.
The series was shelved in 1951, and Price moved on to more successes in the movies.
Simon Templar would return in 1962 with a TV series, starring Roger Moore. A comparison between the two actors is pointless, as each one was able to bring his own strengths to the character, making Templar his own, albeit in very different manners.