‘Saint’ behind the camera
6 Feb 2017 1 comment. tbs.pm/10694
From Look Westward magazine for 13-19 December 1964
The Saint moved swiftly and silently down the darkened corridor. Suddenly, he flung open a door, charged through it and yelled “Cut!”
At once, the corridor was flooded with light from a brace of arcs. A camera and microphone loomed above Simon Templar. We were on one of the big sound-stages at Elstree Studios, where The Saint film series is made.
The Saint, himself, had become transformed into Roger Moore, film director. He picked his way through snakily coiled cables and sank into a deck chair. He poured himself a cup of his favourite Italian coffee. There was a time for a few minutes’ relaxation. Another sequence of The Saint was in the can.
Viewers who only see Roger on the screen as the dare-devil knight errant created by Leslie Charteris would be astounded by the change which comes over Roger when he directs he is doing a behind-the-camera stint on at least two stories in this series.
He is a scrupulous professional. Before lining up each sequence before the cameras, he crouches on all-fours with a viewfinder, judging how the set will look to the cameraman.
A film technician told me: “Roger is just about the most unsnobbish director I know. For example, if a picture or a mirror needs straightening, he’ll do it himself. Most directors would send for some minion. Roger pitches in with all of us. That way he gets our full co-operation.”
I watched him tug a massive grand-piano into the middle of the living-room set. He struck me as a courteous but firm disciplinarian, working quickly and without fuss.
Although each story hus to be completed (locations included) within nine working days. Roger, when he’s in control, spends endless time on rehearsals, polishing the actors’ lines, giving them confidence with a friendly word and the sudden sharp wisecrack.
We finished off the coffee thermos together and he told me: “Directing is a challenge. The director is presented with a script, actors and a sum of money. With these, he has to tell a cops-and-robbers story. It’s no good complaining that there isn’t enough time, that the weather is bad, that the script is terrible. Within imposed limits, he must get that story on the screen.
“The secret is to keep things moving not give the audience a chance to realise just how improbable many of the stories are. Start slowing things up and you’re lost.”
Why, I asked, does Roger go in for directing when being an actor looks tough enough? He said: “Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved telling stories which is just what a director does. I had a job as a cartoonist once. Wonderful experience!
“With cartoons you have to tell a story which can he understood instantly by anyone looking at the drawing it’s economic story-telling, using pictures graphically and simply to get over a brief message. That’s what a director on The Saint has to do.”
“In fact,” continued Roger, “I very often draw the sequences of a Saint script as if it was a comic strip. I then have a visual idea of what I want before we start shooting. That’s invaluable.”
He gestured towards the set. “I don’t pretend I’m producing a work of art here. I make a simple thick-ear yarn with the minimum of technical tricks no fancy camera angles or that Orson Welles jazz. Story-telling without frills.”
This series of The Saint is the final one. All the available stories are being used up.
“In a way, I’m glad,” Roger confesses. “I’ve played the Saint in three series. I’ve had no time to do anything else. Frankly, I’m scared of getting stale.
“I want to set up my own production company for making cinema films. I shall direct and act.
“The most difficult thing in this business isn’t the acting, or the directing. It’s finding the cash – persuading tycoons to part with the ready and convincing them that there’ll be a nice fat return.”
Another reason why Roger is bidding farewell to Simon Templar is because of the immense physical strain involved in playing so colourful a character.
“Simon,” Roger believes, “is a tough, sabre-rattling extrovert who must always be in the thick of things, always in the limelight.
“That means that in each episode I’m hardly ever off the screen. If you consider The Saint stories we’ve done collectively, you’ll see that in terms of sheer acting time I have it tougher than many a leading man in a big feature film.”
Roger doesn’t think he’ll be producing a series for TV that is anything like The Saint. One particular project that does interest him. though, is a series featuring Sapper’s famous Bulldog Drummond.
“I wouldn’t play the part myself,” Roger told me, “Drummond is a beery, rugger-playing, ex-army type. I don’t know who we’d gel, but it might be fun to have a shot at filming the old yarns. Of course, they would have to be brought up to date.”
The coffee break was over. Roger returned to the set — a sumptuous living-room of a sumptuous house occupied by whoever was the beautiful heroine of the moment.
In one corner stood a fish tank. Suddenly, right in the middle of a scene, it began to leak and water poured down on to the carpet. Roger promptly found a rag and began feverish mopping up operations.
This looked to me like the less glamorous side of being The Saint. Rut Roger enjoys being both before and behind the camera. I’ve a strong feeling that he will be combining both roles very often in the future.