In a way 'Return of the Saint' was / is a landmark TV series. It was without doubt the last of a genre that sporned action / adventure series such as 'The Saint', 'The Champions', 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased', 'The Persuaders' and countless others. These ITC produced TV series were unique in that they were shot as feature films, rather than the video taped in studio with film inserts technique favoured by TV producers such as the BBC up until the late eighties.
The series is looked upon by some as being a failure, however this is an ill informed view based on the fact that a second series was never commissioned. The truth of the matter is that the series sold in excess of 70 countries worldwide, and won Ian Ogilvy a 'Most Compulsive TV Character Award' in 1978 at the then prostiguous 'TV Times Awards'. The main driving force behind ITC was the then Sir Lew Grade, however his retirement from the TV side along with the financial ITC Film disaster that was 'Raise the Titanic' both compounded to make sure that TV series of this type were never made again, and hence the second series of 'Return of the Saint' never happened.
In terms of production values, the series is, even now by television standards, almost without parallel. Whereas the Elstree Film Studios back lot was often utilised as an exotic local, albeit with rubber palm trees, for the other series previously mentioned. 'Return of the Saint' actually filmed in the countries / locations where the stories were set, locations such as Venice, Nice, The Camargue, Cortina, Rome, Florence to name a few - unheard of for a TV series back then and very possibly now.
The series also boasted a fine cast of actors, with the likes of Joss Ackland, Stratford Johns, Ian Hendry, Anton Rogers, Maurice Denham, George Cole and Stuart Wilson to name a few. And why have 'Bond Girls' when you can have 'Saint Girls' such as Britt Ekland, Mary Tamm, Kate O'Mara, Susan Penhaligon, Judy Geeson, Carolyn Seymour, Rula Lenska and Anouska Hempel! A fine company of Directors was also assembled, with film stalwarts such as Ealing Studio's Charles Crichton, 'A Night to Remember's' Roy Ward Baker, Barry Norman's father Leslie and Peter Medak and Peter Sasdy amongst others.
The series also boasted one of the most memorable theme tune and opening title credit sequences of all time, rather akin to an animated 'Pink Panther' film, albeit with a stickman - jumping of bridges, into cars and diving off boats. The incidental music was also supplied by celebrated British Film Composer John Scott.
Concerning the lead, Ian Ogilvy, his performance is extremely engaging and endearing. Casted at the time because of his similarity in looks and approach to Roger Moore, he brings to his performance every now and again a hardness / seriousness that Moore seldom did, and he also displays a light comedic touch every bit as good as Moore's. The only thing Ogilvy lacks is perhaps Moore's physicality, with him being of slighter build.
On the negative side the stories / scripts aren't exactly stand-out, but this is escapist fun, not 'The Wednesday Play'. Another downside, to an extent, were the fight sequences, certainly in comparison to other series such as 'The Sweeney' and 'The Professionals' made around that time. However this was a conscious decision made by the producers themselves to make the series more acceptable for American TV networks, and in particular the American censors. That said the fight sequence's aren't bad, and the series does boast some fine car chases / action sequence work.
All 24 episodes are presented here and each looks fine, that said no restoration work appears to have been undertaken on the prints. The boxset scores on its offering of Special Features. It starts off with the 45 min ' The Saint steps into....... the 70s' documentary narrated by none other than Roger Moore himself. The documentary charts the history of the series from its conception to its subsequent cancellation, and includes interviews, with members of the production and writing teams along with the lead, Ian Ogilvy, himself. Whilst the documentary isn't stand-out in terms of a production, it's very informative, watchable and definitive - after all it's written, directed and produced by the Honorary Secretary of The Saint Club , Ian Dickerson.
There are four commentaries on the episodes 'The Village that Sold its Soul', 'The Poppy Chain', 'Collision Course - Part 1' and 'Murder Carter', all include the lead joined by members of the production and writing teams. Again, all are very informative, amusing and enjoyable. The set also includes the music that resulted from the recording session of the legendary theme tune, with two or three different variations on it.
The remainder of the Special Features are made-up of the customary photo galleries, textless / mute rushes as well as an alternate theme tune curio entitled 'Taking it Easy' credited to an artist, would you believe, called Oliver Onions!
Whilst not perhaps the very best series of its genre, Return of the Saint, still remains rollicking good entertainment. It doesn't exhibit the fast cutting beloved by today's directors, but still boasts magnificent production values and remains more glamorous, exciting and expensive than anything the TV companies can churn out today. More than anything else, it was designed to be and still is....... FUN!