The Saint (film)

The Saint is a 1997 film based on the character of Simon Templar created by Leslie Charteris in 1928 for a series of books published as "The Saint." Aside from the book series, which ran until 1983, the character has also featured in a series of Hollywood movies made between 1938 and 1954, a 1940s radio series starring Vincent Price (and others) as Templar, a popular British television series of the 1960s which starred Roger Moore, and a 1980s series starring Ian Ogilvy.

The film stars Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Shue, and Rade Šerbedžija. It was directed by Phillip Noyce and written by Jonathan Hensleigh and Wesley Strick.

In this version, Kilmer's character does not claim to be the Simon Templar created by Charteris. He is, in fact, an orphan who chooses his name, Simon Templar--the first name from Simon Magus, and the last name from his childhood heroes, the Knights Templar. He refers to himself as Templar only during a flashback sequence at the start of the film.


The film begins showing a young orphan Simon Templar living at the St. Ignatius Orphanage in the Far East, with other orphans. The orphanage is run by a strict priest who doesn't care for the orphans. After the priest punishes the orphans because Templar wouldn't say his given saint name, Templar and the boys rescue the girls who were locked away. Templar plans to run away from the orphanage. Before he can escape, Templar tries to kiss his first love, but she dies after the priest's dogs push her over a railing and she falls.

Fast forward to present day, where an adult Simon Templar (Val Kilmer) is a professional thief nicknamed "The Saint". To throw off law enforcement, he assumes the names of various saints. Templar's usual modus operandi is mentioning that he was named after a saint.

Templar is in Moscow, Russia, where he plans to steal a microchip during a political rally from Ivan Petrovich Tretiak (Rade Šerbedžija) at the Tretiak Gas and Oil Industries building. Tretiak is an ex-communist-turned-billioniare who dominates the gas and oil industry. Tretiak who has his own political party, has his eyes on the presidency of the Russian Federation and is gaining support from the public. Tretiak is good friends with several generals of the Russian Army.

Templar manages to break into a restricted and heavily secured area of the building to steal a chip. However, he is stopped by Tretiak's son Ilya (Valeri Nikolayev). Templar manages to get away from Ilya and his henchman with the chip. Templar escapes to London, England with the chip. Templar plans to get up to $50,000,000 in his Swiss account and then retire from stealing. He is later contacted by Tretiak to arrange a meeting. Templar in a German disguise meets with Tretiak and his son in Berlin, Germany.

During the meeting, Tretiak hires Templar to steal the formula for cold fusion from the eccentric American scientist Dr. Emma Russell (Elizabeth Shue). Theoretically, cold fusion could create heat and energy from open air, and it would be cleaner than petroleum and safer than nuclear power. And it would be much less expensive. Tretiak wants to get the formula so he can create heat for the Russian people, who are freezing because of a heating oil shortage. The deal would put Templar at the $50 million mark in his Swiss bank accounts, the amount he wants to retire with from the life of thievery. (This plot point comes from the Charteris novella "The Melancholy Journey of Mr. Teal" in the collection The Holy Terror, in which Templar strives to top up his bank account and retire at 100,000 pounds sterling.)

Templar, in the guise of Thomas More, has become attracted to Dr. Russell, but he reluctantly steals her formula in order to stop Tretiak from killing her, a threat that arose when Simon said he wouldn't do it. So he ultimately ends up turning it over to Tretiak. However, the formula is incomplete, and Tretiak becomes intent on capturing both Templar and Russell in order to force her to complete it. However, Templar, normally a loner, and Dr. Russell have fallen in love with each other. Templar then has to save both of them while simultaneously exposing Tretiak as a criminal.

Tretiak's son and his henchmen eventually find Templar and Russell near the American Embassy in Moscow, after chasing them for the entire day. Russell outruns Tretiak's son to the Embassy, where she could only be safe. Meanwhile, Templar injures Tretiak's son and his henchmen in a car bombing near the Embassy. Templar escapes.

After his failure to capture Templar and Dr. Russell, Tretiak launches an alternate plan: to sell the (incomplete) cold fusion formula to the president, and then "expose" him to the public as a traitor who wasted billions on useless technology. As the cold winter continues, Russians continue to protest against the government in Red Square, Moscow and in front of the American Embassy. Tretiak, his generals and aides begin planning their revolution to take control of Russia.

As Dr. Russell works to complete the formula, Templar confronts the Russian President Karpov in his residence in the Moscow Kremlin and tells him to admit to Tretiak's accusations publicly, just before Tretiak-loyal Russian troops arrest the President. Tretiak is exposed as a fraud as the failed cold fusion reactor Tretiak presents as evidence begins working in Red Square before a large group of Russians. Tretiak and his son are arrested by the Russian troops and are later convicted. The heating oil shortage ends when it was revealed that Tretiak hid stolen oil to start the shortage.

Days later, Templar and Russell return to England. Russell eventually presents cold fusion to the world at a London news conference. Templar (in disguise) attends presentation by Russell and the police notice him. Templar quickly flees and eventually they catch someone who they think he is, but it's just a civilian. He drives by, smiling and waves at them. Not long after, a halo is shown over his head. At the end, it is heard on a radio broadcast, that $3,000,000,000 were donated to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the United Nations Children's Fund. The funds came from Ivan Tretiak's Swiss bank accounts. It is obvious, that Templar (who had access to Tretiak's accounts). Also, a non-profit foundation is being established to develop cold fusion technology.


Actor Role
Val Kilmer Simon Templar
Elisabeth Shue Dr. Emma Russell
Rade Šerbedžija Ivan Tretiak
Valeri Nikolayev Ilya Tretiak
Henry Goodman Dr. Lev Botvin
Alun Armstrong Inspector Teal
Michael Byrne VereshaginëṂÔ
Yevgeni Lazarev President Karpov
Irina Apeksimova Frankie
Lev Prygunov General Sklarov
Charlotte Cornwell Inspector Rabineau
Roger Moore Radio Announcer Voice

Production history

Film adaptations of Leslie Charteris' anti-hero Simon Templar (The Saint) date back to the late 1930s when RKO Radio Pictures launched a popular series of B-movies with a succession of different actors playing the lead role. After that, save for two unsuccessful French attempts at launching new film series, the character was confined to television: The Saint, a 1960s series starring Roger Moore; Return of the Saint, a 1970s updating starring Ian Ogilvy; a failed 1987 pilot for American TV, The Saint in Manhattan starring Andrew Clarke; and a set of feature-length made-for-television adventures produced in Australia in 1989 starring Simon Dutton. Of these, the Moore series remained the definitive television adaptation.

In the mid-1980s, tabloid gossip newspapers such as the National Enquirer reported that Moore was planning to produce a new Saint movie, with Pierce Brosnan (then known for playing the Templar-influenced character Remington Steele on TV) being considered for the role, though nothing came of this project.

The reference work The Saint: A Complete History by Burl Barer (McFarland 1992) was written at a time when another set of plans were under way to launch a new Saint film series, which would have been faithful to the original writings of Leslie Charteris and feature characters from the original books. This project also failed.

A few years later, Paramount Pictures' attempt to make a film of The Saint started with the powerhouse above-the-line team of Robert Evans as producer, Steven Zaillian as writer and Sydney Pollack as director. Ralph Fiennes — hot from Schindler's List and Quiz Show — was offered $1 million for the lead, but eventually passed. In a 1994 interview for Premiere magazine, Fiennes said the screenplay — racing fast cars, breaking into Swiss banks — was nothing he hadn't seen before.

Robert Evans left the project — although, contractually, his name remains on the final film's credits — and David Brown (Jaws, Driving Miss Daisy) took over. A new story was commissioned from Jonathan Hensleigh (Die Hard With a Vengeance), which cast Simon Templar as a mercenary hired by a billionaire Russian oil and gas tycoon to steal the secret of cold fusion from an eccentric but beautiful American scientist. The story would take place in Washington, D.C., Upstate New York, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. Setpieces included Dr. Russell skydiving while strapped into a wheelchair and a plane landing in Red Square. Darwin Mayflower described it as one of the top unproduced screenplays. Phillip Noyce was hired to direct.

Providing a link to both the 1960s The Saint TV series and the later Return of the Saint revival of the 1970s, Robert S. Baker, the producer of both series, was brought in an executive producer of the film.

In a 1997 interview with Des O'Connor for his ITV show, Hugh Grant says he passed on the role after a meeting with Noyce because he didn't like the director's approach to the character. Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, and Johnny Depp all refused the role. Schwarzenegger later said he was sorry he did not do it. Val Kilmer was cast and the script was rewritten by Wesley Strick to suit his style.

Strick's rewrite relocated the action to London and Oxford and merged two villains together by having Tretiak running for president himself rather than endorsing a puppet candidate. Kilmer was constantly pressing for more disguises in the film, although Paramount wanted to keep that idea for their Mission: Impossible franchise. The Saint, as devised by Charteris in the 1930s, used crude disguises instead of the sophisticated ones shown in this film.

Unusually for an action star of the time (as in heroes played by Seagal, Willis or Mel Gibson), this Saint refrained from killing and even the main villains live to stand trial. Charteris' version had no qualms about taking another life.

The name Leslie Charteris is noticeably absent from the opening credits of the film, upsetting fans of the writer.

When the final film was test screened, audiences reacted badly to the death of Dr. Emma Russell.

In the original version of the film — as in the original Jonathan Hensleigh script — Dr. Russell, having escaped Russia via the American embassy, collapses while giving a lecture and dies in the Saint's arms. Watching the videotape back, he sees Tretiak Jr. stabbing her in the leg with the tip of his cane. The final half-hour has the Saint returning to Moscow to destroy the villains' plans and avenge her death. With Dr. Botvin's help, he switches the formulas around and humiliates Tretiak during his show trial of the Russian president. The Tretiaks shoot their way out of the crowd and escape back to their mansion, with the Saint and the Russian army in pursuit. Tretiak shoots the treacherous Dr. Botvin. The Saint arrives and finds the bodies of Botvin and Tretiak, killed by his own son. The Saint battles Dr. Russell's killer on the stairwell as Russian tanks pound the mansion walls, exposing and setting fire to the vast stockpile of heating oil in the basement. With the stairwell disintegrating around them, the fight spills out on to the chandelier, suspended above the blazing oil. The Saint teases Treatiak Jr. with the disc containing the formula for cold fusion. As he reaches out for it, the Saint cuts the rope and Tretiak Jr. plummets to a fiery death. Returning to Dr. Russell's home, the Saint finds a letter from her, a tear fills his eye and he vows from now on to use his skills only for good.

Test audiences didn't like that Dr. Russell died three-quarters of the way into the film; it was confusing as to what had happened to her. The novelization features an alternate version in which Dr. Russell lives and the Saint and Tretiak Jr. still battle on the chandelier. In the end, however, the producers decided to cut Dr. Russell's death scene, chopped off the action-packed climax, inserted footage of the Tretiak's being arrested and filmed a new epilogue at Oxford. (Footage from the original ending features prominently in the film's trailer.) Director Phillip Noyce hopes one day to be able to restore the original version for DVD.


A novelization based upon the film script was written by Burl Barer, a noted expert on the history of Simon Templar and Leslie Charteris.


The songs "Out Of My Mind" by Duran Duran and "6 Underground" by the Sneaker Pimps were played during the credits, and released as singles to promote the movie.

The Saint Soundtrack album, The Saint: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack included many songs from the electronica genre. Aside from Duran Duran and the Sneaker Pimps, recording artists included Orbital, Moby, Fluke, Luscious Jackson, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Superior, Dreadzone, Duncan Sheik, and Everything but the Girl.

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