The Software Murders (1989)

Director: Henry Herbert
Starring: Simon Dutton, Shane Rimmer, David Ryall, Dinsdale Landen, Malcolm Stoddard, Pamela Sue Martin
Music: Serge Franklin
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

With the recent news that James Purefoy is going to be the next Saint, I thought it was time to revisit a few older adventures. In 1989, The Saint was revived for six, two hour (90 minutes with ads) tele-movies. Simon Dutton plays the debonair Simon Templar (AKA The Saint), but got lumbered with some clunky scripts. One of the tele-movies, The Brazillian Connection was even written by Anthony Horowitz, who would later find fame as the best selling author of a string of children’s books, especially the Alex Rider series.

The show opens of a beachfront property in California. Jack Rushden is looking into the deaths of three prominent scientists for his friend Simon Templar. He is doing his research by entering all the information into his computer. The computer finds a connection: all three were working on ‘explosive detection devices’. Jack rings up Templar (Simon Dutton) in London and tells him the news. Then he proceeds to send the information via modem (don’t know if they were using an early version of the internet?) to Simon.

Halfway through the upload, Jack’s doorbell rings. He breaks off transmission to answer the door. A man is waiting with a drawn pistol. He shoots Jack. The killer then gets on Jack’s computer and sends the message ‘Jack fell down and broke his crown’. Then he follows it up with ‘And ? came tumbling after’. The killer knows that The Saint is on the other end of the transmission, because he then flashes the Saint symbol up on the screen.

We next see The Saint packing his suitcase and donning a fake moustache and glasses. As he is set to leave, his doorbell rings. At the door is Inspector Claude Teal of Scotland Yard. Teale asks Templar about his telephone call from Rushden. Templar evades the question and asks how Jack died. Teal now wants to know how Templar knew that Rushden was dead. As it is impossible for Templar to have flown to California and back to kill Rushden, he isn’t really a suspect, but Teal gives him a hard time any way. After the usual by-play, the Saint is free to leave.

Somehow, it is never really explained satisfactorily, The Saint’s investigations lead him to a conference being held at Willard House in the English Countryside. The Saint joins the conference and investigates the people there.

I think Simon Dutton is quite good in the role of The Saint, but in this adventure he is lumbered with some amateurish supporting actors, a sluggish script, and a low budget look and feel. With The Saint we expect a certain amount of glamour, colour and high-life (maybe even a touch of jet-setting). But this production is pretty bland.

The best thing about this production is that they have made The Saint a criminal again; a privateer who robs from the rich, or manipulates events for his benefit and financial gain. In earlier incarnations of The Saint (on television), his criminal dealings could only be hinted at, in fear of upsetting the viewing audience. But by the late 80’s times had changed significantly enough that The Saint could be portrayed slightly more like the character as originally written. But generally this story is slow paced and not particularly involving. It would have been better if it had been edited down to an hour.

Any story with a plotline revolving around computers is going to date quickly. What seems cutting edge today, will seem clunky in a few year’s time. The same with this production. The phosphorescent monitors and use of a modem across the Atlantic may have seemed cutting edge in 1989, but today it is laughable and obsolete. Speaking of obsolete, Serge Franklin’s synth rock score hasn’t stood the test of time either. In fact, I don’t think it was any good to begin with, but giving him the benefit of the doubt, it now sounds quite dated. It is so bad it is almost distracting.

If you are a Saint fan, you may feel that you have to watch this, and whatever I say will not stop you. While I am hardly a Saint completist, I have seen my fare share of Saint adventures, and would have to rate this as the worst I have seen. Despite Dutton’s performance, this one is for the fans only.

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