Return of the Saint: The Judas Game (1978)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Jeremy Summers
Starring: Ian Ogilvy, Judy Geeson, Olga Karlatos, Maurice Roeves, Mona Bruce, Marino Mase’, Richard Wyler, Moray Watson
Music: John Scott
Brian Dee, Irving Martin
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

The Judas Game was the first broadcast episode of The Return of the Saint, and in many ways signified the direction the series was going to take. This ‘Saint’ lives in a complicated, political world, and while in many ways he is still a knight in shining armour, he is also a hardened professional – almost like a mercenary. In this episode Templar is coerced by M.I.6 into undertaking a dangerous mission. The white knight element is still there, because Templar has had a relationship with the girl he is sent to rescue, but also it is suggested that Templar is the best man for the job – which in fact suggests his skills are better than all of the agents on the M.I.6 payroll.

The Judas Game starts on a cliff-face and Simon Templar (Ian Ogilvy) is doing some mountaineering with his climbing partner, Algernon (Richard Wyler). As Algernon climbs ahead, and set the safety rope for Templar to climb on, he does not secure a piton correctly. Templar, applying his weight to the rope, nearly falls as the piton is pulled from the rock. Angry at Algernon’s life threatening incompetence, Templar chases Algernon up the mountain solo, without a safety rope. When he catches up with him on a ledge and demands an explanation, Algernon simply pulls out an identification card. He works for M.I.6 and the ‘mishap’ was a test to see if Templar had the skills for a particular mission. It seems he does.

The dual heads of M.I.6 are Buckingham (Moray Watson) and Dame Edith (Mona Bruce) and they want Templar to rescue one of their intelligence agents, Selma Morell (Judy Geeson) who was captured by the Albanian Secret police while she was holidaying in Yugoslavia. Morell is a specialist in counter-insurgency, and it is feared that if she breaks under torture, then armed with her knowledge, Albanian terrorists will start popping up all around the globe and committing acts of barbarism. It appears that she is now being held in an inpenetratable fortress, with a mountainous cliff face on one side. Templar’s climbing skills are required to free Morell.

One of the common plot devices in stories like this, where a free agent is called in to do work for the professionals, is that the outsider is used because there is a mole in the service and security has been compromised, and I am pleased to say that hoary old chestnut is used again here. From the moment Templar begins his mission, the whole Albanian army is on his tail – but not for one second does this seem like a problem for Templar. But this is not Rambo – Templar does not take on the army with a machine gun. Naturally he outwits them.

With the opening scenes of treachery on a mountain, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to The Eiger Sanction, and then now with the rescue from a mountain top fortress, the story passes into Alistair MacLean territory with nods to both Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone. But they are just ‘nods’, because after laying down that elaborate groundwork, highlighting Templar’s climbing skills, he actually penetrates the inpenetratable fortress in a food delivery van.

It’s bizarre seeing Judy Geeson in a role like Selma Morell. During the sixties, Geeson almost made a career out of playing ditzy blonde dolly birds in films like Hammerhead and To Sir With Love. Here she is required to play a tough, self-reliant and intelligent woman, and I must confess I found it hard to believe. In my mind, her screen persona is so intrinsically linked with the light dolly birds, that I could accept her in a serious role – but hey, that may be my baggage!

Eurospy fans may recognise Richard Wyler in the role of Algernon. Whyler had a brief stint as a leading man in the sixties with roles in FX-18 Superspy, Dick Smart 2.007 and Jess Franco’s The Seven Secrets of Sumuru. Here though, his role is little more than a silent, scouring henchman – for the good guys, no less.

The Judas Game is a pretty slick package, with some nice location footage filmed in Monte Argentario in Italy. The action sequences too, are expertly handled, with some quasi Bondian fireworks, where Templar opens the gate to the inpenetratable fortress with a bazooka. Yes, this episode would get low marks for realism, but would score high marks for adventure and fun. And that’s probably just the way it should be.

More Ian Ogilvy as The Saint
The Debt Collectors.
The Saint and the Brave Goose.

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