The Saint: The Ex-King of Diamonds (1969)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Starring: Roger Moore, Stuart Damon, Isla Blair, Ronald Radd, Carol Friday, Willoughby Goddard, Paul Faussino, Alan Rowe, Anthony Stamboulieh
Music: Edwin Astley
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

The Saint television series episodes were generally self contained, unlike the trend in current television series where a back story is played out over many episodes. In some instances this back story comes to the fore and these episodes are considered to be the core episodes. But there is none of this in The Saint. For an episode to become a core episode it must contain either a plot that is exceptionally well written, or a cast of guest actors who viewers are drawn to. However, The Ex-King of Diamonds is neither of these things, but I still believe it is one of the core episodes of the series. Its plot is serviceable, without being spectacular, and the guest stars, while being familiar faces, aren’t really major drawcards either. What makes The Ex-King of Diamonds unique is that the crew behind this episode, producer Bob Baker, writer John Kruse, and even Roger Moore were trying something new. They could see that The Saint’s run was coming to an end and were looking towards their next project – but more on that later. In the meantime,let’s have a quick look at the plot and see if it reminds you of another popular ITC series.

The episode begins on the Cote d’Azur, at Nice airport, where two men have just arrived. One of them is Simon Templar, AKA The Saint (Roger Moore). The other is wealthy Texan millionaire, Rod Huston (Stuart Damon). They have both been invited, along with many other wealthy individuals, to the ‘Hotel Magnificent’ in Monte Carlo for the gaming season. Throughout the season, Boris, the ex-King of Slovania (Willoughby Goddard) is to be the banker at his own priate baccarat table, where he hopes to make enough money to finance a coup, which will see him regain his Kingship.

But first, Templar and Huston have to travel from Nice to Monte Carlo, and their chosen mode of transporation is the motor car. Huston heads off first, but is soon overtaken by Templar in his high-powered vintage saloon. Huston isn’t pleased to be overtaken, and presses the pedal to the metal in an attempt to keep up, and possibly overtake Templar. This results in an egoccentric car chase, with each driver trying to prove who is the better man.

This one up-manship doesn’t stop at just a car race either. Upon arrival in Nice, both men also vie for the attention of Janine Flambeau (Isla Blair) – although it must be said both men strike out with their initial advances. Then the boys engage in some crap shooting. It doesn’t seem to matter what they do, these two seem to be at logger-heads with each other.

Then the card game begins. Watching in the wings is Janine, along with her father, Professor Henri Flambeau (Ronald Radd), who happens to be a brilliant mathematician and the author of ‘Probability in Gambling’. As the game continues, Boris has an extra-ordinary run of luck. So much so, that Flambeau believes that Boris is cheating using marked cards. During a break in the game, Flambeau shares his theory with Templar.

The game continues. Meanwhile Flambeau decides to take his ‘marked card’ theory further, and with Janine in tow, he heads to the factory where the playing cards are manufactured. His investigation is curtailed quickly, when he is captured and Janine is clubbed from behind and rendered unconcious.

The card game is over for the evening. Boris has won a large amount of cash, much to the chagrin of Templar and Huston who adjorn to a patio outside. Here, Templar shares Flambeau’s theory that Boris is using marked cards. Huston is furious that Templar didn’t tell him earlier and a fist fight errupts. Huston wants a piece of Templar, and then once finished, he wants a piece of Boris too. But Templar manages to dissuade him with a well placed punch to the jaw.

To get to the bottom of Boris’ scheme, Templar and Huston agree to team up. To learn more, they decide to track down Professor Flambeau – good thing to, because when they discover him, unconcious, he is being positioned in a crashed car, while Boris’ goons pour petrol over the vehicle. Obviously they are planning to ‘stage’ an accident. Templar and Huston step in and fight off Boris’ goons. The Professor is rescued, but where is Janine? It seems that the mystery is far from over.

So, does the story seem familiar to you? You have two head-strong dilettante playboys on the Cote d’Azur -one English, the other American – they both encounter each other on the road, where a car chase follows – then later get into a fist fight! It’s The Persuaders! The Ex-King of Diamonds was a tryout for The Persuaders television series, and many of the elements in this episode found there way into the pilot for The Persuaders, Overture. Of course there are many differences too. Rod Huston is a slow talkin’ Texan, whereas Tony Curtis as Danny Wilde, was a motor-mouth from the Bronx. But still, the dynamic is the same. First, an outward antagonism, that slowly builds to respect and then friendship.

The Ex-King of Diamonds is a must see episode for fans of Roger Moore’s The Saint series and The Persuaders. It isn’t as fast paced as some of The Saint episodes – primarily because it has to built up the relationship between Templar and Huston, but time never seems to drag. The characters are good and bounce off each other well. The story itself, seems derivative of quite a few familiar (to spy fans) stories. The first is, obviously, Casino Royale. We have a villain who needs to make a lot of cash (to repay a debt) quickly by playing cards. The card marking could come from the film Kaleidoscope, with Warren Beatty, or even bears more than a passing resemblance to the season one, Mission Impossible episode, Odds on Evil. What I am saying here, is that the plot, even in 1969, had been used quite substantially by spy shows – but that doesn’t really matter. It’s what’s playing out over the top with Templar and Huston that is important, and here the buddy formula that was to prove so successful (in my eyes at least) in The Persuaders was given its first tryout -and for me that is a joy to watch.

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