The secret agent boom of the 1960s was so big in the UK that two-part episodes of The Man From UNCLE were released as feature films – and did respectable box office when there wasn’t a competing Bond film in cinemas. A few UK shows had spin-offs too – two feature films were cobbled out of episodes of The Saint, with Roger Moore ideally cast as Leslie Charteris’ ‘modern-day Robin Hood’ Simon Templar. Vendetta for the Saint is one of the series’ grittier stories, but The Fiction-Makers is daffier and foreshadows the direction of Moore’s career in that it’s a Bond spoof made before the star got his own license to kill.
Adventurer Templar, known for cocking his eye upwards at his animated halo, agrees to do a favour for a publisher friend (Peter Ashmore) to look after best-selling thriller writer Amos Klein – who writes macho Ian Fleming-type books but is actually scatty, cute, short-sighted Sylvia Sims (‘mix-up at the people factory … they’d run out of girlie ribbons’). It turns out that Klein’s books, which have become a Bond-style film franchise about super-agent ‘Charles Lake’ (played by ‘Rip Savage’/Frank Maher), have so impressed a criminal megalomaniac (Kenneth J. Warren) that he has styled himself after their villain, Warlock, and recruited a variety of typecast thugs (mean-eyed Philip Locke, thug Tom Clegg, jug-eared Nicholas Smith) to work for his evil organisation SWORD (Secret World Organision for Retribution and Destruction). Warlock kidnaps Templar, whom he takes to be Amos, and Amos, whom he assumes is a secretary, and asks him to work out every detail of a heist (in a parody of Goldfinger, he has built a model of the target) to loot various treasures secured under a Welsh mountain.
Moore was so ideally-cast as the Saint that his Bond often seemed an afterthought – he was temperamentally more suited to genial irony than snobbery with violence (and sex). Here, he has a nice line in wry irony, Scream-like complaining about the cliché aspects of the plot, and friendly banter with women (not just Syms, but a priceless and stunningly beautiful Justine Lord as villain’s dim girlfriend ‘Galaxy Rose’). The Saint series veered wildly in mood – serious spying one week, giant ants the next, then comedy, then sentimental drama – and comes close in tone, especially in Warren’s performance, to The Avengers in self-aware, camp comedy-thrills.