Recently I watched a run of RKO's Saint films, which were made by between 1939 and 1941. The Saint was played by Louis Heyward in the first film, The Saint in New York, George Sanders in the next five films, then by Hugh Sinclair in the final two, The Saint's Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger. In my mind, George Sanders, who conveyed a charming, but dangerous, and at times caddish, adventurer, was the best of the Saints, followed by Hugh Sinclair's debonair swashbuckler, then the smooth playboy of Louis Heyward.
Inevitably there have been many comparisons made between the Saint and the Bond of the cinema, and certainly the similarities are obvious. Both have the persona of a gentleman, both are outside, or at least on the margins, of the law in their pursuit of criminals, both are handy with their fists and a pistol, and both are irresistible to women.
No wonder that Roger Moore was always a Bond in waiting the moment he appeared as the Saint in 1962. There was also much press speculation about Ian Ogilvy, who played the Saint in The Return of the Saint in 1978 and 1979, as a potential Bond, although he was never screen-tested for the role.
There are also aspects of the format of Saint adventures that recalls the screen Bond. As in the Bond films, each episode of both Saint TV series had a pre-titles sequence, which would end with a halo appearing over the Saint's head. In the RKO series, the George Sanders' films began with a short animated sequence. This features the stick-figure symbol of the Saint, which appears at the end of a tunnel-like frame, then increases in size as it walks towards the viewer. The sequence ends with the stick figure extending its arm as if preparing to fire the pistol it holds. The device to some extent prefigures the gunbarrel device of the Bond films in design, and fulfils the same role of introducing the film and heightening the anticipation of the audience.