‘The Man Who Liked Lions’ is a 1966 episode of long running ITC series ‘The Saint’, starring an alternately smug and sulky (and surprisingly chubby) Roger Moore, although here the draw is an appearance by our old mucker, Sir Peter Wyngarde. Wyngarde isn’t in it that much, really, but, by Christ, he makes the most of his time onscreen.
He plays Tiberio Magadino, an Italian gallery owner who, in his spare time, is an international hit man. He likes lions (hence the title) and Romans and, in the episodes climax, fights a gladiatorial battle with The Saint while dressed as a Roman. Oh, and over an open trapdoor that leads to a cellar with a hungry lion in it. Wyngarde doesn't so much steal the show as simply stride up to it, shout 'I'm taking this', before putting it in his pocket and marching off. It’s a commanding performance, devoid of camp, although nothing he does is not without a wry, arch sense of amusement. I particularly like the sheer brio he brings to the scrapping, throwing his all into the sword play. It’s also inconceivable that any other actor could bring such clipped menace to lines like –
'I'm a great admirer of the early Roman culture. It had much to recommend it: force, compulsion, discipline and strength. At least it produced men, real men, unlike our sick, decadent society today. What has it produced? Long haired, self-absorbed effeminates. I'd like to see most of them quietly exterminated'.
There’s an interesting scene where Tiberio is being massaged by a muscular black man. When another heavyset man enters, the session stops, although the masseur apparently sneaks a quick peek at Tiberio’s exposed crotch. Interestingly, Tiberio then grabs the masseur’s hands and forces him to his knees, out of shot. In context, it is clearly meant to convey that Tiberio is a surprisingly powerful and dangerous man but, in reality, the whole thing reeks of homoeroticism. I’ll bet Peter would have found the scene terribly funny. I certainly did.