Classic Film Guide

Obscure Films

The individual Falcon movie reviews are at the bottom of this page!

After playing Simon Templar aka The Saint five times in an earlier RKO studio series, George Sanders played the similarly suave detective Gay Laurence (Americanized to Lawrence) in the first Falcon films before giving way to his older brother Tom Conway in the aptly titled fourth feature The Falcon's Brother (1942). Conway then played Tom Lawrence a total of nine more times through 1946 to complete the original series, which actually had three "poverty row" additions that featured John Calvert as Michael Waring in the late 1940's. Based on a story by Michael Arlen, the original entry in this "new" series titled The Gay Falcon (1941) not only featured Sanders but also actress Wendy Barrie, who'd appeared opposite the actor in three of the Templar mysteries including (Sanders's last) The Saint in Palm Springs (1941). The Falcon character was so similar to RKO's earlier B movie detective that The Saint's creator Leslie Charteris sued the studio.

Notorious in his high society circle as a ladies' man, Lawrence is also known (internationally) for his crime solving abilities as The Falcon. In fact, the police (usually a police inspector and 1-2 detectives) frequently utilize his deductive reasoning talents without paying him any compensation at all. Though he's naturally inquisitive and enjoys a challenge, The Falcon sometimes has no choice in helping the lawmen to solve their cases because his curiosity has led to his being arrested as a prime suspect! He then either negotiates his way out of jail to assist them or finds a way to facilitate an escape. But as a fugitive, of course, he solves the crime(s) so that he's back in good graces with the authorities (by the end of the movie). The Falcon usually has a sidekick (Goldy, Lefty, or Goldie Locke), as well as a houseboy in the earlier films. The emphasis in this series is as much comedy, the Falcon's wit and some slapstick, as it is mystery and detective work. The police characters are not taken seriously and are oftentimes the comic foils for the Falcon who, in addition to being arrested by the law, is also sometimes captured by the culprits he's pursuing, whereupon he has to figure out a way to be rescued (e.g. by his sidekick). Ultimately, not only does the Falcon solve the crime, but the criminals frequently end up dead (instead of having to face prosecution). Many times, the movies end with a lead-in to the next film in the series via an hysterical female beckoning to the Falcon.

Irving Reis directed the first three films in the series; although you may not know this director by name, his movies include (among others): One Crowded Night (1940), Crack-Up (1946), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), a Cary Grant-Myrna Loy-Shirley Temple comedy that earned writer Sidney Sheldon his Academy Award (on his only Oscar nomination), and All My Sons (1948). After having worked together on two Saint screenplays, writers Lynn Root and Frank Fenton scripted these first three Falcon pictures - The Gay Falcon (1941), A Date with the Falcon (1941) - which also features Miss Barrie, and The Falcon Takes Over (1942), based on the Raymond Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely which the studio later used to make Murder, My Sweet (1944) featuring former hoofer Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe.

Throughout the series, some notable writers, directors, and actors who participated in the series included Edward Dmytryk, who directed Conway's first solo effort (The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)) and would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for directing Crossfire (1947); Oscar nominated screenwriter Fred Niblo Jr. (The Criminal Code (1931)), thrice Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Gladys Cooper, Best Supporting Actor nominee James Gleason (Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)) and Arthur Shields as police inspectors, slick talking wise guys Allen Jenkins and Edward Brophy as The Falcon's sidekick; Willie Fung, Keye Luke, and Richard Loo as The Falcon's servants, Edgar Kennedy, Miss America 1941 - Rosemary La Planche, Isabel Jewell, Barbara Hale (who would win an Emmy award for her role opposite Raymond Burr's Perry Mason) appeared in two features, Lyle Talbot, writer George Worthing Yates (who wrote the story that was made into Them! (1954)), Martha Vickers who appeared as Lauren Bacall's sister in Chandler's The Big Sleep (1946) when Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe, Nestor Paiva and Veda Ann Borg play Goldie-like sidekicks in two different films, future two time Emmy winner Sheldon Leonard, screenwriter Ben Markson, King Kong's original promoter Carl Denham - actor Robert Armstrong, writer-director Leo's younger brother Ray McCarey directed one, writer Manuel Seff, Vince Barnett, Jane Greer, Elisha Cook Jr., and Robert Warwick. Additionally, appearing uncredited were Hans Conreid (in the first three), the ever present (John Ford company regular) Ward Bond, and Anne Revere before she would win her Best Supporting Actress Oscar (out of three nominations) playing Elizabeth Taylor's mother in National Velvet (1944). Some other series regulars included Cliff Clark, Edward Gargan and Eddie Dunn as policemen, Jane Randolph, Rita Corday, Joan Barclay, Amelita Ward, Jean Brooks, and Mona Maris as some of the Falcon's many women, Emory Parnell, and Jason Robards Sr..

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© 2007 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog


 

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