Glitz and glamour, suave gentlemen and lovely ladies that is what you'll get with The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection Volume 1, a set of the first seven movies in the franchise. These detective films aren't so much about who dunnit as they are about watching The Falcon (George Sanders, later replaced by Tom Conway) go to night clubs and parties and staying one step ahead of the police. It's a case where the chase is more important than the solution. Warner Archives has done a great job bringing this fun and enjoyable franchise to home video.
RKO had a hit with their series of B-movies featuring The Saint staring George Sanders. The only problem was that they had to pay royalties to the detective's creator Leslie Charteris. Instead, the bought a cheaper property, The Falcon, a character created by Michael Arlen. They changed the character around a bit to make him more like wise-cracking Saint and voila! a new series that costs a lot less money. (The two characters were so similar that Leslie Charteris sued for plagerism.)
In the films The Falcon is a suave and debonair gentleman who is also an adventurer and amateur detective. He's famous, with women in distress frequently coming up to him and asking for his help. (They recognize him from his frequent headlines in the newspapers.)
The Falcon movies aren't about reality; they're about looking good and giving an enjoyable hour's worth of entertainment. The detective has no means of supporting himself or his staff, in one film he admits that he doesn't have a job, but you're not supposed to worry about that any more than you're supposed to wonder what his nickname means. (How he got that alias is never revealed. In the short story that inspired the franchise, his name was Gay (short for Gaylord) Falcon, which explains his nickname. You can read the story on-line here. http://thenostalgialeague.com/olmag/arlen-gay-falcon.html In the movies he's Gay Lawrence, which makes the handle a mystery.) He's a smooth, well dressed man of adventure who's often in the papers for his daring exploits.
George Sanders created the role and played The Falcon in the first four films. The actor wanted to branch out and rise above B-grade pictures and so in the fourth installment, The Falcon's Brother, the detective work gets passed on to Gay's brother, Tom Lawrence. In a nice move RKO cast Sanders real-life brother in the role of Tom, and if anything Sanders' sibling does a better job.
The films included in this collection are:
The Gay Falcon (1941): A title that's guaranteed to cause laughter in middle school kids, this is the first filmed adventure of Gaylord Lawrence (George Sanders), or more popularly known as The Falcon. As the movie opens, Gay has promised his socialite fiancée Elinor Benford (Nina Vale billed as Anne Hunter) that he'll give up chasing women and "crime solutions." He rents an office in a high rise and hangs out his shingle as a stock broker.
That promise doesn't last long when a beautiful woman, Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie), appeals to The Falcon for help. Helen works for Maxine Wood (Gladys Cooper) who is known across New York for her parties. The only trouble is that several prominent guests have had their jewelry stolen while attending her soirées. She's afraid if it happens again she'll be a social pariah.
Needless to say, The Falcon can't turn down a woman in distress and goes to the party where a woman, mistaking him for someone else, gives him her $100,000 diamond ring. When the lady ends up being shot 10 minutes later and Gay's assistant, an ex-crook named 'Goldie' Locke (Allen Jenkins), is the only witness to the crime. The Falcon is up to his bow tie in trouble.
A fun flick, George Sanders fits well into the role which is no surprise since it's very reminiscent of the Saint movies. This first Falcon outing doesn't quite have the zip of the Saint movies however. Guy isn't quite as confident as Simon Templar but he makes up for it by chasing women with a lot of vigor.
Nina Vale, who plays The Falcon's fiancée, only appeared in three movies if the IMDB is correct, and it's clear to see why from this performance. The women that The Falcon attaches himself to in these films are always jealous and wary of his wandering eye, but Vale makes her character seem bossy and domineering rather than just trying to keep her man. Every time she's on screen I would scratch my head and wonder what Gay saw in her and mentally shouted "Run away!"
The same can't be said of the rest of the supporting cast. Wendy Barrie is delightful, stunningly gorgeous but also fun and light. Allen Jenkins adds a nice touch of comedy as Gay's recently hired assistant.
A Date with the Falcon (1942): In the follow-up adventure Gay is now engaged to Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie), the women in distress from the last movie. (That's a nice bit of continuity... there are several small things like that throughout the series.) The pair are about to take a plane to meet her parents when a mystery pops up. The inventor of a synthetic diamond formula has been kidnapped, and a beautiful woman contacts The Falcon about selling the technique. There's no way that Gay can leave the city with something like that going on, there's too much change to show up Inspector O'Hara (James Gleason) and his bumbling right-hand man Detective Brody (Edward Gargan).
George Sanders feels more at ease in the role in this film, and Wendy Barrie is delightful again, this time as the jealous finance. This film also sees the introduction of Edward Gargan as the not-too-bright Detective Brody. He'll play the role in the following five films in this set too, the only actor who does so. He's a great comic relief and a thorn in the captain's side (no matter who plays the role). His introduction sets the tone for the character. He's assigned to guard the scientist who created the synthetic diamond formula, dr. Sampsom, but the man isn't in his lab when he arrives. He calls headquarters and informs them, and tells the captain that Sampsom must have lost something and been in a hurry since he torn his lab apart looking for the item. Oh, and he's forgetful since he obviously forgot the combination to his safe and so he blew it open. Brody is used sparingly, but effectively through the rest of the movies in this collection.
The Falcon Takes Over (1942): This time The Falcon's fiancée is off on a trip so he's left to his own devices, which naturally involves a pretty woman and a mystery. An escaped convict, Moose Malloy (Ward Bond), goes to a fancy club looking for his old girl friend Velma. He gets into a fight and kills the manager with his bare hands, then sets off in search of his girl, hijacking Goldie who is waiting for The Falcon in his car. This piques Gay's interest and while he's investigating discovers that the crimes don't stop there.
This adventure was a notch or two above the previous entries in the series. The plotting is tighter and the mystery more interesting, and that's because the movie is based on the book "Farewell, My Lovely." Added to that is an appearance by Ward Bond, supporting actor in a lot of John Ford westerns, who brings an air of menace to the villain. The lack of a fiancée constantly nagging The Falcon, though it's often amusing, also makes for a darker film.
The Falcon's Brother (1942): The hat gets passed to a new amateur detective in this film. When someone steals the identity of The Falcon's brother, Tom Lawrence, then ends up getting killed, Gay is determined to find out what happened, aided by the real Tom (played by George Sanders real-life brother Tom Conway). The Falcon gets a little too close however and the criminals run Gay over with a car, leaving him in a coma. Though the doctor assures Tom Gay will be right as rain in a couple of days, Tom starts investigating just who was behind the attack. He starts by wooing a reporter, Marcia Brooks (Jane Randolph), and eventually uncovers a spy ring operating in the US. Meanwhile Gay recovers and stumbles upon the same group of enemy agents and both brothers discover an insidious plot that has to be stopped.
This film did a great job of padding the baton to a new actor. Both characters had a good amount of screen time allowing viewers to warm to the new Falcon while still enjoying the presence of the original. The ending actually took me by surprise, and worked much better than I thought it would. While it's neither the best written nor the most puzzling mystery in this collection, it is my favorite installment.
The Falcon Strikes Back (1943): In Tom Conway's first solo outing as The Falcon, the detective helps yet another woman in distress, much to the dismay of his finance, Marcia Brooks (Jane Randolph the reporter from the last film). No good deed goes unpunished and Tom gets knocked out as soon as the investigation starts. He wakes up in his car, in the middle of nowhere, and soon discovers that he's been identified as the man who murdered a banker and stole thousands of dollars worth of war bonds. Taking Goldie with him, The Falcon hides out at an old rustic lodge, where he discovers the woman who framed him. Before he can get any answers out of her, she ends up dead too, leaving The Falcon in quite a mess.
Tom Conway does an excellent job as The Falcon. Truth be told, he's better at it than his brother. Conway is just a bit better looking, making it more believable when he kisses a girl and she swoons, and he's more care-free. He approaches the role in the same manner that Sanders did, but The Falcon is smoother and more debonair with Conway.
There are some great supporting actors in this film to help the newcomer out. Harriet Hilliard (of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet fame) manages to turn The Falcon's head and Edgar Kennedy plays an opinionated puppeteer.
The Falcon in Danger (1943): This is one of the most unusual mysteries included in this collection. The adventure starts when a place carrying a rich industrialist and his assistant who is carrying $100,000 worth of bonds crashes upon landing in New York. When the rescue crew arrives they discover that the plane is empty. No industrialist, no pilot. The attractive daughter of the missing tycoon Nancy Palmer (Elaine Shepard) received a ransom note telling her not to go to the police so she turns to The Falcon... much to the dismay of his current fiancée, Texas heiress Bonnie Caldwell (Amelita Ward who puts on an atrocious southern accent).
There are fewer gags in this film, but the mystery is quite compelling. It plays out more like an episode of Banacek than a B-movie. There are a number of suspects and some red herrings too. Overall it's a solid entry in the series.
The Falcon and the Co-eds (1943): The Falcon ends up at an elite finishing school surrounded by young, attractive ladies in the last film in this collection. When Jane Harris (Amelita Ward again, this time without the accent) travels to
This film strays away from the formula a bit. There is no over-protective fiancée and no amusing sidekick for The Falcon. There are fewer jokes and it was a little odd seeing the female leads from the previous movie in this film too but playing different characters (especially since they'd carried over The Falcon's love interests from on film to the next previously.) It's still a fun, enjoyable film... for the most part. My only real complaint is that the director, William Clemens, was trying to make something more than a B-film and his stylistic touches didn't work. He starts the film off with waves majestically crashing against rocks, and includes a similar seen (that goes on for too long) near the climax of the film. He also tries some fancy editing that's just distracting, like when The Falcon in talking to a room full of suspects and he makes rapid cuts, less than a second each, showing all of their faces. Luckily these flairs were few and far between.
These seven movies are contained on three single-sided DVDs which are housed in a single-width triple keepcase.
The mono soundtrack is provided and it sounds fine. There's nothing really exceptionally good or bad about it.
The full frame image looks very good. These movies haven't been restored but they come from very nice prints with minimal damage. Yeah, there are occasional spots or flecks of dirt, but they're infrequent. The contrast is good and so is the level of detail.
The only complaint I have is that there is some edge enhancement in some scenes. It wasn't always there, but there were a couple of spots where it was very apparent to me, though my wife didn't notice it at all.
These are light, fun B-movies. Both George Sanders and his brother Tom Conway do a wonderful job in the role of The Falcon, and the supporting cast is always good. Each of these run about an hour, and watching them is an enjoyable way to spend part of an afternoon. The Warner Archives MOD discs look very good too. Well worth picking up, this set gets a strong Recommendation.