If I can devour the Netflix series, Reacher, in short order and listen to my friends talk about binging on the latest greatest shows streaming online then surely I can crash my way through RKO’s Falcon series of 13 films that ran from 1941 to 1946 in just a few days. They starred George Sanders to kickstart the series before turning it over to his real life brother, Tom Conway, in the fourth film. No matter who took the lead, the character inevitably found himself tangled up in a murder that the police are sure he committed so he’s off to solve each case on his own with a little help from any number of sidekicks and a truckload of beautiful women.
The films were based on a story written by author Michael Arlen in 1940. The lead character Gay Stanhope Falcon was an adventurer of sorts and just interesting enough for Hollywood to step in and adapt the character to the screen. The character was renamed Gay Lawrence and with George Sanders cast he was turned into an English gentleman on the fringes of high society with an eye for the ladies and well known by the local police force. Having just starred in 5 films as The Saint, Simon Templar, Sanders played a similar role here until he bowed out of the series.
I’m not looking to break each film down but rather highlight them, the actors and the crew attributed to each film. Maybe a little trivia as we go. The fact that they all clock in between 60 and 69 minutes admittedly made the binging go fast and smooth. Thankfully I’ve picked them up on DVD via a two volume set issued by the Warner Archive Collection.
The Gay Falcon (1941) Sanders plays the debonair ladies man of high society who dabbles in murder cases. The series opener involves jewel thieves leaving bodies behind. Sanders is up to his neck in dames and double crosses. He’s accompanied by a flirtatious Wendy Barrie, sidekick Allen Jenkins, shifty Turhan Bey and a pair of bumbling coppers, Arthur Shields and Edward Brophy. For more on the series debut click here as it was a film I featured in 2014 shortly after beginning Mike’s Take.
A Date With the Falcon (1941) and The Falcon Takes Over (1942) were previously featured here back in 2016. In Date, Allen Jenkins and Wendy Barrie return and the addition of James Gleason never does any film serious harm. Falcon Takes Over might be the most interesting film of the entire series as it’s really an adaptation of Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely dropping Philip Marlowe in favor of The Falcon with Ward Bond surfacing as Moose Malloy looking to find his Velma (Helen Gilbert). Joining in the fun is Lynn Bari, Turhan Bey, James Gleason and once again Allen Jenkins as the comical sidekick to Sanders. The third film of the series proved the end for director Irving Reis who had helmed the entire series up to this point.
The Falcon’s Brother (1942)
The fourth of the series might be cinema’s most unique passing of the torch. A film in which real life bro Tom Conway turns up and does most of the sleuthing while Sanders plays second fiddle but ends up the hero while at the same time bidding adieu to the series and moving forward with a solid career playing both villains and heroes with an equal amount of disdain for those around him. He would win himself an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor opposite Bette Davis in the unforgettable All About Eve (1950). Stanley Logan assumed the director’s chair, Jane Randolph costars and even Keye Luke turns up giving us his Lee Chan act from the Charlie Chan series. So one brother passes off his role to his sibling. Can you imagine if we had gotten that scenario in the late 60’s when Sean Connery was tiring of his association with 007? We could have gotten his younger brother Neil to assume the role. Had that happened Neil wouldn’t have had to star in knock off spy films to capitalize on his brother’s success.
The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)
Back to the series with Conway soloing from here forward in The Falcon Strikes Back. Very refreshing to see Richard Loo playing a good guy role and not being stereotyped either. Murder and stolen bonds are the key plot points in this series entry directed by Edward Dmytryk who would helm some big budget projects in the 50’s like The Young Lions with Brando, Schell, Clift and Dino. Jane Randolph and Rita Corday turn up for the mystery and fun.
The Falcon In Danger (1943)
Director William Clemens took over the next three “episodes” of the series beginning with The Falcon In Danger. This proved an enjoyable mystery in the series when a plane crash lands at an airport with nary a single person or pilot on the plane. There’s a mystery here and who better than The Falcon to discover where the missing millionaire can be located and the reasons behind his disappearance. Series semi-regular Edward Gargan turns up as the police inspector who is always at odds with The Falcon. Elaine Shepard, Jean Brooks and Amelita Ward are the young RKO starlets on hand for this entry.
The Falcon and the Co-Eds (1943)
Not to be confused with Bud and Lou’s Here Come the Co-Eds, this time out Conway’s playboy The Falcon finds himself surrounded by a bevy of RKO starlets when a supposed suicide might actually be a murder at an all girl’s school. Series regulars Jean Brooks, Amelita Ward, Rita Corday and Edward Gargan turn up on campus in this eerie entry.
Like most “B” film series of the day it’s time for The Falcon to hit the road and bring his sleuthing skills along with him.
The Falcon Out West (1944)
When Texas ranch owner, Lyle Talbot, turns up dead from a mysterious rattlesnake bite on a nightclub dancefloor, The Falcon, steps in to help solve this befuddling case. So he’s off to Texas via the Hollywood backlot joined by the eventual Miss Della Street (Barbara Hale), Joan Barclay, Edward Gargan, and an attractive blonde named Carol Gallagher who I’ve learned was Mrs. Dick Foran around this time. She’d only appear in 2 films. The other an Allan “Rocky” Lane western titled The Denver Kid released in 1948.
The Falcon In Mexico (1944)
One of two films in the series directed by William Berke finds The Falcon south of the border where he’s trying to solve a murder and find out if a long dead painter is still alive allowing for more of his “works” to be discovered and sold at a high price on the market. Character actor Nestor Paiva does well serving as The Falcon’s Man Friday accompanied by Emory Parnell, sexy Martha Vickers and Miss Mona Maris. I remember Parnell best as a travelling salesman from the Ma and Pa Kettle series where he’s always being outwitted by the slow talking Percy Kilbride’s Pa.
The Falcon In Hollywood (1944)
I’d number this as one of the better outings for Tom Conway in the series and that may have something to do with Sheldon Leonard turning up in a tailor made role as a gangster in movie town. There’s murder on a movie set and The Falcon just happens to be there. Plenty of suspects are in town including the movie’s producer, John Abbott. Veda Ann Borg scores high marks as a female cabbie who’s never at a loss for a wisecrack when she joins Conway in solving the case. Barbara Hale is back as are Rita Corday, Jean Brooks and Emory Parnell. Cult fans will be quick to point out the name Robert Clarke in the billing. The young actor would go on to write, direct and star in the 1958 cult classic The Hideous Sun Demon. Hollywood was directed by the sure hand of Gordon Douglas who himself went on to a long and distinguished directing career working on a number of Alan Ladd and Frank Sinatra films among so many others including the sci-fi classic of 1954, Them!
The Falcon in San Francisco (1945).
A thoroughly enjoyable series entry when Conway and sidekick Edward Brophy meet a little girl on board a train played by Sharyn Moffett. Her guardian has been murdered and she claims she’s been held captive at her swank home on Nob Hill. Rita Corday is back again and I must point out in a different role each time. Here she’s little Sharyn’s older sister. One time conqueror of King King, Robert Armstrong, makes his only appearance in the series under the direction of Joseph H. Lewis. A man who would give us one of Noir’s all time classics’ The Big Combo (1952). Child actress Moffett was a regular at The Monster Bash convention that I regularly attend in Pennsylvania due to her appearance as the little girl in the Karloff/Lewton/Lugosi classic of 1945, The Body Snatcher. She recently passed away in December of 2021.
The Falcon’s Alibi (1946)
Are the Falcon films outright entries in the Noir genre? Not necessarily though the adaptation of Farewell My Lovely in the third film of the series is a clear indication they could be. The 12th film of the series also fit’s the Noir genre quite nicely. And why not considering it also stars Elisha Cook Jr. and Miss Jane Greer who was on the verge of becoming forever identified as possibly the greatest of all femme fatales in 1947’s Out of the Past. The best Noir of all? Could be. In one of the best of the series Conway gets caught up in a jewelry scam highlighted by Miss Greer’s singing at a local nightclub and her tormented marriage to a disc jockey played by an equally tormented Cook. Oscar winning director Leo McCarey’s younger brother Ray directed this feature with a Noir flare. Sadly it was one of his last productions. He’d pass in 1948 at the age of 44.
The Falcon’s Adventure (1947)
William Berke was back to direct the final of Conway’s Falcon efforts where he’s joined again by comic relief, Edward Brophy. Yes there’s another murder that might get pinned on The Falcon if he can’t turn up the real culprit but a little research on the film turned up something far more interesting. Conway’s leading lady in the film was Madge Meredith who’s career trajectory was about to take a turn for the worst on an epic scale and her story sounds like it would have made for a far better picture than Conway’s swan song to The Falcon proved to be. Here’s a cut and past thanks to the IMDB on Miss Meredith …….
On June 30, 1947, Madge Meredith was convicted and sentenced to prison for 5 years to life for complicity in an assault of her former manager, Nicholas D. Gianaclis, and his bodyguard, Verne V. Davis. Gianaclis and Davis testified that were beaten, kidnapped, and robbed by a group of men as they neared Meredith’s home in the Hollywood Hills. In March 1951, the California Assembly Interim Committee on Crime and Corrections issued an official report concluding that Meredith had been framed. The case was handled sloppily in court and inconsistent allegations by the perpetrators were overlooked by police. In July 1951, Gov. Earl Warren commuted her sentence to time served and issued a statement of disgust at how her trial had been handled. Mr. Gianaclis was found to have set-up Miss Meredith to gain ownership of her home. Following her release from Tehachapi, prison, the court ordered that Miss Meredith receive back ownership of her home from her accuser. Mr. Gianaclis, an immigrant from Greece, was afterwards denied U.S. citizenship by the U.S. Immigration Service.
The series continued for three more films with John Calvert in the role though the character was now known as Michael Waring and these were adapted from a totally different author, Drexel Drake, who also had a character in print known as The Falcon. Maybe I should start writing Jack Reacher novels but place him in a different time and setting. Maybe I’ll get a movie deal too.
Like any series of the day there are some entries that play better than others and while The Falcon won’t replace my love of the Charlie Chan films of the 30’s and 40’s they are easy to take and diverting enough for 60 odd minutes of entertainment of which both George Sanders and Tom Conway could usually be counted on to deliver.