Classic Movies

The Falcon takes over


In a half-hour, Turner Classic Movies is going to treat viewers to a staggering mini-marathon of classic B-pictures featuring the famed literary sleuth created by Michael Arlen—The Falcon. The character made his debut in a short story (Gay Falcon) published in a 1940 issue of Town & Country, and soon appeared in a film with that the same title starring the silver screen’s most delightful cad, George Sanders. (I should note here that the short story’s title refers to the character—full name: Gay Stanhope Falcon—rather than the sleuth’s sexual preferences; R-K-O confused things further by changing the Falcon’s name to Gay Lawrence.)

Lynn Bari, James Gleason, and George Sanders in The Falcon Takes Over (1942)

Prior to the Falcon series, Sanders had been playing another famous detective in a series of films based on the character of Simon Templar, a.k.a. “The Saint,” created by author Leslie Charteris. Charteris had sold R-K-O the rights to his character three years earlier, at which time the first film in the Saint series, The Saint in New York (1938) was released (this film did not feature Sanders; instead, Louis Hayward played the role of Templar), but the author had since recovered the rights and because the studio and Charteris could not come to an agreement, R-K-O went ahead and started up the Falcon series. The Falcon films so successfully mimicked the Saint formula that Charteris sued the studio for plagiarism (he later took a shot at the character in his 1943 novel The Saint Steps In by having a character call The Falcon “a bargain-basement imitation”) but by 1942 it didn’t really matter much because Sanders, weary of B-films, announced he was quitting the series altogether. The decision was made to replace Sanders with his real-life brother, Tom Conway (as Tom Lawrence), as his replacement—both men appearing in The Falcon’s Brother (1942) in order to make the switch. Conway appeared in nine more Falcon entries after that before R-K-O called it a wrap; the character was briefly brought back to life in a trio of mysteries starring John Calvert (as Michael Waring, the name the Falcon used on radio) and produced by the independent Falcon Pictures Company.

Veda Ann Borg, Tom Conway, and Barbara Hale in one of my favorites of the Conway Falcons: The Falcon in Hollywood (1944).

Except for the three Calvert films and 1946’s The Falcon’s Alibi (it’s a shame TCM left this one out—it features TDOY fave Elisha Cook, Jr. as a homicidal D.J.) and The Falcon’s Adventure, all of the Falcon films will be shown…and you can be sure the resident DVD recorder at Rancho Yesteryear will be working overtime to get all of them (save Gay Falcon and The Falcon Strikes Back, which I already have—this means I won’t have to get up as early and can get a breakfast break). Here’s the scheduled lineup:

06:00 AM The Gay Falcon (1942)
07:15 AM A Date with the Falcon (1941)
08:30 AM The Falcon Takes Over (1942)
09:45 AM The Falcon’s Brother (1942)
11:00 AM The Falcon Strikes Back (1943)
12:15 PM The Falcon in Danger (1943)
01:30 PM The Falcon and the Co-Eds (1944)
02:45 PM The Falcon Out West (1944)
04:00 PM The Falcon in Mexico (1944)
05:15 PM The Falcon in Hollywood (1944)
06:30 PM The Falcon in San Francisco (1945)

Props go out to Doc Quatermass for e-mailing me this reminder, by the way.

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