Friday, November 20, 2009

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.)

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.

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:

6:00 AM Gay Falcon, The (1942)

A society sleuth tries to break up an insurance scam. Cast: George Sanders, Wendy Barrie, Gladys Cooper. Dir: Irving Reis. BW-67 mins, TV-G, CC

7:15 AM Date With The Falcon, A (1941)

The gentleman detective postpones his wedding to find a cache of stolen diamonds. Cast: George Sanders, Wendy Barrie, James Gleason. Dir: Irving Reis. BW-63 mins, TV-G

8:30 AM Falcon Takes Over, The (1942)

A society sleuth and a lady reporter try to track down a murderous thug's lost girlfriend. Cast: George Sanders, Lynn Bari, Ward Bond. Dir: Irving Reis. BW-63 mins, TV-G

9:45 AM Falcon's Brother, The (1942)

A gentlemanly detective calls on his brother to help him stop the Nazis from assassinating a key diplomat. Cast: George Sanders, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph. Dir: Stanley Logan. BW-63 mins, TV-G

11:00 AM Falcon Strikes Back, The (1943)

A society sleuth is framed for murder by criminals running a war-bond racket. Cast: Tom Conway, Harriet Hilliard, Edgar Kennedy. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. BW-66 mins, TV-G

12:15 PM Falcon In Danger, The (1943)

A society sleuth tracks a lost plane carrying $100,000. Cast: Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Elaine Shepard. Dir: William Clemens. BW-70 mins, TV-G

1:30 PM Falcon And The Co-Eds, The (1944)

A society sleuth investigates murder at a girls' school. Cast: Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell. Dir: William Clemens. BW-68 mins, TV-G

2:45 PM Falcon Out West, The (1944)

A society sleuth turns cowboy to investigate a Texas murder. Cast: Tom Conway, Carole Gallagher, Barbara Hale. Dir: William Clemens. BW-64 mins,

4:00 PM Falcon In Mexico, The (1944)

A society sleuth travels South of the border to investigate an art dealer's murder. Cast: Tom Conway, Mona Maris, Martha MacVicar. Dir: William Berke. BW-70 mins, TV-G

5:15 PM Falcon In Hollywood, The (1944)

A society sleuth tours the movie capital, where he uncovers an actor's murder. Cast: Tom Conway, Barbara Hale, Sheldon Leonard. Dir: Gordon Douglas. BW-67 mins, TV-G, CC

6:30 PM Falcon In San Francisco, The (1945)

A society sleuth enlists a little girl's help in nabbing a mob of silk smugglers. Cast: Tom Conway, Rita Corday, Sharyn Moffett. Dir: Joseph H. Lewis. BW-66 mins, TV-G

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

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Pam said...

I had forgotten that Tom Conway is Sanders brother. I've been listening to some of these movies in the background while working and was confused when I heard a young George Sanders voice coming from not a young George Sanders. Your post explained it.

J.C. Loophole said...

My own DVR is working overtime today for the very same reason. I am hoping I can transfer to a disc or something later so as not to loose them.
And thanks for the heads up about the two entries missing from today's line- I can now be on the lookout for those.
Now if I can have my fondest wish for a Philo Vance marathon sometime soon (esp. the Powell entries)...

Hoppy Uniatz said...

Charteris had not "recovered the rights" from RKo. That only happened after he sued them and they settled out of court.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Charteris had not "recovered the rights" from RKo. That only happened after he sued them and they settled out of court.

My understanding is that Charteris sued the studio for plagiarism; so why would R-K-O commit such an act if they still had the rights to the character? There wouldn't be any reason for them to start production of the Falcon series if they could have continued to make Saint pictures.

I defer to your knowledge on the subject, Hoppy, since you'll forget more about it than I'll ever learn--but with your version of events, the chronology doesn't quite jibe.

Laura said...

I've nearly filled an eight-hour tape with these and have more to transfer from the DVR to tape tomorrow. Thanks for the summary! Lots of fun leading ladies in these -- Jane Randolph, Lynn Bari, and Barbara Hale.

Interesting that Wendy Barrie also appeared in some of Sanders' SAINT movies.

Best wishes,

Hoppy Uniatz said...


I don't want this to develop into a saga but thank you for your kind comment.

For the record,

RKO first got notice of Leslie's law suit on 29th August 1945 but the relationship between both parties had been deteriorating for a while.

The first Falcon film was released in October 1941, RKO released The Saint's Vacation (the first Hugh Sinclair film)in May 1941, following it with The Saint Meets the Tiger in December 1943.

RKO basically released a number of Falcon pictures and a couple of Saints before Leslie started legal proceedings against them. The interesting thing is that if you look at the archive Leslie made what I think is a surprising effort to reconcile with RKO prior to actually filing suit.


Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...


Thanks for filling me in on the particulars...and for keeping the "saga" short and sweet.

For those of you who are curious as to why Hoppy is the go-to guy on all matters Charteris, I recommend you check out his blog.

Stacia said...

I have a pile of disks from recording this marathon of Falcon films! Remember that guy on ramp-f who complained all the time that TCM showed movies in a series all at once instead of once a day or something? Silly man.