James GleasonLynn BariWard BondTurhan Bey
The Falcon Takes Over
Medium: film
Year: 1942
Director: Irving Reis
Writer: Lynn Root, Frank Fenton, Raymond Chandler, Michael Arlen
Keywords: Farewell My Lovely, detective
Country: USA
Actor: George Sanders, Lynn Bari, James Gleason, Allen Jenkins, Helen Gilbert, Ward Bond, Edward Gargan, Anne Revere, George Cleveland, Harry Shannon, Hans Conried, Turhan Bey, Pedro de Cordoba, Charlie Hall, Selmar Jackson, Mickey Simpson
Format: 65 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034716/
Website category: Other
Review date: 2 March 2010
Disappointing, despite the fact that I'd had no real expectations. I don't mind the way it's carving Raymond Chandler's original novel right down to the bone, but I did become tired of all the comedy sidekicks.
Firstly, a bit of background. This was the third Falcon movie, after The Gay Falcon (no, really) and A Date with the Falcon (it's getting worse). It stars George Sanders as the Falcon, aka. Gay Lawrence (I've run out of comments), a gentleman detective who's so obviously a copy of the Saint that Leslie Charteris sued. However Sanders was getting tired of playing the lead in B-movies and quit the franchise with the next film, upon which his brother Tom Conway replaced him and so the series continued on the way to lasting sixteen movies. This particular instalment was adapted from Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely, which makes it both the first ever Chandler movie adaptation and the only Falcon film that's based on a novel.
As a Raymond Chandler adaptation it's thin, but only a madman would have expected anything else. Look at that running time. Compare it with the likes of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and you'll realise it's actually a good deal better than it might have been. It's kept some of the character names and plot points. Things happen in the right order. Obviously they've missed out an awful lot of the story, but their abbreviated version is easier to follow and at least they haven't shot the plot full of holes in shredding it like this. I even like some of their changes. For instance it works very well that the reason for the Falcon's lack of information to be that he wasn't hired by Moose Malloy to find Velma, but instead is snooping off his own bat.
I also love what they're doing with Moose Malloy. There's nothing particularly special about Ward Bond's performance, but what's great is the way the film's using him. He's like Frankenstein's monster! This Malloy's a beast on the loose, rampaging through the cast and destroying pretty much anything he looks at. Look at the low camera angle they introduce him with. Look at the way he blunders into that club in the opening sequence, by which point we already know there's going to be murder. It's practically a horror movie when this guy's around, which as with Rathbone's Holmes films tends to be when these films are at their strongest.
In fact, I quite like this film when it's being an adaptation. Turhan Bey appears with a turban and a crystal ball as a particularly exotic Jules Amthor. Anne Revere's quite good as Jessie Florian. Helen Gilbert is unspeakable as Velma, but she gets so little to do that her wooden acting doesn't hurt the film as much as you'd think. Cut out the comedy sidekicks and you'd get this film down to a lean fifteen minutes with a memorable Moose Malloy, the odd additional good bit and a limp dishrag of an ending. That's pretty respectable, once you've set your expectations to "1940s programmer". For instance I like the idea of Lindsey Marriot trying to kill the Falcon before getting murdered himself, which is an interesting surprise for those who already know the story.
However those sidekicks. Yowch.
Sidekick #1 is Jonathan "Goldie" Locke, a regular in this series and here played by Officer Dibble from Top Cat. No, really. Look him up. The actor's name is Allen Jenkins. I liked him at first, but his Moose-terror soon got annoying and I just didn't see any point in the character beyond the usual convention that a detective will have an assistant. Poirot has Hastings, Charlie Chan had his assorted sons and so on. I don't remember the Saint having a sidekick, but that's probably just my faulty memory. Anyway, here Jenkins is playing the kind of character who'll say, "Something tells me this ain't gonna be no joyride."
Sidekick #2 is Lynn Bari, a wannabe reporter who's following the Falcon around because she wants a story. She also fancies him. I quite liked Bari, who's cute in her scene with that policeman, but there's no reason for her character to be there. She's entirely extraneous. The producers just wanted their film to have a pretty girl.
Sidekick #3 is the guy who reminded me of Jim Broadbent, who's the sidekick to Inspector Michael O'Hara. Yes, even the policemen in this film have comedy sidekicks. This is another series regular, Detective Bates, while his boss O'Hara is played by James Gleason, who took the role in two Falcon films, as well as being in Arsenic and Old Lace.
That's a lot of sidekicks, all of whom are actively detracting from the story. It's a Falcon film, yes. This has dissuaded me from embarking on a Falcon marathon. However it has to be said that George Sanders is a strong leading man, even if here he's basically playing a cartoon. He can do light comedy and urbane sleaze with the best of them, but he's arguably more of a villain by type and he knows how to use his size. The main thing that distinguishes his Falcon from all the other dilettante gentleman detectives (the Bruce Wayne school, shall we say) is the fact that he's such a roue. He'll openly leer over anything in a skirt, he regards saliva-swapping as a form of introduction and he'll abandon his fiance at the airport because a bunch of showgirls have walked in the door. From many actors this would have become well-nigh unwatchable, but Sanders is so shameless in his sexism that he somehow makes it seem charming. At times it's so one-note that it almost becomes self-parody, at which point one remembers all those "Gay" references and starts wondering if the lady doth protest too much. This is a man who lives a playboy life with his butler and his (ahem) best friend Goldie Locke, with a fiancee who's often mentioned but never seen.
He also has good points as a detective. I appreciated the way they allowed him twice to make incorrect assumptions.
Is it noir? Hell, no. It gives you a clear idea of the Falcon formula, for the sake of which Raymond Chandler's book is being sliced to within an inch of its life. However in fairness all that attempted comedy does occasionally hit the mark, so for instance the "starting a fight in a club" scene made me laugh. Moose Molloy is a monster, George Sanders is almost creepily smooth and the film is in almost every sense just a TV episode on the big screen. I'll finish with one last anecdote, which has nothing to do with the film but gave me the shivers and so I thought it was worth passing on anyway. Sanders committed suicide in 1972 aged 65, leaving a suicide note that began, "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored." He'd suffered a stroke, he was drinking heavily and his health was deteriorating. The creepy bit though is that David Niven says Sanders had predicted in 1937, aged 31, that he would commit suicide at the age of 65...