Judge Bill Gibron was once the comic relief sidekick for a private dick named The Titmouse.
Debonair…and detecting his butt off.
Someone once said that a mystery is only as good as it denouement. Others argue that a whodunit can succeed despite a specious explanation if the detective work, or the individual conducting it, keeps us on our entertainment toes. And then there is The Falcon, a combination of the two which attempts to turn a playboy with a bent for solving crimes into a slick society hero. As originally portrayed, the character was a lot like Simon Templar, aka The Saint (more on this in a moment). Over time, he would grow into his own semi-unique brand, an intriguing gentleman private eye type who would run around nightclubs drinking and detecting. As his popularity grew, so did the need to expand his storyline horizons. Thus we get the first two films on this second DVD set from the Warner Archive. Instead of keeping The Falcon in familiar territory, he became more international, and as a result, more hit and miss.
Still, there's something to be said for these engaging efforts. There are six offerings on this two disc set and they represent the final entries by RKO before they sold the rights to Film Classics (they in turn would go on to make three more). As he did in the previous four films, Tom Conway (Prince Valiant), George Sanders' (All About Eve) real life brother, plays the sibling of the original Falcon (a role Sanders originated). Unlike his far more famous bro, Conway takes a bit of getting used to. He definitely grows into the character, though he's well on his way to owning it here. Almost always along for the ride is Goldie (played by five different actors over the years), a kind of shlubby Man Friday to the Falcon's suave sophisticate. In an interesting side note, Saint creator Leslie Charteris thought the character was so similar to his that he sued for plagiarism and took every opportunity to take shots at the series. Naturally, each title offered their own unique characters and comely femme fatales.
Here's a brief rundown of each film, as well as a mini-review:
The Falcon Out West (Score: 71)
Since Westerns were popular throughout the first 70 years of filmmaking, it makes sense to transplant the series out onto the range. Unfortunately, the transplant won't take. Sure, the mystery has some meat, but there's too much local color, too much ancillary oater froufrou to keep us from staying fully invested. Champion remains a cad, even if he's outside his glitzy Manhattan element.
The Falcon in Mexico (Score: 72)
You guessed it—Speedy Gonzales is a more sensitive portrait of Mexican heritage than some of the borderline hate crimes passing as characters here. While not horribly offensive, the taxi driver and his son (offered up clearly for comic relief) do tread tenderly on our current pro-PC beliefs. The story is still pretty good, even if we don't really find ourselves detecting along.
The Falcon in Hollywood (Score: 81)
Now this is more like it. Lawrence fits right in with the old school Tinseltown archetypes, especially the domineering German director and the crazy female lead with a penchant for wardrobe changes. Even better, we get a replacement for the character's typical sidekick, Goldie (who didn't appear in the previous films, oddly enough). As Billie, a female cab driver, Veda Ann Borg is a scene-stealing hoot.
The Falcon in San Francisco (Score: 80)
Ah…kids in peril. Even the Falcon will stoop that low. Still Goldie returns, and the tyke they hire to play the potential victim is a decent child actor. Of course, many will simply enjoy the solid mystery, with enough red herrings and plot twists to give Agatha Christie fits. In fact, one's enjoyment of these basic B-movies will be directly related to how well the story sells its crime question marks.
The Falcon's Alibi (Score: 75)
With a killer whose decidedly creepy and a darker edge to the atmosphere, this is as close as the series gets to being a decent example of film noir. We get Goldie again (this time played by a different actor, Vincent Barnett, who's barely serviceable), a weird group of party guests, and a decent denouement. Many critics love this installment. Yours truly was only moderately entertained.
The Falcon's Adventure (Score: 61)
While it tries to be all modern and nuclear age, this installment of the series is one of the weakest. It's just so dull and contrived, especially when it gets to the who and why-dunit. We can see some of the answers from miles away, and the plot holes are big enough to house a Florida swamp.
Since this is a Warner's manufactured DV-R set, the tech specs are a bit specious. Not on the audio and video side of things. The 1.33:1 black and white image is excellent, not overly soft and frequently quite dynamic. Of course, there are times when things are merely shades of gray, but the overall look is of something relatively new, not old and rotting. As for the sound, there is very little that can be done with tinny mid '40s soundtracks. There's minor distortion and some occasional overmodulating, but for the most part, the aural aspects of this release are solid. The same can't be said for the added content…and that's because there is none. This is a bare bones set, with nary a trailer to be found.
In light of today's tormented private dicks, someone like The Falcon seems frilly and foolish. He's so slick he can barely handle a highball glass. Still, as a replacement for his brother, Tom Conway does George Sanders proud. He carries on the mystery movie tradition with just enough nuance to help us appreciate the difference. The six films here are hardly classics, but they do represent a nice, nominal cinematic diversion. You may be able to figure out whodunit rather quickly. Luckily, the Falcon and his cohorts are engaging enough to help you through the rest of the clues.
Not guilty! But not that great, either. A decent example of Hollywood
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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