Friday, July 10, 2015

A Date with the Falcon (1942)

A Date with the Falcon, released at the beginning of 1942, was the second film in RKO’s successful Falcon B-movie series. The studio had had considerable success with their cycle of B-movies based on Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, with George Sanders playing the hero Simon Templar. The problem was that Charteris wasn’t happy with the movies and pulled the plug on them. RKO promptly bought the rights to another remarkably similar character, The Falcon, and proceeded to make a series of Falcon movies. The Falcon series was effectively a continuation of the Saint series, with Sanders again playing the lead, and was in fact so similar that Leslie Charteris sued them for plagiarism.

The Falcon had been created by Michael Arlen in a 1940 short story. In the story the hero’s name is Gay Falcon. For the movies he was renamed Gay Laurence with The Falcon being a nickname. He was a wealthy playboy adventurer and part-time crime fighter. It’s really not difficult to see why Charteris felt so annoyed. 

Sanders went on to make four Falcon movies after which his brother Tom Conway took over the rôle (some of the Tom Conway movies, such as The Falcon in Hollywood, are pretty good).

A Date with the Falcon begins with Gay Laurence intending to give up his life of adventure. He is going to get married and settle down with Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie). Of course it’s not going to be as simple as this. The Falcon is drawn, reluctantly (or perhaps not really so reluctantly), into a case involving the disappearance of a scientist who has perfected a method of producing perfect artificial diamonds. Considering the profits to be made from the diamond trade it’s not surprising that not everyone is pleased by his new invention. It seems that someone is displeased enough to resort to kidnapping, perhaps even to murder.

The Falcon also finds himself getting mixed up with the glamorous Rita Mara (Mona Maris), and this is something that does not please his bride-to-be Helen one little bit. Sorting things out with Helen may be more difficult than solving the actual crime!

There’s really just enough plot here for the 63-minute running time, with just enough twists to keep things interesting even if those twists are not overly original. The Falcon plays a double game and could easily find himself caught between the bad guys and the police but luckily he’s used to this sort of thing and can usually stay just one step ahead.

This movie suffers a little from that very common problem of 1930s/1940s Hollywood B-movies - there’s just a bit too much comic relief. Much of the comedy is courtesy of The Falcon’s unlikely wise-cracking sidekick Goldy (played by Allen Jenkins) although Helen Reed also provides even more comic relief. The comic parts are not excruciatingly awful, there are just too many of them and they slow things down. On the other hand it has to be admitted that there are some genuinely amusing gags and the window ledge scene is quite inspired.

Sanders by this time had vast experience in this type of part and he’s as smooth and charming as ever. Argentinian-born Mona Maris makes a very fine femme fatale with a touch of the exotic. James Gleason goes gleefully over-the-top as the hardbitten but sympathetic Inspector Mike O’Hara. 

Director Irving Reis does a generally competent if not exciting job. The movie gets off to a fairly slow start but the pace gradually picks up. In fact this is a movie that definitely gets better as it goes. 

RKO B-features of the 40s usually look pretty good with just a hint of the visual style soon to become indelibly associated with film noir. That’s not to say that there’s anything remotely film noir in any meaningful sense about this production, but it at least has a trace of visual grittiness at times.

The Falcon movies are available on made-on-demand DVD in two multi-movie sets in the Warner Archive series although I caught this one on TCM.

A Date with the Falcon is a good solid mystery thriller B-picture that fans of such movies should find quite enjoyable. Recommended.

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