Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Falcon’s Brother (1942)

RKO had enjoyed considerable success in the early 40s with three B-movies starring George Sanders as Gay Lawrence, wealthy playboy and amateur crime-fighter. These movies were effectively a continuation of the very successful Saint B-pictures in which Sanders also starred. By 1942 Sanders was hoping for better things than lead roles in B-pictures and announced his departure from the Falcon movie series. The actor chosen to replace him was his real-life brother Tom Conway. Someone got the bright idea that instead of having Conway take over the role of Gay Lawrence why not introduce him as Gay’s brother Tom? And RKO persuaded Sanders to make one more Falcon movie, The Falcon’s Brother, in which both brothers would appear. 

Since Tom Lawrence obviously shares his brother’s interests - glamorous women, high living, adventure and crime-solving - it makes perfect sense that he would take over his brother’s career as the famous Falcon.

Given all this the movie offers an intriguing opening - a corpse is found in a stateroom on board a ship. The man has been murdered. And the man is - not Gay Lawrence, but Tom Lawrence! Has the Falcon’s brother already been slain before he makes his first appearance in the film? Needless to say things are not quite what they seem to be.

The movie came out in 1942 and with Hollywood war fever at its height it’s not surprising that the war figures prominently. There’s a spy ring although I must confess to being a little unclear as to exactly what they were up to. The Falcon’s world however is a world of glamour so the plot also involves high fashion and beautiful models. Although we are assured that their gowns have been designed within the limits of wartime government regulations!

Of course a 1940s Hollywood B-picture has to have comic relief. This time the comic relief is handled by the Falcon’s sidekick Lefty (Don Barclay), his valet Jerry (Keye Luke) and a couple of bumbling detectives who are always one step behind the Falcon (or in this case one step behind both Falcons). Luckily the comic relief isn’t intrusive and is at times even genuinely amusing.

Tom Conway’s acting style was not dissimilar to his brother’s. The Falcon was a role that suited them both extremely well. George Sanders was the better actor but Conway was more than adequate as a B-movie lead. Jane Randolph plays a Feisty Girl Reporter and does so more than competently. The support cast is solid enough by B-picture standards with Keye Luke having quite a bit of fun swapping back and forth between pidgin English and a very educated accent.

Stanley Logan’s directing career was very brief and there’s nothing here to suggest that he should have had a longer career. The Falcon’s Brother doesn’t quite have the flair of some of the better movies in the series.

Interestingly enough Craig Rice, who co-wrote the screenplay (and was of course a woman), later ghost-wrote a very successful mystery novel which was published under George Sanders’ name - although Sanders may well have contributed to the writing. 

The Falcon movies are available on made-on-demand DVD in two boxed sets from the Warner Archive series. 

This is, to be honest, a fairly routine entry in the Falcon cycle. It does however offer two Falcons for the price of one and it does offer the rare opportunity to see George Sanders and Tom Conway together. Of the Tom Conway Falcon movies I think The Falcon in Hollywood is rather better and The Falcon Out West is more fun.

The Falcon’s Brother is decent enough entertainment. Recommended for 1940s B-movie fans.

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