Stanley Logan | 60 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | PG*
The Falcon may’ve done it in the third entry in RKO’s Saint-a-like film series, but now it was time for Tom Conway to take over — as the series’ star, that is.
Leaving my contrived and slightly embarrassing introductions aside, Conway gets a pretty good introduction to what will soon be his franchise. Though we begin with George Sanders still the lead, learning that his brother has been murdered on a ship arriving in New York — only to find out the body isn’t his brother after all — there’s a speedy and smooth transition to Conway being in charge.
Quite why they felt the need to execute such a neat transition, when previously films of this calibre had been happy to just re-cast (see: the Saint), I don’t know, but it works in its favour. Behind the scenes, Sanders had grown tired of B-movie leads, but presumably the series was successful enough at this point that RKO didn’t want to abandon it — especially as they were in the process of losing the Saint. In a piece of too-perfect casting, Conway is his real-life brother. On-screen and in-story, the passing of the baton is so smoothly done you barely even notice it happening, and it gives Conway an unencumbered chance to establish himself… though he’s basically the same character. Whether he’ll have the same gurning lack of success with the dames remains to be seen, however.
Aside from housekeeping, the film offers one of the series’ better plots, a proper detective mystery that doesn’t lead where you’d expect it to for once. That said, I didn’t like the ending so much, especially the way it abruptly dispatches our former hero followed by the gang carrying on with barely a care. The Mysterious Threatening Voice On The Phone is interesting though — will we be seeing a recurring enemy; a Moriarty or Blofeld for the new Falcon? Time shall tell…
Apart from the dual leads, Don Barclay’s Lefty is basically a re-cast Goldy — he even has the same police-bating catchphrase. Why Allen Jenkins left/was got rid of, I don’t know, but that’s the kind of thing that happens in movies of this scale I suppose. A quick flick through IMDb reveals the Goldy will return later, but Jenkins won’t, which is a minor shame. Broadly similarly, making Jane Randolph’s female lead, Marcia Brooks, a journalist also smacks of why-isn’t-it-just-the-one-from-the-last-film-ness. She’ll be back in the next film and then gone again, perhaps continuing the almost-tradition the films are establishing for a girl relay? (I should really stop theorising mid-flow; but then, we are wont to see connections where there are none.)
The bumbling cops are also present and correct, not that I care for them. Their “because I’m the boss” shtick is one of the elements that makes the Falcon films feel more formulaic than the Saint ones, in spite of all the other factors (changing sources of adaptation; changing leads) that should make them feel wildly varied. And the Falcon’s butler, Jerry, is Asian again, after being caucasian in the last two films. Played this time by Keye Luke, rather than being some nasty stereotype he has a nice bit using stereotypes to the characters’ advantage. It’s one of the series’ better comic inventions.
Re-casting your lead can be a major stumbling block for a series, or lead it to even greater success. Normally it’s done abruptly, but the Falcon takes a more transitionary route… and, perhaps surprisingly, it pays off with a mostly fun adventure. And with Conway now in charge, perhaps the series can shake off the lingering Saint on its shoulder.