falcon takes over
The Falcon Takes Over (1942)

© 2008 William Ahearn

If Leslie Charteris, the author of the Simon Templar books (where Simon Templar is know as “The Saint”), and the suits at RKO had gotten along better, there would never have been a series of films based on a sleuth called The Falcon. While I’m not willing to accept as gospel every tale told in books about Hollywood, this much is verifiable: RKO had produced five or so Saint movies with George Sanders as Simon Templar. Then RKO bought the rights to a short story by Michael Arlen – Gay Falcon – and shortly thereafter RKO began producing a series of films with Gay “The Falcon” Lawrence as the sleuth and played by George Sanders.

Sanders lasted for only four films and then his real life brother Tom Conway was introduced into the series and his brother took over the role for nine installments until the series ended in 1946.

The third film in the series was “The Falcon Takes Over” released in 1942 and is the first film based on the work of Raymond Chandler and the first adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely. Back in the day, there were numerous detective series films of which the Thin Man series is probably the best known and most successful (in terms of longevity). So they bought Farewell, My Lovely, yanked Marlowe out and put the Falcon in. There are the usual suspects of the 1940’s serial detective films: wisecracking sidekicks, smartass cops with dumb partners, trashy dames and a female wannabe reporter. You get the drift, I'm sure.

Gay Lawrence, the “Falcon” of the title, is the antithesis of Philip Marlowe. Lawrence is rich, debonair, suave, dressed to the nines and lives in some swank digs with art on the walls and a butler. Gay is snide – in that class-conscious way – while Philip is sarcastic. Marlowe would never put up with a flunky such as Jonathon “Goldy” Locke (played by Allen Jenkins) even for comic relief. To rub the salt a tad deeper into the wound, the Falcon stalks the well-lighted streets of New York City and not the sprawling subdivisions and wind-blown canyons of Los Angeles or Bay City.

What is interesting about this film is how it shaves down Chandler’s plot yet stays true to some of the characters, notably Jessie Florian (played by Anne Revere). It’s also interesting that the first Moose Malloy – played by Ward Bond – seems to have created the mold. In the films based on Farewell, My Lovely that followed “The Falcon Takes Over” – “Murder, My Sweet” in 1944 and “Farewell, My Lovely” in 1975 – not a whit is done to expand or examine the character of Moose Malloy. Portraying the character of Velma as a cheap and tawdry dish that originated with “The Falcon Takes Over” also carries over to “Murder, My Sweet” but is dramatically changed in the 1975 production of “Farewell, My Lovely” but whether or not that is an improvement will be dealt with in that section.

While the jade necklace and Lindsay Marriott are in the picture, the entire Grayle family never even entered the script. Jules Amthor plays a minor role, as does Laird Burnett only this time as a crooked nightclub owner instead of the crooked owner of a gambling boat.

And Velma meets an end not in the book but vastly differently than how the other versions deal with her fate.

“The Falcon Takes Over” is the only installment of the series that I remember watching and it’s doubtful – considering how many DVDs and VHS tapes that are stacked in my research pile – that I’ll actively pursue seeing another. Even with Raymond Chandler as source material, “The Falcon Takes Over” is just another generic Hollywood sleuth that would whither and die and drift into the land of the forgotten once television provided even more generic sleuths to fill the seemingly insatiable desire for the genre.

William Ahearn