This collection, freshly on demand from Warner Archives, corrals the last of RKO’s Falcon series, starring Tom Conway as the suave meddler in murder. A funny thing happens on the way from the first three films here to the last three. WWII ended, and crime films evolved from slick jokey larks to the darker, more somber tone of noir. You can see it happening.
The Falcon Out West sends our hero to a ranch for a story whose most interesting element is Barbara Hale, years before her career as Perry Mason’s secretary on TV, as a self-reliant cowgirl who rides a fine horse. William Clemens here finishes his run directing the series; this sturdy toiler in B mysteries had a hand in films of Perry Mason, Nancy Drew, and Philo Vance, among others.
William Berke’s The Falcon in Mexico is the most relaxed and picturesque entry, its lullabye pace punctuated by a couple of nightclub songs. In what turns out to be a nice touch, a Mexican stereotype dogs the Falcon as comic relief before dropping his accent halfway through and revealing himself as a federal cop. One of many films reflecting America’s wartime “Good Neighbor Policy”, this film is dotted with beautiful location shots that, according to Leonard Maltin, are rumored to be lifted from Orson Welles’ aborted RKO project It’s All True. They’re certainly beyond this picture’s budget.
The more sprightly and reasonably plotted The Falcon in Hollywood takes place (economically) in a movie studio and recasts Hale in a new role with a high-stepping dance. This entry boasts several interesting female roles, including Veda Ann Borg as a snappy cabbie (because women filled men’s jobs during the war). It’s directed by the prolific and eclectic Gordon Douglas, whose curious career ranged from Our Gang comedies through Them! (giant ants) to Frank Sinatra’s tough detective outings of the late ’60s.
These are all 1944 films, and then it’s 1945, the last year of the war, and suddenly the suave, insouciant Falcon is getting beaten up right, left and center. The Falcon in San Francisco begins interestingly on a train as our hero meets a little orphan girl who lives in a ritzy semi-gothic mansion. Directed by none other than Joseph H. Lewis in the same year he helmed his first genuine noir classic, My Name Is Julia Ross, this is full of shadows, canted angles, and woozy POV shots as the Falcon comes out of his knockouts.
The noir factor in The Falcon’s Alibi is the presence of Elisha Cook Jr. as a virtual psychopath in a plot that eschews the mystery by revealing his guilt right away and letting us focus on his affectless bantam persona. Berke produced this entry, taking over from series producer Maurice Geraghty, and the director is Ray McCarey, best remembered as Leo McCarey’s less talented brother.
Berke’s The Falcon’s Adventure closes the series with an alleged trip to Florida, whose palm trees look remarkably like Los Angeles. This is produced by Herman Schlom (about to start the Dick Tracy movies) and scripted by Aubrey Wisberg, who later wrote and produced a couple of items directed by Edgar Ulmer. Don’t tell anyone, but John Calvert played a differently-named Falcon in three cheaper entries made independently in 1947-48; they don’t even have “Falcon” in the title, and of course they’re not here.