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Because of the long success of the Falcon series of detective films (16 pictures between 1941 and 1949), one would expect the title character to have been based on a succession of books or stories such as those that gave birth to Philip Marlowe, the Saint, and Nick and Nora Charles. But the Falcon was actually derived from a single short story by Bulgarian-born, English-bred writer Michael Arlen, a debonair man who drifted from medical school into journalism and eventually into writing minor screenplays in Hollywood. He married royalty and described himself as "indolent" and not very ambitious. So it's not surprising that the smooth, cynical character that emerged in the Falcon movie series more closely resembled Arlen than the protagonist of his short story "The Gay Falcon," who was more of a Sam Spade-styled tough guy. This wasn't due to any great influence on the part of the writer - he frankly didnt give a damn what they did to his creation - but came as a directive from the producing studio, RKO. They simply wanted to continue the successful image they started in another series based on the work of a writer far more picky than Arlen.
The "B"-movie detective series was establishing itself as a Hollywood staple by the beginning of the 1940s. Most of the studios were turning out at least one, and RKO had a good thing going with the Saint, based on a character created by Leslie Charteris. George Sanders had played Simon Templar five times by 1941, but the author balked at giving the studio any more of his properties because he said they were misrepresented in the screen versions. Searching for something to continue capitalizing on Sanders' popularity in the role, RKO bought the rights to Arlen's short story for $5,000 and filmed the plot with very few changes to Sanders' on-screen persona. The character immediately caught on, and a year later, with two successful Falcon movies already under its belt, the studio purchased Raymond Chandler's novel Farewell, My Lovely for a paltry $2,000 and turned the Philip Marlowe mystery into another Falcon story. It was titled The Falcon Takes Over (1942), shamelessly borrowing the name of one of Sanders' earlier hits, The Saint Takes Over (1940).
The plot of The Falcon Takes Over finds escaped convict Moose Malloy combing New York in search of his ex-girlfriend Velma, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Investigating on his own, the Falcon finds himself in the company of an ever-shadier set of lowlifes, vampish women, and bumbling cops (a comic-relief staple of the series). The same basic plot was used again by RKO when they remade Chandler's novel as Murder, My Sweet (1944), which faithfully followed Chandler's original storyline. The author's original title was thrown out because the studio feared audiences would think Farewell, My Lovely was a musical, especially since it starred Dick Powell, then just beginning to trade in his young crooner image for the tough guy roles he took on later in his career. Chandler's original title was finally used for a 1975 remake with Robert Mitchum as Marlowe. That film more closely followed the plot of the original material, including several characters and details deemed too sleazy for 1940s movie audiences.
Another curious fact about the Falcon: Sanders - who grew bored with the role - made only one more picture in the series, The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which he co-starred with his real-life older brother, Tom Conway. In that movie, Sanders' character is killed off and his brother (Conway) takes over his crime-fighting career. Conway made ten more pictures in the series before it was turned over to actor John Calvert for the remaining three (and least successful installments.
Director: Irving Reis
Producer: Howard Benedict
Screenplay: Lynn Root, Frank Fenton, based on a novel by Raymond Chandler
Cinematography: George Robinson
Editing: Harry Marker
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Feild M. Gray
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: George Sanders (Gay Lawrence, aka The Falcon), Lynn Bari (Ann Riordan), James Gleason (Inspector Mike O'Hara), Ward Bond (Moose Malloy), Allen Jenkins (Jonathan "Goldie" Locke), Anne Revere (Jesse Florian).
by Rob Nixon