A DATE WITH THE FALCON (1941) & THE FALCON'S BROTHER (1942)
These two Falcon movies, the second and fourth in the series, provide a nice contrast between the two different actors who played the character. DATE has George Sanders playing Gay Lawrence, the original Falcon, a wealthy bachelor who informally helps the police investigate crimes--I did a Google search on the character and the descriptive phrase that came up most often was "freelance troubleshooter." A scientist who was about to sell his formula for creating perfect synthetic diamonds is kidnapped and later found dead. Sanders is dragged away from his fiancee (Wendy Barrie) by Inspector O'Hara (James Gleason) to work on the case and they run into the usual hot dames, tough punks, and sticky situations. In most of the early Falcon movies, sidekick Allen Jenkins provides the comic relief, but here, much of the movie is comic, which for me works well--not all Falcon fans agree. The most amusing scene has Sanders insulting a group of cops from a car so that the cops will stop the car and he can escape the clutches of kidnappers. There's a twist involving identical twins (which I figured out ahead of time), but otherwise, as in most Falcon movies, the pleasure comes less from the plotting and more from the characters and dialogue.
Unfortunately, Sanders got tired of the series after only three films, so in the fourth one, THE FALCON'S BROTHER, Tom Conway, Sanders' real-life brother, enters as Tom Lawrence, Gay's brother, to take over. Sanders goes to meet his brother arriving on a boat from South America; a man using Conway's name is found murdered in his cabin and Sanders knows it's not really him, but he lets the cops think it is so he can go about his own investigation. It's all about Nazi spies who are using a fashion magazine's covers to communicate classified information. Sanders gets a concussion and is laid up for most of the movie, leaving his brother to do the sleuthing. In the end, Sanders sacrifices himself to stop the assassination of a Mexican diplomat and Conway decides to stay in New York to be the new Falcon. The comedy is downplayed, and Gleason and Jenkins are gone, replaced by disappointing second-string actors Cliff Clark and Don Barclay. Sanders sleepwalks through his role, obviously happy to be leaving the series, and Conway is nowhere near as debonair and slyly amusing as Sanders. One bright spot is Jane Randolph as a fashion reporter who tags along with the brothers. The later Conway movies are watchable (see my review of two of them on 5/31/02) but the earlier Sanders movies (including THE FALCON TAKES OVER, reviewed 8/29/03) are more enjoyable. [TCM]