Falcon in San Francisco (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros see The Falcon in San Francisco - what are they doing there...?
Whilst on a relaxing train-ride to San Francisco, suave detective Tom Lawrence (aka The Falcon) and his faithful assistant “Goldie” Locke, become embroiled in a mystery when a young girl (Sharyn Moffett) tells a fanciful tale of her nursemaid keeping both her and her mother prisoner in their home - with said nursemaid turning up dead during the journey! Arriving at their destination, The Falcon is quickly arrested on a phoney kidnapping charge and bailed by a mysterious woman.
The plot gets thicker than Northern gravy with boiled potatoes when more bodies hit the sawdust, and links to a shipping magnate are uncovered - all linked to a man with no past and a gangster thought to be long dead. Will The Falcon unravel this mystery without taking a bullet? Will the mafia have their plan thwarted? Can Goldie find himself a bride to reduce his level of income tax? Find out as one of the most criminally overlooked film series of the last 80 years has finally made it to DVD.
Originally put into production by RKO as a replacement for their popular Saint series, they transplanted the star of said series into the lead role of Gay Lawrence, a socially sophisticated detective who went under the name of The Falcon. Creator of The Saint - Leslie Carteris - was so incensed that RKO had cloned his work that he sued them, but it did little to stop the success of the new detective on the block. Sanders, who thought appearing in MGM serials was beneath him, graciously allowed his character of The Falcon to be killed by the Nazis in the fourth film, cleverly allowing his real-life brother to take over, playing the titular sibling of the title character and donning the mantle.
The Falcon in San Francisco is another reliable entry in the series, and another guaranteed fun time for those watching. We won’t say too much about the plot, as it’ll blow a rather nice reveal towards the end, but it’s enough to say that the winning formula hasn’t been tampered with, as femme fatales stitch up our man Lawrence at every turn. In fact, the violence is surprisingly strong for a film of this era, with The Falcon being roughed-up in very convincing fashion on a couple of occasions. There are a couple of twists in the plot which still have the power to surprise, even though many who have seen at least a couple of the others in the series will be able to spot them, as they followed a rather familiar pattern established early on.
OK, this isn’t really entering into “spoiler” territory, but it might seem odd to many viewers when mention is made of former gangsters who used to operate during the prohibition, as this seems a world away from the present day - almost to the point where any reference seems like mere fiction. The ill-conceived law of prohibition single-handedly created organised crime in America, which is just as strong today as it was then, and The Falcon in San Francisco ingeniously weaves a plot using topical themes into a mystery-based movie, and succeeds with style.
The Falcon could be seen as a prototype James Bond, and not for the more obvious reasons than getting involved in the dastardly affairs of other countries. He has a taste for the finer things in life, including food, dames and drink, and someone so refined that he is able to mix with all classes. Whilst many would just label him as a counterfeit version of The Saint, The Falcon just about pips him as the superior character, when it comes to the forties, anyway. Let’s put it into perspective: this is a man with a sense of so smell highly developed that he can ferret out the presence of a woman in hiding just by the faint whiff of perfume lingering in the air.
What really keeps the film together is the kind of sparky interplay which movies of the thirties/forties built their reputations on, where pithy dialogue literally crackles between the characters which support the story rather than just trying to get laughs. A perfect case-in-point is when our heroes are trying to get a handle on events unfolding around them, and The Falcon becoming rather tired of Goldie trotting out his outlandish theories, deciding to silence him with the words: “I can think much better when you don’t…”
Conway was no stranger to this territory, having played The Saint on radio for a few episodes, which gave him more than enough kudos to play the role of The Falcon. Although his career wasn’t as glittering as Sanders’, he still had a Hell of a lot going for him as an actor. Conway was blessed with a considerable amount of charm, possessing a slightly darker edge than George Sanders, and interacts with the young Moffett without the usual condescension mostly seen in adult actors. If you want to be glib, you could argue that although Conway might have died in poverty in the slums of Hollywood, at least he struggled to the bitter end rather than taking the easy way out, just because the world was changing around him.
Veteran character actor Edward Brophy is terrific as “Goldie” Locke, the very essence of a “diamond in the rough”, a man unswervingly loyal and dogged, yet utterly lacking in class and sophistication. It’s almost as though The Falcon keeps him around not only for his dedication, but to provide some degree of contrast to his clients. The character of Locke adds a terrific amount of zing to the proceedings, with an arsenal of quips so vast it could take over have of the average bank of Friends writers ages to match, and his rapport with the kid is dynamite. Brophy might not have been the only actor to play Locke in the series, but he’s certainly at the top of our list, even though he only got two shots at it.
There are very few child actors we can say we are able to tolerate, let alone actually like. Harvey Stephens is one, Ke Huy Quan is another, but we will happily add Sharyn Moffett to the list. She plays Annie with an incredible combination of both sweet and savvy, and there is not even the merest trace of Shirley Temple to her performance. Her character is the lynchpin to the entire story, even though she doesn‘t get as much screen time as she deserves, but when she‘s in front of the cameras, she‘s dynamite. Ever ambitious, and clearly smitten with the debonair detective, she brazenly reveals her intention to walk him down the aisle when she comes of age. Unimpressed by The Falcon keeping tabs on a female suspect, she firmly announces: “When I marry him, Mr Lawrence has to stop chasing after other girls…”. It plays without innuendo, and is the kind of interplay you just don’t find these days.
So we really enjoyed the movie, but how does the damn thing look?
The review discs we were supplied with were plain DVD-R rips, but we're pretty sure that these accurately reflect the finished product.
Without extensive remastering from the original vault materials, The Falcon in San Francisco is only going to look so good. Odeon release a print which is acceptable enough given its B-movie origins, but the mild print damage and heavy tones of the image all add to the flavour, conjuring the atmosphere of a smoky old cinema, so much so that you expect a Pathe newsreel about Hiters’ onslaught in Europe to play afterwards whilst an ice-cream lady wanders up the aisle. In essence, the 1.33:1 presentation is certainly up to the task of complimenting the material.
As above, it all adds to the experience. There is some crackle, complimented by a degree of hiss, but nothing which could take you out of the movie, and gives a degree of charm which is missing from editions of older movies which have been cleaned up far too much.
We’ve seen a few other Falcon movies in the past, and they are all enjoyable in their own way, but The Falcon in San Francisco is one of our favourites. Conway is amazingly cool, Brophy is hilarious, and the addition of wee sprite Sharyn Moffett really made it stand out from the crowd - let’s hear it for pushy parents everywhere! Everyone seems to be having a good time, a vibe which really transposes itself onto those watching, and Odeon have provided an atmospheric DVD to keep it around for a good few more years. We had a blast, and we suspect we won’t be the only ones. Recommended.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 18th July 2011
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Scene Selection
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joseph H Lewis
Cast: Tom Conway, Rita Corday, Robert Armstrong
Length: 66 minutes
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