The Falcon Takes Over
Director: Irving Reis
One of the earliest screen adaptions of Raymond Chandler’s works, 1942’s The Falcon Takes Over is an interesting take on Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely, the second novel to feature gumshoe Philip Marlowe, which, looking back on them all now, stands out as one of the best entries in the series. At the time, Marlowe himself wasn’t as well-engrained into crime culture as would later become, and so rather than doing a straight adaption, RKO Pictures decided to fit the adaption within their ongoing series featuring George Sanders as amateur sleuth ‘The Falcon’.
Despite the omission of Marlowe as a character, for those familiar with Chandler’s novel and some of the more successful adaptions that followed, The Falcon Takes Over won’t be too much of a shock in how it treats the source material. The third of the Falcon series, The Falcon Takes Over sees Sanders’ gentlemanly (and ruthlessly womanising) detective become involved on the hunt for a missing nightclub singer, Velma Valento, who is being sought after by her ex-lover, a dim-witted giant of a man known as ‘Moose’ Malloy who has recently come out of a long stretch inside and is now determined to find the woman he loves. On the way, the Falcon is hired by a smooth gigolo named Marriott to help oversee the buying back of stolen jewellery from a gang of jewel thieves, and soon finds himself dealing with shady psychics, crooked cops and a few dead bodies before he discovers the link between the two cases and the truth behind the whereabouts of the missing Velma.
Given that the Falcon is fundamentally a separate character from Marlowe, it’s perhaps unfair to try and make a direct comparison between the two. Whereas Marlowe is a distinct lone-wolf, the Falcon is aided by a sidekick ‘Goldie’, and whereas Marlowe is a heavy-drinking, tough-talking yet ultimately noble man, the Falcon is a refined English gentleman. Imagine Agatha Christie writing a Raymond Chandler story and you get the idea of what you get. Having settled into the role in two previous films (The Gay Falcon and A Date with The Falcon), Sanders is confident and assured in his portrayal. His character doesn’t really assume the role of Marlowe, and Sanders doesn’t try to act as if he is. The Falcon is very much a replacement, rather than a substitute, and judging him on that basis alone, he’s an interesting character and adapts well to Chandler’s wider surroundings. Balancing humour with seriousness, Sanders’ character is a fine leading man and it’s easy to see how a series was built out of him.
The film’s plot is, at its core, reasonably faithful to the original novel, with the characters of Moose, Velma, Jessie Florian, Lindsey Marriot and Ann Reardon all making appearances that are more in less in keeping with their literary counterparts (granted, Ann Reardon’s character comes into play as more of a romantic interest for the Falcon, but this was repeated in the subsequent takes on the novel). The dope-pushing ‘psychic consultant’ Jules Amthor appears, though in a slightly less notable role. New characters include the police chief Mike O’Hara, a wise-cracking detective trying to prove his superiority over the Falcon, and the aforementioned ‘Goldie’, played by Allen Jenkins, who provides some comic foil to Sanders’ more serious portrayal of the Falcon. He’s a well-meaning yet slightly inconvenient sidekick, who comes across as being a slightly less-bumbling version of Nigel Bruce’s Doctor Watson in the then-ongoing Sherlock Holmes film series with Basil Rathbone.
The support cast are all well-played, and Helen Gilbert takes the prize of being perhaps the best actress to portray the character of Velma out of all three who played her. Gilbert perfectly captures the seductive, manipulative essence of the missing nightclub crooner. Whilst the final showdown sequence between herself, the Falcon and the Moose is differs from that of the novel, the core of the character remains pretty much unchanged. She’s a classic femme fatale and tragically overlooked in comparison with some of the actresses to later take part in Chandler adaptions.
Much like the rest of the series, it has a short running time of just 63 minutes, and so diversions from the source material have to be made. Regrettably, one of the scenes to get the chop from the book involving the incident where Marlowe finds himself knocked out by crooked cops working for Amthor, before waking up in drug-induced delirium and fighting his way out a backstreet operating hospital. It’s a shame, since that scene is one of the books most remarkable scenes, and on paper it stands out as being one of the most memorable passages Chandler ever wrote.
As with 1947’s The Brasher Doubloon, a take on Chandler’s The High Window (reviewed here), it’s a fairly ‘light’ adaption of the novel, with plenty of small quips and innuendo-laden patter scattered throughout the dialogue. Although, unlike The Brasher Doubloon, little of the dialogue is lifted directly from Chandler’s work. If there is one thing missing though, it’s the sense of surrounding and atmosphere which so defiantly permeates its way into Chandler’s works. That sense of menace, corruption and uncertainty that embodies the Los Angeles that Marlowe works within. It’s very much overlooked in this adaption (by comparison, the 1974 adaption captures this almost perfectly), and the film suffers a little as a result, but not enough to detract from the overall movie.
Many more Marlowe adaptions would follow, including two more takes on Farewell, My Lovely – with 1944’s splendid Murder, My Sweet with Dick Powell in the leading role, this time as Marlowe himself, and later by an ageing Robert Mitchum in 1975’s Farewell, My Lovely. Each adaption takes different liberties with the book’s story and characters, some quite notable, so The Falcon Takes Over certainly isn’t exceptional in that regard. Overall though it’s still a fun take on the story, adds a few interesting changes, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. As an introduction to the ‘Falcon’ series it works nicely and, ultimately, stands up as a unique and entertaining take on Marlowe and Chandler’s series.