Sunday 23 December 2007

The Falcon in Mexico (1944) William Berke

The Falcon, Gay Lawrence, has every unlucky thing in the book happens to him in the fist few minutes of the film: walking under ladders, black cats, you name it. He quickly runs into a Dolores Ybarra, a young artist who claims that one of her paintings has been stolen by an art dealer. Breaking into the shop to help her, he discovers two important things: firstly, she posed for rather than painted the picture and secondly, the owner of the gallery is dead on the floor.

What makes it really interesting is that while the painting is of Dolores now, the painter, Humphrey Wade, has apparently been dead for fifteen years. Naturally the Falcon is soon breaking into houses all over the place to investigate. The picture was bought by Lucky Diamond Hughes, who's an expert on Wade's work and he believes it's genuine. Wade's daughter Barbara has an intriguing story that suggests that her father is actually still alive. Therefore it's Mexico City for the Falcon to track down just what's going on.

Unfortunately it wasn't Mexico City for the filmmakers as everything external is stock footage apparently taken from It's All True, the unfinished documentary Orson Welles was making in the early '40s in South America. The way that the story unfolds appears to be very much to do with the details of what Welles had already shot, and it's rather cleverly done. One device is that the Falcon's Mexican driver keeps trading in his cars so that he could always be driving one that matches what could be seen in the appropriate piece of footage.

While the film is a run of the mill Falcon and Tom Conway is fine, there's one major disappointment for me. The leading lady is Martha Vickers, who I've seen precisely once and have been long waiting for an opportunity to see again. She was General Sternwood's other daughter in The Big Sleep, the very suggestive younger sister of Bacall's character who so memorably tried to sit in Bogie's lap while he was standing up. Her part was bigger in the pre-release version and toned down for the final version so as not to divert from the burgeoning and popular Bogie/Bacall chemistry, but to me she was magnetic in both versions and I was hoping that she would be as magnetic in other films, if only I could find them. However while she's perfectly adequate here, that magnetism is notably absent.

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