Monday 17 December 2007

The Falcon Out West (1944) William Clemens

When the word 'west' is in the title of a series film from the forties, you just know that it's going to manifest itself in the form of a loud rich Texan in a stetson, and sure enough there's one right off the bat. He's even called Tex and ably portrayed by Lyle Talbot even though he's as stereotypical as you could get. He's about to get married, apparently to someone who's only after his money, and his ex-wife wants the Falcon to persuade him out of it. Naturally, he's quickly killed by a rattlesnake bite, at the Flamingo Club no less and with $3,000 in $100 bills missing from his wallet, so the Falcon gets to a lot less persuasion and a lot more investigation.

This film works in two directions. The first is a good one. I've long been a George Sanders fan, but he always seemed bored as the Falcon (and the Saint too, to be honest), and I don't think I'm just letting his last words resonate a little too far. His brother Tom Conway was just as good in their shared Falcon movie, The Falcon's Brother, and seems to get better with each successive solo film. He seems intrigued rather than bored and while their voices are very similar the intonation is very different. The twinkle of mischief in his eye seems real.

The second is not so good. The stereotypes get even worse with the locale shift to Tex's ranch in Texas and they include all those you'd expect to see in a badly stereotyped entry in a movie series. Runaway carriage, check. Game of poker, check. Bucking bronco riding, check. Even singing cowboys, check! At least the Indians aren't the butt of racist jokes: they're the punchlines instead and Detective Bates is the butt. 'How' he says to the first Indian he meets and the Indian replies very politely, 'Very well, thank you.' When they repeated the same joke later without a deliberate setup I laughed aloud.

The comic relief is fun and that makes a very pleasant change. The story isn't particularly surprising but there's some clever dialogue and the mystery isn't awesomely obvious. Bates is dumb but believably dumb, and as a counter the Falcon is believably clever. There's even some solid southwestern history, which I certainly wasn't expecting. A host of surprises and Tom Conway's mischievous twinkle outweigh the cowardly rush into stereotypes in my book.

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