Monday, 6 October 2014

The Falcon's Alibi (1946)

The penultimate entry in the RKO series of Falcon mystery thrillers, The Falcon's Alibi is one of the most enjoyable, thanks to two actors who nearly outshine the lead, as well as the film taking a more "hard boiled" approach to crime than usual.

The story starts with the Falcon aka Tom Lawrence (played as usual by the suave and charming Tom Conway) befriending a lady at a racetrack. The lady in question is Joan Meredith (Rita Corday), secretary to wealthy socialite Gloria Peabody. Mrs Peabody is unaware that some of her expensive jewels are missing, and Joan is concerned that suspicion will fall on her. Lawrence steps in to help, but along the way falls foul of the police, a gang of LA crooks, a terrified nightclub singer, and a radio DJ who may not be everything he appears to be.

The format for these films is solidly in place by this stage, with Lawrence stumbling into a mystery without even trying, aided and abetted by a sidekick (in this case the semi-regular character Goldie Locke) and dimwitted police detectives, charming his way to a rather rushed conclusion. However, what lifts The Falcon's Alibi above the norm is the intriguing supporting cast, and their story. Elisha Cook had his big break playing the creepy but hapless low-rent crook Wilmer in John Huston’s groundbreaking version of The Maltese Falcon and here as Nick, the local radio DJ he brings the same sort of unsettling intensity. He is excellently complemented by the alluring Jane Greer as Nick’s wife, nightclub singer Lola Carpenter. Greer gives her a believable vulnerability and likeability. Their doomed, crumbling relationship becomes a more intriguing storyline than the missing jewels, to the point where you sometimes feel, jumping between them and the Falcon, as though you are watching two different stories, one of which is not going to end well.

Cook and Greer would continue to shine in Film-Noir classics such as The Big Sleep, The Killing, and Out of The Past, but sadly the future was not so bright for the Falcon, as the waning popularity of the series would see RKO make one more before pulling the plug.