Happy 126th Birthday, Ronald Coleman!

The suave and sophisticated Ronald Colman was born 126 years ago today in Richmond, Surrey, England. Here are 10 RC Did-You-Knows:

  • Colman was the youngest of four children. He attended boarding school in Littlehampton, where he was first exposed to acting, but he intended to study engineering at Cambridge until the family’s financial fortunes declined with the premature death of his father in 1907.
  • As a member of the London Scottish Regiment, Colman served in World War I. At the Battle of Messines, he was wounded by shrapnel in his ankle, which gave him a limp he tried to hide for the rest of his life. He was discharged from service within weeks.
  • By 1916, Colman was a busy actor, appearing in a variety of stage productions in London’s West End. In 1920, he toured the United States in a play called The Dauntless Three, which led to success on Broadway.
  • Though he had appeared in a handful of British films, it was Colman’s work in his first American film, The White Sister (1923) opposite Lillian Gish, that proved to be his breakout role. He became very popular with the public in both romance and adventure pictures.
  • For all his success in silent pictures, Colman’s star ascended even higher in talkies, which allowed him to use to his advantage one of his greater assets as an actor, what the Encyclopædia Britannica described as his “resonant, mellifluous speaking voice with a unique, pleasing timbre.”
  • In 1930, Colman was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his work in two different pictures—Condemned and Bulldog Drummond. In total, he would be nominated as Best Actor for four films, winning once for A Double Life (1947).
  • Christopher Walken, whose given name is Ronald, was named for Colman.
  • Colman’s speaking voice was so widely admired that it became something of a cultural touchstone, mentioned in a number of motion pictures and novels, including Ralph Ellison‘s Invisible Man.
  • Colman was also active in radio in the 1940s and ’50s, making frequent guests appearances on The Jack Benny Show, hosting a program called Favorite Story in the and starring on The Halls of Ivy, which later became a television program.
  • Colman was contracted to star in the MGM picture Village of the Damned (1960), but following his death in 1958 from acute emphysema, George Sanders took over the role.

Happy birthday, Ronald Colman, wherever you may be!

Ronald Colman

A Frothier, Funnier ‘Farewell, My Lovely’

The Falcon Takes Over, based on Farewell, My LovelyAs we advised you to do, we recorded the first eleven entries in RKO’s “The Falcon” series of mysteries on TCM the other day, and by last night, we’d worked our way up to watching the third one, The Falcon Takes Over.

The Falcon movies aren’t great, but they have a certain frothy charm, the repartee’s enjoyable enough, and at least some of them feature both Allen Jenkins and James Gleason in supporting roles, and that’s a combination that’s hard to beat.

We were especially looking forward to this picture because it’s based on Raymond Chandler‘s Farewell, My Lovely. In this version, it’s George Sanders as The Falcon, not Philip Marlowe, who solves the crime, but it was fun to see a familiar story played out in a different style, a different city (NYC rather than Los Angeles) and with a different set of characters.

One recognizes the source material right away, as just two minutes in, Moose Malloy has already made an appearance, and his name is…Moose Malloy. And the lost love he’s trying to track down is named Velma.

In fact, the filmmakers didn’t bother to change many of the characters’ names: Jessie Florian, Jules Amthor, Ann Riordan and Laird Burnett are all present and accounted for.

The Falcon Takes Over doesn’t stack up to Murder, My Sweet (1944) or Farewell, My Lovely (1975); it’s an entirely different kind of picture. But it is just smidge darker than the typical Falcon picture, and we found that suited us just fine.

Fill Your Friday with The Falcon

The Gay Falcon movie posterThe Falcon series of motion pictures are entertaining enough but not terribly compelling. They don’t have the compelling sense of darkness and danger that the films noir of the day offered, and they aren’t as funny and fun as the Thin Man series of movie mysteries.

But they do make for reasonably entertaining cinematic diversions, and if you’ve never experienced a Falcon picture, tomorrow, September 2, is your day. TCM is airing the first eleven entries in the series beginning at 6:15 am ET.

The Falcon originated as a character in Michael Arlen’s short story, Gay Falcon, that author’s only contribution to the annals of crime fiction. In the story, the adventurous, debonair good-guy-for-hire we know as the Falcon was actually named Falcon—Gay Stanhope Falcon. But in the movies and on the radio, his name was Gay Laurence (other names were later used) and The Falcon was his nickname, his alias; how he acquired it was never fully explained.

The Falcon was a near-carbon copy of The Saint, so much so that the Saint’s creator, author Leslie Charteris sued RKO for plagiarism (and mocked the character in his 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In). George Sanders played the character in the first four films, but had no interest in continuing his association with the series, so in The Falcon’s Brother (1942), Sanders’ real-life brother, Tom Conway, was brought in to play the Falcon’s fictional brother, Tom, who thereafter also went by the Falcon alias—convenient, no? Conway would play the Falcon in nine pictures from 1943-46.

Beginning in 1948, John Calvert took over the role of the Falcon (whose name was now Michael Waring) in the series’ final three pictures, but they were not successful. Gruff, tough Charles McGraw, a very different type than Sanders and Conway (urbane and sophisticated he was not), would take over the role in 1954 for a syndicated television series that ran for 39 episodes.

TCM is showing the first three of Sanders’ Falcon pictures, the transition entry in the film that saw Sanders and Conway both starring, and the first seven of Conway’s nine pictures in the role. Our suggestion? Take the day off , get up early and dedicate the first 12.5 hours of your Labor Day weekend to getting acquainted with the Falcon.