Thursday, May 06, 2010

At The End

I'm having a Salute to Val Lewton in my family room. Watched the The Seventh Victim for the 343 time then The Cat People then I Walked With A Zombie. Somewhere in the middle of this I read a review of Night Creatures, a terrible B movie, over on Mystery-File and that started me thinking about Tom Conway.

As the older brother of George Sanders, he was bound to be the lesser actor in the family. He wasn't as good as his brother and his love for the bottle probably diminished chances for moving up. But he certainly had a respectable B career in the Forties. He was in all three of the movies I mentioned above and at the same time he took over the role of The Saint from brother George. Leslie Charteris, good writer and crazed self-promoter, insisted that RKO get Cary Grant (then huge star) to play the Saint if the series was to continue. Yeah, right.

RKO bought a book about The Falcon and plunked Conway into the role. They're fun Bs and Conway's just as cool as he needs to be except when he's throwing a punch. He's a little casual about it.

Booze eventually took over his life. By the late Fifties it was rehab, divorce, no work. George wouldn't have anything to do with him; Zsa Zsa Gabor (George's ex) felt so sorry for him she brought him $200 cash in the hospital so he could bribe the nurses into being nice to him. He took the money and fled the hospital to his girl's friend pad where he died. I don't know for a fact but wouldn't be surprised if he hit a liquor store on the way to her place.

So he's in Night Creatures. And when I saw that I thought of all the established actors who decide at the very end of their runs to take literally anything they're offered.

While I was never a fan of John Carradine, he was a major character actor for a long time. And to see in in all those godawful D-movies he did ("The New Hampshire Chain Saw Massacre") was pretty sad. I mean Ray Milland major major star in The Incredible Two-Headed Man? Wow. I caught that one at the drive-in and was so stoned and drunk I could barely walk--and still couldn't stop wondering how he'd ended up in this monstrosity. Gambling debts? Blackmail payments? When I was a kid Yvonne DeCarlo was one of the Sultry and Sassy beauties of The Cinema. a true babe and good actress. Big star on TV, too. I know she did at least one and maybe two or three of those D-movies ("The Iowa Chain Saw Massacre"). And many more of them. John Ireland, Aldo Ray, Karen Black. And poor Lon Chaney, Jr. God Almighty, that poor sad bastard.

Maybe it's simple. Maybe it's just that they like to work. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with money (which couldn't have been much anyway).

That's one advantage writers have. We can work under pen-names.


Todd Mason said...

I hadn't looked into the end of Conway's career...a pity, indeed, as his turn in CAT PEOPLE particularly, as a supercillious psychologist on the make, is brilliant. I'll have to look to see if he's the Falcon in that first adaptation of THE BIG SLEEP.

Wendell Corey's another. At least Chaney got to do some decent western work and SPIDER BABY, which at least verges on brilliant, toward the end.

Ed Gorman said...

To Peter Winkler-I watched Citizen Kane this evening. Richer, deeper, more profound than ever. Welles was indeed a genius.

Todd Mason said...

All RKO, all the time.

Peter L. Winkler said...


Here's an appreciation of The Wild Bunch.

Craig Clarke said...


Actually it was brother George who played the Falcon in The Falcon Takes Over (which is an adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely and a nice, tight one at only an hour).

Kenneth Mark Hoover said...

Whoa, I didn't know he was related to Sanders.

I love his movies, though. Shows you what an accomplished director can do when he has very little to work with.

Anonymous said...

I love the story about being stoned and drunk at the drive-in, stumbling around while "The Thing With Two Heads" screened. Ed, you would enjoy my friend Sage Stallone's film "Vic", about a faded star reduced to appearing in schlock. He gets one last chance to make a comeback... unforgettable, and a very serious film with tremendous performance by Clu Gulager in the lead role. I'll send you a DVD if you'd like to see it.
-David Szulkin

Todd Mason said...

Craig--a middle-aged memory slip. Good to know.

Ian Dickerson said...

Conway didn't take over the Saint from his brother. He picked up the halo in May 1951 taking over from Vincent Price in the NBC radio series.

Hugh Sinclair took over from Sanders in the RKo films.

Ed Gorman said...

You're right, Hoppy. I must have tried to repress that. Hugh Sinclair was terrible.