On the beat with The Falcon: scoring the adventure programmer at RKO
Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music
The speaker is Dr Catherine Haworth (University of Huddersfield)
Film exhibition during the 1940s followed the double-bill model, pairing prestige ‘A’ pictures with shorter, cheaper ‘B’ movies. A continual demand for cost-effective product meant that serial-style programmers became a favourite of both Hollywood studios and their audiences; short instalments of an ongoing story, or standalone narratives with recurring characters, story arcs, and stars. ‘The Falcon’ series was a staple of the RKO Radio Pictures roster during the first half of the forties, following its debonair investigator across thirteen high-drama, all-action, romance-filled instalments. This paper discusses the role of music in the mystery-adventure serial, demonstrating the ways in which it prefigures gender and genre conventions in the soundtracks of both classical-era crime films and more recent multimedia franchises. Drawing on materials from the RKO archive at UCLA allows the partial reconstruction of scoring practices and personnel in the studio’s music department – a mixture of contract composers and freelance musicians who carefully balanced economics and aesthetics. The tight budgets of B serials make them an ideal vehicle to trace the effect of these organisational practices on studio output, situating textual analysis of The Falcon’s adventures within a close reading of their industrial and commercial context.