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Cinema: The Hardy Boys Turn Traitor the Falcon and the Snowman

3 minute read
Richard Corliss


Nice young men from good families, Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee had known each other since their days as altar boys in a decorous Los Angeles suburb. At 21, Chris, an expert falconer, got a job at TRW, the aerospace and electronics behemoth. Within a few months, after a cursory security check and at a weekly salary of $140, he was helping monitor some of the CIA’s most embarrassing top secrets, including dirty tricks directed against Australia’s Labor government. By this time Daulton was an important man in his own right, in his own eyes: he had established a lucrative trade in cocaine and heroin, living high on the profits and slick-talking his way past a judicial system as indulgent as his parents. Soon, the renegade idealist and the venture capitalist joined forces to foul up the system by selling U.S. spy satellite codes to Soviet emissaries , in Mexico City. What delicious revenge on America’s bland malevolence and institutional incompetence! What an entrepreneurial scam–the ultimate frat- house prank.

The exploits of Boyce and Lee, who were arrested and convicted in 1977, inspired a bestselling book by Robert Lindsey and now John Schlesinger’s movie version. In An Englishman Abroad, the 1983 BBC-TV film he directed from Alan Bennett’s script, Schlesinger painted a wry, rueful portrait of the British spy–Guy Burgess, retired to Moscow–as a displaced person, isolated from his best friends and instincts. Chris Boyce (Timothy Hutton) feels isolated too, trapped in America; but here Schlesinger dares not flirt with political or visual subtlety. Everyone is an oaf but our lad. Mom (Joyce Van Patten) is dithery, and Dad (Pat Hingle) scares the falcon, and Chris’ girlfriend (Lori Singer) is one big vacant California erogenous zone. His treason is pinned on mid-America, not so much for the evil of its ways as for the banality of its style. Affluence is flatulence; good intentions are to laugh at; filial piety is worth nothing but betrayal.

Like Chris and Daulton, the movie must escape the society it loathes before it can soar or score. The Soviet embassy in Mexico City is alive with swarthy-suave, worldly-wise apparatchiks (led by David Suchet), alternately amused and baffled by the bravado of Daulton (Sean Penn), a kid who has always had his way and cannot be intimidated by any old nuclear power. “O.K.,” he barks when they cross him, “from now on I do my business with the Chinese!” Sporting a cad’s mustache and Walter Denton’s whiny voice, Penn is a funny, harrowing wonder of energy. No other young actor so cunningly combines the mannerist danger of the Brando-De Niro school with the articulate assurance of a stand-up comic. Hutton is just as fine in a role that demands–and gets –caged heat, the taste of a soul gone sour, sanctity imploding into rage. He and Penn are the only compelling reasons to see a film that is oddly engrossing in spite of itself.

In 1980 Chris Boyce escaped from Lompoc federal prison and lived on the lam, as a bank robber and fisherman, for 19 months before his capture. To many of those he met then, he is still a friend, and maybe a hero. That story could make for a sequel–The Falcon Strikes Back, perhaps?–superior to the original movie. The early careers of Chris and Daulton prove that truth is stranger, and more thrilling, than docu-drama.

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