Tom “Duke” Martin

Created by Kenneth R. Hayles

After nine or so turns as The Falcon (taking over the role from his brother George Sanders) and as the radio voice of The Saint, actor Tom Conway took another turn as a dashing and debonair gentleman detective, appearing in two decidedly B films as aging New York City private investigator TOM “DUKE” MARTIN in the mid-1950s.

In Murder on Approval (1950, RKO), Martin is called in when wealthy American J. D. Everleigh returns home from the U.K., suspecting that  the Barbados Overprint, a rare stamp he purchased from London dealer Geoffrey Blake for $10,000, is a fake. He wants his money back

Smelling a large fee, Martin immediately flies to London to investigate, his bumbling ex-con assistant (and designated comic relief) Barney Wilson (played by Michael Balfour) in tow, and the pair soon discover that the real stamp is still in the hands of Lady Hawksley. Not missing a beat, Martin gets friendly with her attractive (of course) secretary, Jean Larson, and finds out that Blake is actually Lady Hawksleys nephew.

Bodies start to fall, of course, and while the suave sleuth tries to sort it out (and Barney plays the fool), he finds time to charm the ladies (particularly Jean), although predictably the local police find him far less charming.

Nothing new, here, but then there isn’t supposed to be.

There was even a sequel a few months later. The next year Breakaway had Conway and Barney reprising their roles, and once more they’re Europe. This time he’s hot on the trail of a missing handbag which contains a top secret formula to reduce metal fatigue, that Professor Dohlman, a West German scientist in poor health, had been working on. Worried that the formula may fall into the wrong hands (the Cold War is raging), Dohlman arranges for Johnny to take a copy of the procedure to his brother Michael, a fellow scientist, in England. Johnny is supposed to meet Michael’s secretary Diane at the London airport, but the pair are kidnapped. Coincidentally, Duke and Barney just happen to be on the scene to witness the abduction, and naturally, Duke takes it upon himself to investigate. Sure enough, he soon discovers that there’s more than one faction after the formula.

A highlight here is the appearance of James Bond and The Avengers star Honor Blackman as glamorous nightclub babe Paula (Diane’s sister), who may—or may not—be involved in the shenanigans.

Neither film is a classic, and there’s a certain disappointing cheap vibe about about both films, like they were intended to be pilots for a proposed TV series or something. Possibly—I haven’t checked it out—they were filmed simultaneously, because John Horsley, John Colicos and Brian Worth (and possibly others) all appear in both films, albeit in different roles.



Both films were apparently a “success,” however, with David Friend speculating on Mystery*File that this “mostly due to the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies they were paired with.”


By this point, Conway was getting a little long in the tooth for dashing and debonair, finding refuge in B flicks just as that market was being bumped off by the small screen. He eventually starred for a few seasons as Inspector Mark Saber on the tube.

Still, if you enjoyed the Falcon or the early Saint flicks, chances are you’ll enjoy these as well. There’s a certain breezy charm and eye-rolling predictability about them, and that’s no crime.


  • MURDER ON APPROVAL Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (aka “Barbados Quest”)
    (1955; RKO)
    Premiere: July 1955
    70 minutes
    Black & white
    Screenplay by Kenneth R. Hayles
    Directed by Bernard Knowles
    Starring Tom Conway as TOM MARTIN
    and Michael Balfour as Barney Wilson
    Also starring Delphi Lawrence, Brian Worth, Campbell Cotts, John Horsley, Ronan O’Casey, Launce Maraschal, Colin Tapley, Alan Gifford, Grace Arnold, John Colicos, Mayura Mayura, John Watson, Reggie Morris, Marianne Stone, Derrick Whittingham
  • BREAKAWAY Watch it now!
    (1956, RKO)
    Premiere: July 16, 1956
    72 minutes
    Black & white
    Story by Paddy Manning O’Brien
    Screenplay by Norman Hudis
    Henry Cass
    Starring Tom Conway as TOM MARTIN
    and Michael Balfour as Barney Wilson
    Also starring Honor Blackman, Bruce Seton, Brian Worth, Freddie Mills, Alexander Gauge, John Horsley, Paddy Webster, John Colicos, Larry Taylor, Arthur Lowe, Frederick Schrecker, Marianne Walla, Russell Westwood
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, following a lead by Nick Anez.

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