The Gay Falcon (1941)

2012 #68
Irving Reis | 64 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | PG*

The Gay FalconWorried about the cost of renewing the licence to popular hero the Saint, RKO instead acquired Michael Arlen’s the Falcon and essentially modelled him as a replacement, much to the chagrin of Saint creator Leslie Charteris. And who can blame him? They even cast the star of the Saint, George Sanders. Cheeky.

Charteris had grounds for his complaint, too, because you can definitely see the similarities. The Falcon is an adventurer/detective of sorts, theoretically retired at the film’s open but more than happy to be lured back into the action. He frustrates the police by being better than him (though he’s not as outright on the wrong side of the law), he has a love for the ladies (more on which in a moment), he’s never without a sidekick of some kind, and he does it all with a notional raised eyebrow.

But, for my money, the Falcon isn’t quite as endearing, despite being played by Sanders. The number of times I’ve used “wit” in my Saint reviews suggests I should get a thesaurus, but it’s the best word — the Saint is witty; not jokey or humorous, but witty. The Falcon, while nonetheless somewhat charming, doesn’t exude the same kind of charisma or, indeed, wit. He’s a more obvious womaniser, with much of the film’s humour coming from him trying to juggle multiple dames, without much success at keeping them secret from each other, and his general inability to stop his eye roving for even a moment. On the bright side, it stops him from being as much of a Saint clone as I’d feared.

Try not to notice this is the DVD coverThe story (the only one in the series adapted from a work by Arlen) is a solid mystery about jewellery thieves, which doesn’t seem to have quite the scale of the Saint films. Those were often contained to one city, but they felt somehow grander, like the schemes being foiled were of broad significance; here, it’s basically work for the police. To put it another way, if there was always the sensation that the Saint was an anterior James Bond, you could say the Falcon is more like Sherlock Holmes.

The problem all these hour-long thrillers seem to have is there’s a lack of time to establish a cadre of suspects, meaning the surprise villain is usually the only character who isn’t one of the heroes — heck, sometimes the cast is so small the ‘twist’ is it’s the only hero it couldn’t not have been. The short length might not seem much of an excuse considering plenty of TV drama does a whodunnit every week in 40 minutes, but then this is 70 years old. And besides, they’re not really whodunnits, they’re 70-years-ago’s equivalent of the comedy-action-thriller, and on that level they generally work. Besides, here there is a fairly good last minute twist. There still aren’t many suspects, but considering two-time Saint villainess Wendy Barrie is present, it works well enough.

Not so gay, ehThe Gay Falcon makes for solid enough entertainment, mixing thrills with humour to decent effect. But despite attempts to emulate it, not least with the same leading man and woman, it’s no the Saint — they’ve not injected Gay Laurence with quite the same way with words and the supporting cast lacks a Teal or ‘Pearly’ Gates type to really make it click. Whether future entries stray further from Arlen’s original and more into Saint territory, or not, remains to be seen.

3 out of 5

* Much like many of the Saint films, The Gay Falcon apparently hasn’t been passed by the BBFC since its original release. Nonetheless, it’s available on DVD, rated PG. ^

2 thoughts on “The Gay Falcon (1941)

  1. Over the years, I’ve actually come to like the Falcon movies more than the Saint ones. I’ve found that there’s a greater level of consistency in the Falcon series and not the same up and down quality that was found with the Saint.
    I think they can be classed as whodunit, with a bit of comedy/action thrown in. The thing is the mystery isn’t really the main point of these 40s series movies (the Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes pictures are similar in this respect), at least not for the viewer. It’s a bit like reading Rex Stout – I don’t know if you ever have – where the mystery, for the readers anyway, is very much secondary to the enjoyment to be had from sharing for a time the world occupied by Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
    I guess you’ll be covering the Conway Falcon’s sooner or later. I found him very good in the role, preferable in some ways to his brother even. There’s a nice little piece on Tom Conway posted here: http://classicmoviechat.com/?p=9827

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    • I’m a few into the Conway Falcons now (currently paused for the Paralympics), and I can see why one could come to prefer them. Indeed, I’ve given a later one 4 stars, which theoretically makes it better than anything produced in the Saint series. Though the differences are subtle, I still prefer the Saint as a character, but I already think Conway is a little more successful in the role, perhaps because he’s not having to differentiate from the Saint.

      You’re also right about the actual mystery being secondary in the majority of these films, though somewhat ironically I’ve found the Falcon series contains better-constructed or more surprising plots than the Saint films did.

      And thanks for the piece on Conway. I didn’t realise he was in those Tourneurs, which I have knocking about thanks to a BBC airing at one time or another. May line them up next after the Falcon’s done.

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