Irving Reis | 64 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | PG*
Worried 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.
The 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.
The 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.