The Gay Falcon
Cast & Crew
Gay Lawrence, the debonair sleuth known as "The Falcon," foresakes his crime-solving and skirt-chasing efforts for the sake of his fiancée, Elinor Benford. To please Elinor, Gay and his assistant, Jonathan "Goldy" Locke, open a brokerage office on Wall Street, but after one day on the job, Gay is ready for retirement. He returns home from the office to find Helen Reed, secretary to socialite Maxine Wood, waiting to see him. On behalf of her boss, Helen asks Gay to attend a charity ball that night to protect a diamond owned by Mrs. Gardiner, one of the guests. Unable to resist, Gay accompanies Elinor to the ball, where he dances with Mrs. Gardiner, who slips him the diamond. Mrs. Gardiner's act puzzles Gay, but before he can question her, a shot rings out and she falls to the floor, dead.
When the police arrive at the party, Officer Bates arrests Goldy, who was the only person in the room during the time of the shooting, as a material witness. Gay follows Goldy to the police station, where he convinces Inspector Mike Waldeck to free Goldy as bait to trap the killer. Helen meets them at the police station, and Gay leaves Goldy in a pinball parlor while he and Helen go to question Maxine. While Gay tells Maxine that he suspects that Mrs. Gardiner was involved with a gang of jewel thieves led by Manuel Retana, a guest at the ball, Goldy is abducted by Noel Weber, who orders him to phone Gay and demand that he turn over the diamond. As Goldy dials, Weber is felled by a gunshot and Goldy is again arrested for murder.
Meanwhile, Gay rushes home, where Bates tells him that Goldy is being held for murder and Mike wants to see him at headquarters. Gay gives Bates the slip, however, and the next day, while disguised as a tramp, he tries to apologize to Elinor, who is furious because he left with Helen. Elinor icily informs Gay that she has a date with Retana later that night and never wants to see him again. Still suspicious of Retana, Gay and Helen break into his apartment, and when he returns during the middle of their search, they hide on the patio and watch as he checks behind a wall panel. After Retana leaves, Gay reaches behind the panel and finds the gun that killed Weber. Gay then goes to the morgue, where he examines Weber's body and recognizes him as the man pictured with Retana in a photograph he found in Retana's apartment.
Meanwhile, as the police interrogate Goldy, Helen bursts in and confesses to Weber's murder and presents them with Retana's gun. When the gun is identified as the murder weapon, Helen tells them about Retana and sends them to a club where he is dining with Elinor. Gay phones Elinor at the club to tell her to leave before the police arrive, but she thinks that Gay is trying to frame Retana out of jealousy and warns him instead. When Gay returns home, he finds an armed Retana demanding the diamond, but he is frightened off when Helen unexpectedly appears at the door. Meanwhile, Bates has arrested Elinor at the club, and when she calls Gay from the police station, he instructs Mike to meet him at Maxine Wood's apartment.
There, Maxine tells Gay that her life has been threatened, prompting Gay and Mike to promise to stay the night to protect her. Maxine then retires for the evening, and Gay and Mike listen at her bedroom door as Retana sneaks in through the window and threatens her. Mike and Gay charge into the room, but before they can capture Retana, he falls dead, a hypodermic needle at his side. Mike assumes that Retana committed suicide, but Gay disagrees and declares that Maxine killed Retana. He then explains that Maxine was married to Weber who, with Retana, comprised the jewel theft ring. When she and Weber tried to double-cross Retana, he killed Weber and was about to do the same to Maxine when she stabbed him with the hypodermic. Gay continues that Weber's knowledge that Goldy was at the pinball parlor tipped him that Maxine was involved in the ring. They all then return to the police station, and Elinor is about to forgive Gay when an attractive woman arrives and asks him for his help in solving a crime.
Van Nest Polglase
Richard Van Hessen
The Gay Falcon
The Gay Falcon is the first of sixteen films based on the debonair sleuth created by Michael Arlen in his 1940 short story Gay Falcon, which is also the full name Arlen gave to his character. For the movie, RKO renamed him "Gay Laurence" but kept "The Falcon" as his crime-solving moniker, even though the nickname is never explained on screen in any of the films.
The reason isn't so mysterious, however: the studio needed a nickname similar to "The Saint." Though this was the first Falcon movie, audiences had already seen Sanders play The Saint in five B films, also for RKO. Leslie Charteris, author of the Saint books, was unhappy with the way the studio had been adapting his stories - especially with Sanders' take on the character - and was making loud protests. To rid themselves of Charteris, RKO simply bought the rights to Arlen's Gay Falcon and started a new series with Sanders. There was really nothing inherently different between the Saint and the Falcon movies except the name. (Even Wendy Barrie, Sanders' co-star in The Gay Falcon, had previously appeared in three Saint films.)
RKO filmed The Gay Falcon under the working title Meet the Viking, probably to keep the project's existence secret from Charteris. When he did find out, however, he was furious. "[RKO's] promotion of The Falcon was so shamelessly liable as to allow many dull-witted audiences to think they were still getting The Saint," Charteris later told author Jon Tuska. "I brought a suit against them for unfair competition." RKO settled with Charteris out of court but managed to come out even in the end by temporarily selling distribution rights to a new Saint film, The Saint Meets the Tiger (1943), to another studio. (That film starred Hugh Sinclair as The Saint.)
Like the Saint films, the Falcons are short, satisfying diversions. Curiously, this first Falcon picture begins with The Falcon trying to leave his crime-solving ways. He has taken a job as stockbroker because his girlfriend doesn't want any more of his sleuthing nonsense, and he's bored out of his mind. Quickly enough, however, he finds himself puzzling over a scheme in which jewel thieves are operating in cahoots with society ladies to defraud insurance companies. With his goofy sidekick Goldie (Allen Jenkins), The Falcon is back in action, investigating the crime, romancing the ladies (Anne Hunter and Wendy Barrie), and in a weirdly funny quirk, ordering spinach juice wherever he goes.
As written in Arlen's original short story, The Falcon was more hard-boiled than the way he is portrayed on screen. That said, Arlen himself was a lot more like the screen version of his character: debonair and high-society. Armenian by birth, Arlen grew up in London and eventually married a countess. When he died in 1956, he was living on New York's Park Avenue. In addition to a career as a novelist, he worked for a time in the MGM story department and was credited with one produced screenplay, The Heavenly Body (1944) starring Hedy Lamarr. Arlen's novel The Green Hat was also made into two features, the first a famous Greta Garbo vehicle called A Woman of Affairs (1928).
As good as he was as The Saint and The Falcon, George Sanders did not enjoy playing these detective characters, considering them beneath his dignity. RKO let him escape after the fourth Falcon movie, The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which The Falcon is killed off only to be replaced by his brother, played by Sanders' real-life brother Tom Conway. Conway would play The Falcon in nine more pictures. (John Calvert then took on the role in three final low-budgeters produced by the poverty-row company Film Classics.)
Character actor Allen Jenkins steals the show whenever he's on screen in The Gay Falcon as a wisecracking sidekick, a role he played in movie after movie. Jenkins later said, "I was in 178 movies in which I was a stumblebum hood, but lovable. Always lovable. I was the stupid, engaging one."
Also in the cast is 53-year-old Gladys Cooper, who had long ago achieved celebrity as England's top WWI pinup girl and major stage actress of the 1920s and 30s. (She'd even published a memoir ten years earlier.) In 1940, she moved to Hollywood and started playing dignified character roles in a slew of top-drawer movies. She would quickly receive her first of three Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nominations for Now, Voyager (1942), in which she was unforgettable as Bette Davis' mother.
Variety was respectful of this film, declaring, "Director Irving Reis has made the most of the suspenseful moments and comedy situations, and the scripters' job is skillful." Of young Turhan Bey, who plays a villain in one of his earliest roles, the trade paper said he "is sadly in need of a hair trim."
Look for Hans Conried in a brief but comic turn as a police sketch artist.
Producer: Howard Benedict
Director: Irving Reis
Screenplay: Lynn Root, Frank Fenton, Michael Arlen (story)
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Film Editing: George Crone
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Paul Sawtell
Cast: George Sanders (Gay Laurence), Wendy Barrie (Helen Reed), Allen Jenkins (Jonathan G. Locke), Nina Vale (Elinor Benford), Gladys Cooper (Maxine Wood), Edward Brophy (Detective Bates).
BW-67m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
Jon Tuska, The Detective in Hollywood
Michael R. Pitts, Famous Movie Detectives
The Gay Falcon
Leslie Charteris sued RKO contending that "The Falcon" was "The Saint", his creation, in disguise. The disposition of the suit has not been discovered.
Michael Arlen's short story was also published in 1946 in a collection of stories edited by Ellery Queen titled To the Queen's Taste. Although a sign on "Gay's" office door spells his last name "Laurence," reviews and subsequent pictures spell his name "Lawrence." A Hollywood Reporter production chart places Florence Bates in the cast, but she was not in the released film. According to a February 1941 news item in Hollywood Reporter, after RKO decided to film its "Saint" series in London with an all-new cast, the studio began to search for a new mystery character to showcase former "Saint" star George Sanders, who was on loan to RKO from Twentieth Century-Fox. In March 1941, the studio bought the rights to Michael Arlen's story "The Gay Falcon" and assigned Lynn Root and Frank Fenton to work on the script. Modern sources add that after the picture was released, Leslie Charteris, the creator of the Saint, sued RKO on the grounds that the Falcon was the Saint in disguise. The final disposition of the suit has not been discovered. Wendy Barrie and George Sanders also appeared together in the 1939 RKO film The Saint Strikes Back and the 1940 film The Saint Takes Over.
The Gay Falcon was the first of thirteen films based on the character created by Arlen and produced by RKO. The first four films starred Sanders as Gay Lawrence and the balance featured Tom Conway, Sanders' real-life brother, as "Tom Lawrence," brother of Gay. Seven of the films featured either Allen Jenkins, Cliff Edwards or Edward S. Brophy in the role of the Falcon's sidekick, Goldy (or Goldie) Locke. After a lapse of two years, the independent production company Falcon Productions, Inc. bought the rights to "The Falcon" and turned out three films from 1948 to 1949 starring John Calvert in the lead. From 1954 to 1955, Charles McGraw portrayed Mike Waring, the Falcon in thirty-nine syndicated television episodes entitled Adventures of the Falcon. For additional information about the series, consult the Series Index.