The Gay Falcon

Gasser

The Gay Falcon (1941)

Despite the middle-of-the-road rating I feel compelled to give The Gay Falcon, the movie about retired freelance sleuth Gay Lawrence is far from dull. George Sanders brings a fun liveliness to the lead character who is comically rude to the women in his life and amusingly insulting to those around him.

The Gay Falcon was the first of four movies about the crime solver known as The Falcon that would star George Sanders (The later nine movies would start Tom Conway, Sanders’ brother, as Tom Lawrence, The Falcon’s brother.) But the origin of The Falcon character is suspiciously linked to Leslie Charteris’ The Saint. This movie was made after Sanders made five films as Simon Templar aka The Saint, who was a rogue crime solver who although on the side of the law, worked independently of the police. The story about Gay Lawrence not only featured Sanders and costar Wendy Barrie again but also the same writing crew at RKO that was responsible to the Sanders Saint movies. Charteris sued RKO claiming it had stolen his character. The final disposition in the suit has not be discovered.

But onto the story. Sanders’ Gay Lawrence is attempting to hold down a legitimate office job to appease his fiancée Elinor (Anne Hunter). When the duo go to a party, however, Lawrence is drawn into a case involving jewelry thefts all occurring during parties hosted by Maxine Wood (Gladys Cooper). While dancing with everyone but his fiancée, Lawrence is slipped a large diamond ring from Mrs. Gardiner (Lucile Gleason) and told to protect it from criminals who wish to nab it. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Gardiner is killed.

Helping Lawrence on the case is Maxine’s secretary Helen (Barrie), who is more interested in nabbing the Falcon as a romantic partner than in accomplishing anything. Her continual presence at Lawrence’s apartment and her answering of the phone there, drives Elinor into a constant furry, and she chums up with a Manuel Retana (Turhan Bey) to make her beau jealous.

Meanwhile, The Falcon’s sidekick Goldie Locke, played by Allen Jenkins, is arrested for the first murder for being the only witness on the scene, and for the later killing of one of the suspects. Lawrence also gets himself on bad terms with the police and eliminates his snazzy manner of dress in exchange for a slobbish disguise. The Falcon will solve the case and make his choice of a female partner.

The Gay Falcon brings all the usual elements we expect in a detective (or in this case non-detective) story, but adds a great degree of humor. Although probably not as witty as The Saint, The Falcon sure knows how to toy with women. Barrie is extremely amusing as the sort-of-dumb and definitely worthless partner ever at Lawrence’s heels. Much of the dialogue is outright laughable, but in a good way. Compared to Sanders’ The Saint movies, I would say The Gay Falcon is far less serious, with Sanders having more fun in the role. I will still always prefer his Simon Templar pictures as being of just overall higher quality in terms of plot and performance.

Sources: Ben Mankiewicz, TCM.com

Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about a few them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

The Public Enemy
6 am Saturday on TCM
James Cagney, Jean Harlow

The Saint Strikes Back
noon Saturday on TCM
George Sanders, Wendy Barrie

Dinner at Eight 
8 pm Saturday on TCM
John Barrymore, Marie Dressler

The Thin Man
10 pm Saturday on TCM
William Powell, Myrna Loy

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
2 am Sunday on TCM
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

 San Francisco
8 am Sunday on TCM
Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald

A Day at the Races
10 am Sunday on TCM
The Marx Brothers

Witness for the Prosecution
noon Sunday on TCM
Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power

The Saint Strikes Back

Gasser

The Saint Strikes
Back (1939)

     Moviegoers had no lack of detective/murder mystery movie plots to entertain them in the 1930s and 1940s and perhaps the story lines of The Saint movies offered nothing particularly unique, but George Sanders in embodying Simon Templar surely did. The Saint Strikes Back was the first of a handful of movies Sanders would do based on the novels of Leslie Charteris in which he just gets his feet wet as the sometimes-criminal, sometimes-sleuth Templar.

     A shady character is shot dead at a San Francisco night club during a New Year’s celebration just before he gets a chance to take out whomever he was aiming his gun at. Simon Templar happens to be present at that party and so naturally finds himself implicated in the crime. A New York detective, Inspector Fernack (Jonathan Hale), is called in to assist in the case because of his history with Templar, also known as The Saint (note his initials). We learn from Fernack that Templar used to work for the police department, but then also went off Robin Hooding by punishing criminals either by stealing and redistributing their wealth or perhaps by more grisly means. Templar skips  off to New York before Fernack can leave for the west coast, however, to make it seem as though he’d been in that city all along and couldn’t be involved in the murder of the mobster. He has already, however, made contact with a blonde who was part of the dead guy’s dinner party that night who is the daughter of a now-dead police officer kicked off the force for being involved with the mysterious criminal Mr. Waldeman. This dame, Val Travers (Wendy Barrie), now lives a seedy life trying to create trouble for the police as often as possible.

     Alternately eluding and collaborating with Fernack, Templar begins to investigate how this murder might be related to a possible framing of Val’s father. A wealthy philanthropist Martin Eastman (Gilbert Emery) seems to be linked to the mystery through some federal bank notes stored and stolen from his safe. Some characters will die, others live and Templar will kiss the pretty blonde. Such is the life of The Saint.

 
     The Saint movies to come would follow similar plot set ups. Always a murder, always a woman for the man to pursue, and always the on and off incrimination of Templar in the crime itself thus requiring him to both work with and escape from authorities throughout the story. I would say The Saint Strikes Back is not quite as thrilling and amusing as The Saint films to come, but it still is a great primer on possibly my favorite movie detective. Sanders brought such a coolness to his role; he was never unsettled by the possibility he could go to jail or by a gun pointed his way, and he always charmed the pants off all around him. Granted, one could say this for most Sanders characters, but I think that only highlights what an enjoyable man he was to watch on screen. He was a fine actor, always able to bring humor to the most serious roles, and his smooth voice could seduce any woman.
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