Friday, November 04, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Gay Falcon (1941)

The perfect ending to a rainy November day in Southern California: a win by the USC Trojans football team, followed by homemade chocolate chip cookies and George Sanders as THE GAY FALCON.

Between 1939 and 1941, Sanders had starred as Simon Templar in RKO's series of SAINT mysteries, based on the character created by Leslie Charteris. In 1941 RKO was having difficulties dealing with Charteris and decided to move Sanders and his frequent SAINT costar, Wendy Barrie, into a brand-new yet very similar series. This time around Sanders starred as high society sleuth Gay Lawrence, aka "the Falcon." (Charteris, incidentally, was not amused, and sued RKO.)

Lawrence (Sanders) is engaged to Elinor (Anne Hunter, later known as Nina Vale), but when he's supposed to be settling down to a respectable life as a stockbroker, he just can't help becoming involved in trying to solve a diamond theft and a murder.

Gay's attempts to become a one-woman man are also thwarted as his smooth demeanor attracts women like honey, including pretty Helen Reed (Barrie), who helps him solve the mystery.

That's about all there is to this fast-paced 67 minutes, but it's quite an engaging little "B" movie, with charming performances by Sanders and Barrie, as well as a witty script. THE GAY FALCON may have been the lower half of a double bill back in the '40s, but seen today there is a great deal to appreciate.

Aside from the fine lead actors, the film has an excellent cast, starting with three-time Best Supporting Actress nominee Gladys Cooper. Notable character actors such as Arthur Shields, Edward Brophy, Allen Jenkins, Lucile Gleason, and Turhan Bey are also in the cast.

Moreover, the movie was photographed by the great Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST). The film was directed by Irving Reis.

A bit of interesting trivia about Wendy Barrie: according to James Robert Parish's THE RKO GALS, she was born Margaret Wendy Jenkins, with her middle name having been inspired by the famous literary creation of her godfather, J.M. Barrie. When Wendy became an actress, her professional name was created by combining her middle name with her godfather's last name.

There's also an interesting bit of trivia regarding familial connections and the FALCON series. In Sanders' fourth FALCON film, THE FALCON'S BROTHER (1942), he turned the series over to his real-life brother, Tom Conway, who played Tom Lawrence. Conway carried on the series with great success, starring in nine more films between 1943 and 1946.

I watched a recording of THE GAY FALCON from Turner Classic Movies, but there's great DVD news: Warner Archive recently released the first seven FALCON films in The Falcon Mystery Movie Collection, Volume 1. The titles include Sanders in THE FALCON TAKES OVER, which was based on Raymond Chandler's FAREWELL, MY LOVELY.

Based on this first film in the series, the Warner Archive set should be well worth purchasing. I'm looking forward to seeing more.


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