From 1938 to 1941 RKO Pictures produced a successful series of films featuring The Saint. Five of the films featured George Sanders in the title role. When the studio chose not to renew the film rights to The Saint, they set out to find a replacement. They turned to a detective called The Falcon, and for his first film, 1941’s “The Gay Falcon,” they cast Sanders in the title role.
Now, just to silence any snickers over the film’s title…beyond the fact that the word “gay” often had a different meaning at this point in history, the Falcon’s real name is actually Gay, as in Gaylord, Lawrence. He and his partner, Goldy (Allen Jenkins), have recently stepped away from being crime-solvers to open up a brokerage on Wall Street. All this is to please his fiancée, Elinor (Nina Vale). But when he returns home one night, he is met by Helen Reed (Wendy Barrie), secretary to the wealthy Maxine Wood (Gladys Cooper). Mrs. Wood is going to be holding a party, and with a rash of recent diamond robberies, she is wanting someone to protect a precious diamond that one of her guests, Mrs. Gardiner (Lucille Gleason) will be wearing.
Gay ends up attending the party, with Elinor and Goldy in tow. Though Elinor is angered when she learns why they are at the party so she tries to get revenge by dancing with handsome socialite Manuel Retana (Turhan Bey). This doesn’t faze Gay, who always seems to have ladies around him. Strangely, when he dances with Mrs. Gardiner, she slips him the diamond and abruptly leaves the room. Before he can figure out why, there is a shot, and Mrs. Gardiner ends up dead. Goldy ends up seeing the killer, but the cops think he’s the guilty party.
Gay manages to convince the police to release Goldy as bait to catch the real killer. Gay and Helen end up heading off to talk with Mrs. Wood, while leaving Goldie in a pinball parlor. Gay begins to suspect that Mrs. Gardiner was involved in a ring of jewel thieves, led by Manuel Retana. Meanwhile, Goldie ends up getting nabbed by Noel Webber (Damian O’Flynn), the man who killed Mrs. Gardiner. He tells Goldy to call up the Falcon and demand he turn over the diamond. But before Goldy can place the call, Weber is taken out with a bullet. This lands Goldy in police custody again.
Now, Gay, the normally suave, well-dressed, gentleman, is reduced to disguising himself as a tramp to avoid the police as he tries to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Elinor is getting more and more cozy with Manuel, who Gay still believes to be the source of all the trouble. But he will soon learn that the real villain is someone completely unexpected.
“The Gay Falcon” is a short little B detective story, but it is an enjoyable little film. Sanders is really the key to the success of this film. The character is a smooth-talking, over-confident ladies man, but he’s extremely likeable. He’s both suave and funny and always just a bit ahead of the curve compared to everyone else around him. Our first introduction to the character perfectly sets the tone…Elinor walks into his office where he appears to be deep in thought looking out of the window, instead he’s watching the lovely woman in the window across the way undress. “Well you said to get an office with a view,” he tells Elinor.
Some elements don’t work as well. Goldy is kind of the typical annoying sidekick. Allen Jenkins’ “Hey yous muggs” type of delivery does wear a bit thin. However, I did really enjoy Nina Vale’s performance as Elinor. She makes for an interesting love interest / foil who’s almost as compelling a character as the Falcon is. One other brief surprise the film offers is small performance by, a very young, Hans Conried, as an easily irritated police sketch artist.
A total of 15 Falcon films were made over the next eight years. However, Sanders would only play the role two more times. Still, this is a great start to the series and a fun introduction to the character.