Gay Lawrence (George Sanders) is a gentleman sleuth, known by the nickname of “The Falcon.” He’s popular with the ladies but has supposedly given his heart to one: Elinor Benford (Anne Hunter), his fiancée.
Elinor wants Gay to give up his clue-hunting crime work for a more respectable job, so he and his right-hand man Goldy (Allen Jenkins) open up a brokerage office.
He’s giving it a dedicated effort. When a new client (Wendy Barrie) turns up looking for his detective services, he and Goldy tell her to go ask Ellery Queen instead. But he can’t resist the call of the sleuth forever, and soon finds himself entangled in a plot envolving jewel theft and murder.
Irving Reis directs 1941’s The Gay Falcon. This is the first in a series of films about “The Falcon,” and it was followed by a whopping fifteen films (!) released between 1942 and 1949. George Sanders’ leading role was taken over first by Tom Conway, and then by John Calvert. The character’s name was also changed, from Gay Lawrence to Tom Lawrence to Michael Waring.
Like all good detective-mystery series, The Gay Falcon follows the genre formula with a few traits of its leading man emphasized to set him apart from his fellow sleuths. In the case of Gay Lawrence, he’s a particularly smooth talker and a womanizer, is seemingly immune to being spooked, has a sidekick that gets caught more often than usual, and swaps out said sidekick for a pretty lady who has an eye for him.
The pretty lady in question is Helen, portrayed by Wendy Barrie. The Falcon is engaged to Elinor at the film’s beginning, but the viewer gets a hint that engagement won’t last long when Helen enters the picture. Helen and Elinor’s personalities are near opposites.
Helen jumps into the investigation alongside Gay with both feet, and while I wouldn’t exactly call her fearless, she’s more than willing to put herself in danger for the sake of investigation. She’s the fast-talker of the cast, a contrast to Sanders’ monotone Falcon. Early in the film, she gets the Falcon and Goldy out of a jam by speed-racing them around street corners and through alleys. That scene gives a burst of energy to the film, is exciting to watch, and immediately endeared me to Helen.
Allen Jenkins and George Sanders are great in their roles as well. Jenkins was frequently typecast, so his characters are never very unique from one another, but he’s terribly fun to watch. He makes a good pal for Sanders’ falcon. Sanders is deep-voiced and suave; Jenkins is much less refined and prone to misadventure. Their differences make them enjoyable to watch as sleuthing pair, though they don’t share quite as many scenes as Sanders and Barrie.
There are a few complaints to make about the film. It makes use of a heavily stereotyped character named Jerry (Willie Fung). It also starts out a bit on the dull side, but gets remarkably better as it moves along.
The Gay Falcon is worth a watch for those who love a minor detective series, or those who enjoy the work of George Sanders, who makes one of the smoothest detectives ever captured on the ’40s screen. The start is slightly rocky, but the film turns out to be a solid little mystery. The score: 3.5/5