Turhan Bey

The Gay Falcon (1941, Irving Reis)

The Gay Falcon answers a question I never thought to ask. Can George Sanders flop a part? The answer is yes. There are extenuating circumstances to be sure, but Sanders flops the lead in Falcon. He’s a skirt-chasing, playboy criminologist, which ought to be a natural fit for Sanders. Instead he comes off as a so callous he doesn’t recognize his misogyny nitwit.

Most of the problem, besides director Reis’s inability to get the cast above it, is the script. Lynn Root and Frank Fenton only have to fill sixty-six minutes and they barely come up with enough to cover.

The films starts with Nina Vale visiting fiancé Sanders in his office. He’s given up international adventuring and detectiving and skirt-chasing to be a stock broker. He brings along his faithful sidekick from his detective days, expert locksmith Allen Jenkins, on the stockbroking venture.

Maybe ten minutes later Sanders is charmlessly enamored with Wendy Barrie, who’s trying to hire him to look into jewel thieves. Barrie’s secretary to high society party planner Gladys Cooper and someone’s ripping off her parties. Won’t Sanders help?

Of course he will. It’s off to a party–maybe the only time Falcon has the scale it needs. The budget’s another issue, even if the RKO backlot looks great thanks to Nicholas Musuraca’s gorgeous photography.

Pretty soon Jenkins is in jail for a murder he didn’t commit, Vale is mad at Sanders, Barrie is lovestruck at Sanders, and Sanders is on the case.

The mystery isn’t mysterious and only goes on so long because Sanders and Jenkins don’t appear to be very good at international adventuring and detectiving. Sanders is theoretically better at the skirt-chasing but the film would be less obvious about it if he turned into a cartoon dog and his tongue fell onto the floor whenever a woman walked past.

Except, of course, Lucile Gleason, who isn’t beautiful so Sanders is a boar to her. Gleason and Willie Fung (as Sanders’s jawdroppingly yellowfaced butler) are always played for jokes, which just makes the film look all the more desperate. It’s like it knows it can’t connect with Sanders and Barrie’s banter so it tries Jenkins’s lovable oaf, fails, tries Vale’s jealous, silly female hysterics, fails, tries dumb cops Edward Brophy (who isn’t lovable, which is the film’s greatest crime) and Arthur Shields (who gets worse the longer he’s in the film), fails. Casual sexism and racism… they don’t work either.

So it all rests on Sanders being a skirt-chaser and a genius detective. Except he’s a dimwit detective. And his performance as a skirt-chaser is so exaggerated it’d be better if he’d at least chew some scenery.

There aren’t any good performances in the film. Vale’s better than most. Jenkins and Sanders can’t sell their stupid actions. Once Barrie becomes Sanders’s sidekick, she becomes the butt of the script’s jokes. She wasn’t very good before, but she’s worse then. Cooper’s maybe the best. Brophy should be so much funnier, but the writing is bad and Reis doesn’t direct the actors. At all.

Or, worse, he does and Falcon is the result.

Aside from the Musuraca photography and morbid curiosity, there’s nothing to The Gay Falcon. No sixty-six minute movie should be tedious. Falcon gets tedious from the fourth or fifth scene.

And George Crone’s editing is terrible. Maybe Reis didn’t get coverage, but still, terrible editing.



Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on the story by Michael Arlen; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by George Crone; music by Paul Sawtell; produced by Howard Benedict; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Gay Laurence), Wendy Barrie (Helen Reed), Allen Jenkins (Jonathan G. ‘Goldie’ Locke), Nina Vale (Elinor Benford), Arthur Shields (Inspector Mike Waldeck), Turhan Bey (Manuel Retana), Gladys Cooper (Maxine Wood), Edward Brophy (Detective Bates), Eddie Dunn (Detective Grimes), Lucile Gleason (Vera Gardner), and Willie Fung (Jerry).

Parole, Inc. (1948, Alfred Zeisler)

I enjoy old b-movies. They tend to be harmless and occasionally amusing. Parole, Inc. might be a c-movie, however, since it’s not from a studio (I wonder if direct-to-DVD will ever, since real studios are now making them, raise to a b-movie quality level). Parole, Inc. isn’t really amusing. It’s a heavy-handed looked at parole board corruption and there’s even scrolling text at the beginning to inform the audience it’s a serious problem in the United States. I thought the scroll was funny, but then the first scene is someone dictating a report with exactly the same information, but Parole, Inc.‘s got a lot of superfluous little things. It’s a competent seventy minutes, but it’s not artfully made by any stretch.

I found the movie through Evelyn Ankers, who made Parole, Inc. after her Universal contract was up, and she plays a female mobster named Jojo. Somehow, while she doesn’t pull it off in any way, she doesn’t embarrass herself (another benefit of b-movie brevity, actors don’t have too much to do). Around halfway through, I realized the lead (the cop on the inside of the gang) Michael O’Shea, was doing a good job. But he’s unappealing in some awkward way, one I won’t even bother trying to describe, but the film’s so concisely plotted–it takes place over a month or so and, while there are a lot of characters, the mob henchmen are all one blob so they don’t get confusing. Charles Bradstreet is sometimes bad, but he’s in it for the first half and he’s appealing. When he goes and O’Shea doesn’t have a response, the lack of any concern really puts Parole, Inc.‘s genre apart–it’s unthinkable O’Shea wouldn’t respond, but maybe that lack of any depth is what makes Parole, Inc. watchable. It doesn’t try and it doesn’t fail.

There is one interesting aspect, structurally, about the film–we know at the beginning O’Shea gets badly injured while solving the case. The successful pursuit of the criminals isn’t in question. Except, nothing’s done with that structure, it’s not taken advantage of in any way. There’s no suspense to Parole, Inc., which there should be, but somehow the filmmakers were fully convinced their paint-by-the-numbers, no subtext story was compelling. And it is, which is weird.



Directed by Alfred Zeisler; screenplay by Sherman L. Lowe, from a story by Lowe and Royal K. Cole; director of photography, Gilbert Warrenton; edited by John Faure; music by Alexander Laszlo; produced by Constantin J. David; released by Equity Pictures Corporation.

Starring Michael O’Shea (Richard Hendricks), Turhan Bey (Barney Rodescu), Evelyn Ankers (Jojo Dumont), Virginia Lee (Glenda Palmer), Charles Bradstreet (Harry Palmer) and Lyle Talbot (Hughes).

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