An On-Going Investigation by Frank Derato
I have always enjoyed the Falcon films with Tom Conway and the other night, while watching one I noticed that Michael Arlen is credited with having created the character. A little googling revealed that Arlen supposedly created the character in “Gay Falcon,” a 1940 short story.
But what about Drexel Drake?
Drake (a pseudonym of Charles H. Huff) also wrote about a crimefighter named The Falcon, whom he introduced in a 1936 novel, The Falcon’s Prey. It was published by Lippincott and was promptly followed by The Falcon Cuts In (1937) and The Falcon Meets a Lady, (1938). They, and a 1938 short story, all clearly predate Arlen’s story.
In Drake’s books, the main character is New Yorker Malcolm J. Wingate, a shadowy figure known as “The Falcon” who fights crime in his own way. He’s got a long square-cut face, accentuated by a tall forehead and long square chin, close-knitted black eyebrows and a looped nose, a wide thin mouth, dark wavy hair, and steel-blue eyes. His partner is Steve “Sarge” Hardy, an ex-cop with “thick lips.” They work together well: a gesture by the Falcon tells Sarge exactly what to do. Sarge always calls the Falcon “chief.”
Although American, Wingate was educated at Cambridge, and was left some money after his parents died. He lived on the edge. His philosophy was that “property that had been already removed from its rightful ownership by the process of crime was proper spoils for a smarter, more adept criminal.” He adopted his name while riding on a train from Cambridge to London when he saw a falconer. “The falcon, powerful of wing and indomitable of courage, takes its quarry as it moves, plunging down upon it from above.”
The books were set in New York City, even though Sarge and the Falcon met in London. It is interesting that George Sanders and Tom Conway who played the film version of the Falcon (I know they were brothers) both had British accents, and that Drake’s Falcon, having been educated at Cambridge, probably would have picked up a little British accent. Was this a coincidence, or were they looking for a British type when they cast the part?
This is clearly the same character that the films portray, with the same name, and with the same type of partner. Granted, Sarge was not a comic figure, as was Goldy (but interestingly enough there is a criminal character in the first book named Goldy).
Such “coincidences” and similarities abound, and beg the question:
Did Michael Arlen adapt Drake’s books to film, rather than having “created” the Falcon himself? Or was it simply a rip-off?
The investigation continues…
- “The Falcon Strikes,” (November 1938, The American Magazine)
BY THE WAY
“Drexel Drake” was the non-existent heir to the equally non-existent Sir Francis Drake fortune and a key component in an infamous and long-running 1920s scam by American con artsit Oscar Hartzell that involved a fraudulent lawsuit against the British government. It eventually netted him possibly millions of dollars, as well as, alas, a lengthy jail sentence. So there’s a certain cachet in using “Drexel Drake” as a pen name to write about a rogue adventurer.