The eagle flies at midnight.
What's the origin and meaning of this idiom?
The blues song "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)" has the line "the eagle flies on Friday, and Saturday I go out to play".
Friday was payday for laborers all across the U.S. in 1947 when this song was written. The 50 cent and quarter coins that laborers found in their pay envelopes showed eagle images on their back sides during this era. 1947 was actually the last year that the eagle showed up on the half dollar coin.
When workers paid for their fun during Friday night parties the evening of payday, you could say that "the eagle was flying" whenever they threw coins to a bartender to pay for a drink.
I wonder if this "eagle flies at midnight" phrase is an adaptation of this expression. If that's the source, this phrase would mean that a lot of money was changing hands at midnight.
It's one of the stereotypical spy code phrases used in bad and/or spoof movies. I've seen it credited to Top Secret, but not having seen that movie, I can't vouch for the assertion.
I've also seen it as "the rooster crows at midnight", or "the eagle flies at noon". Alas, my Google-fu is not up to finding a definitive source.
There's this 'answer' to be found ... http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070822173707AAiQHG9
but my personal suspicion is that it belongs in the same category as 'my postilion has been struck by lightning' ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_postillion_has_been_struck_by_lightning )