The Fallen Sparrow (1943)

The Fallen Sparrowthe-fallen-sparrow-1943
Directed by Richard Wallace
Written by Warren Duff from a novel by Dorothy B. Hughes
1943/USA
RKO Radio Pictures
First viewing/Warner Archive DVD

 

John ‘Kit’ McKittrick: [First Lines] [Thinking, not speaking out loud] All right. Go on. Let’s have it. Can you go through with it? Have you got the guts for it? Or have they knocked it out of you? Have they made you yellow?

This early film noir had potential but never quite clicked.  Maureen O’Hara was not cut out to be a femme fatale.

“Kit” McKittrick (John Garfield) has returned from the Spanish Civil War, having suffered torture by fascists for two years as a POW.  He still has nightmarish flashbacks from his ordeal (and talks to himself a lot).  When he returns to the city after a rest cure, he discovers that his best friend, who rescued him from captivity, fell from the balcony of a high-rise apartment. The police have ruled the case a suicide but Kit is sure it was murder.  He starts a one-man investigation and vendetta.

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He traces all the people that were at the party the night his friend fell.  They include Dr. Christian Skaas (Walter Slezak), a wheelchair-bound “Norwegian” who delights in describing modern torture techniques, and his son Otto (a blond Hugh Beaumont).  The lovely lady that was sitting with the friend at the time of his fall is Toni Donne (O’Hara), with whom Kit falls in love of course.  As Kit sensed, it develops that he is the prime target of the people who murdered his friend.  Some attempted plot twists follow but in the end it turns out just as one would have predicted.

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I was paying attention and I still had to stretch to write a plot summary.  The story is all over the place.  There are tons of characters whose reason for existence is never made clear.  The goal of the spies either is so slight as not even to qualify as a McGuffin or is not sufficiently developed.

I now understand why the first-person narrator became a film noir staple.  This film conveys the protagonist’s thoughts through several interior monologues addressed to the character himself (see quote) and it just doesn’t work.  Much better to allow the character to speak to the audience.

The Fallen Sparrow was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Roy Webb and C. Bakaleinikoff).

Trailer

 

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