Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Clay Pigeon (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE CLAY PIGEON (1949) is a nifty little suspense thriller just released on DVD in the Warner Archive Film Noir Collection.

I first saw this film three years ago and enjoyed returning to it tonight. It's a lightning-fast tale which manages to pack a lot of plot and characterization into a scant 63 minutes.

Bill Williams plays Jim Fletcher, who comes out of a coma at the Long Beach Naval Hospital only to learn that he's going to be court-martialed for an act of treason committed while he was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp.

Jim's prison memories have been completely wiped out; terrified at being accused of something horrible he doesn't remember, he escapes from the hospital. Jim hopes his old war buddy, Mark, can help him out and meets Mark's wife Martha (Barbara Hale). Jim has another ugly shock coming when he learns Mark is dead and he's responsible.

Jim and the initially unwilling Martha go on the road looking for answers, which might be found with another old war buddy, Ted (Richard Quine). It's quite a challenge, with both the navy and strange men with guns following Jim around Los Angeles. And Jim has an even bigger shock coming when he's sitting in a Chinese restaurant and suddenly spots the Japanese guard who beat him!

The theme of a couple on the run is something I seem to have been watching a lot of in the last few weeks, including PACIFIC BLACKOUT (1941) and another Warner Archive release, TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945). It's fun to watch the real life Mr. and Mrs. Williams on screen together; married in 1946, they have a comfortable, appealing rapport costarring in this film. They previously appeared together in WEST OF THE PECOS (1945) and A LIKELY STORY (1947).

The movie has another familiar film noir theme, a veteran with a big problem. Veterans seem to have had an especially rough time in film noir land! I could doubtless make a very long list of film noir veterans who find life back in the States perhaps more dangerous than what they experienced in the war.

THE CLAY PIGEON has some great atmosphere, with settings including a coastal trailer park and L.A.'s Chinatown, filmed in black and white by Robert de Grasse.

There's an especially nice scene where Jim hides in the apartment of a war widow. She's played by Mary Marco, who (billed as Maria San Marco) played Keye Luke's bride Jeannie in SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948). It's an interesting thematic touch that while Jim has been tormented by a Japanese man, both during the war and after, his life is saved by a Japanese-American woman.

The cast of THE CLAY PIGEON also includes Martha Hyer as a receptionist who gives Jim a key piece of information and Ann Doran as a bitter nurse.

THE CLAY PIGEON has excellent behind the scenes talent, written by Carl Foreman and directed Richard Fleischer. Fleischer seems to be warming up for his noir classic THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), which was set almost entirely on a train headed for Los Angeles; the climax of THE CLAY PIGEON also takes place on a train, this time headed out of L.A.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print of this RKO film. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I like it a lot too (I think I've seen it three times already.)

Williams and Hale also appeared in several episodes of PERRY MASON together. He got a chance to play the client in CASE OF THE CRIPPLED COUGAR.

I had a chuckle at your remark about vets in filn-noir land! So true! Here's a few more that spring to mind: KEY LARGO, THE BLUE DAHLIA, BACKFIRE, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, DEAD RECKONING, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL... you're right, it happens quite a bit.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That is a terrific list of "film noir vets in trouble," Maricatrin! Love it. :) If anyone else would like to contribute titles, please go for it!

You know, I don't think I realized Bill Williams did some PERRY MASON shows. That's great.

As I shared in my original review of the THE CLAY PIGEON, I saw Williams and Hale's son Bill Katt singing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" in THE SOUND OF MUSIC when I was a little kid. It was wayyyyy before he became a star on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.

Best wishes,

2:02 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

I enjoyed your essay, Laura. The Clay Pigeon was recently on TCM's Film Noir series, but I missed it. Fortunately, your photoessay gave me a taste of the picture, until I can see it for myself.


2:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Nicholas, I'm glad you enjoyed it! You might enjoy checking the movie out on the Warner Archive DVD I've reviewed here. Thanks for reading!

Best wishes,

6:58 PM  

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