Monday, August 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Fly-By-Night (1942)

I first read about FLY-BY-NIGHT, directed by Robert Siodmak, in a program I bought at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood last April. The film was shown at Noir City Festivals in San Francisco and Chicago this year, though it didn't play in Hollywood. I was quite anxious to see it and managed to locate a passable copy of this hard-to-find film.

FLY-BY-NIGHT owes more than a little to Hitchcock, merging the "man on the run with an initially unwilling beautiful girl" theme with overtones of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) -- the cast even includes FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT'S Best Supporting Actor nominee, Albert Basserman. The film was released weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so its wartime espionage themes were quite timely.

Richard Carlson plays Dr. Geoffrey Burton, a medical intern who finds himself in a hotel room with a dead body and police officers who are threatening the electric chair. The doctor makes a break for it, planning to find a way to clear his name, and ends up on the run with the unwilling Pat (Nancy Kelly), a sketch artist. Geoff quickly wins Pat's cooperation and together they work to solve the murder mystery and clear Geoff's name. Along the way Geoff and Pat are mixed up with spies, an insane asylum, and a pair of police officer brothers (Edward Gargan and Adrian Morris) whose parents run a wedding chapel.

The film may stretch credibility at times, but it's good fun. Carlson and Kelly have a very nice rapport, which makes their relationship believable. Carlson's character is earnest and resourceful, and Kelly is no conventional meek flower, but an assertive woman with a sense of humor. Their scenes together have a nice light touch. There are some excellent bits of dialogue, and some nifty -- if improbable -- sequences, such as the couple managing a change in vehicles by leaping from a moving car onto a car carrier, then backing a car off the carrier!

The story was cowritten by Sidney Sheldon, who years later created the husband-wife romantic mystery series HART TO HART. It's fun to see him trying out a similar type of plot decades earlier. Sheldon's co-author was Ben Roberts, with the screenplay by Jay Dratler and F. Hugh Herbert (who is no relation to Hugh Herbert, the oh-so-annoying character actor).

I first knew Richard Carlson from his role starring in three of Frank Capra's great science movies, including HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957), but he really caught my eye a couple years ago as the charming Scotsman courting Janet Gaynor in the wonderful comedy THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938). He also played Deborah Kerr's brother in one of my favorite adventure films, KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950). Carlson is especially well-known for his roles in the '50s sci-fi films IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954).

Nancy Kelly was the older sister of Jack Kelly, the actor who was my favorite MAVERICK on TV. In fact, when Nancy was at 20th Century-Fox, where she starred in films like JESSE JAMES (1939), she helped her brother obtain roles as a child actor in two classic films, THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) and John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). After that Jack Kelly was off the screen for a decade before resuming his career, starting out in bit parts. Nancy Kelly's best-known film was probably in THE BAD SEED (1956), where she recreated her Tony-winning Broadway role.

The cast also includes Marion Martin (effective as a blonde nurse), Miles Mander, Mary Gordon, Martin Kosleck, Walter Kingsford, Clem Bevans, Nestor Paiva, and Milton Kibbee.

The black and white cinematography was by John F. Seitz, who worked at several studios shooting everything from Shirley Temple movies to the Dr. Kildare and Andy Hardy series to Preston Sturges films. His films include SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), THE BIG CLOCK (1948), and APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951).

The Noir City program says this of FLY-BY-NIGHT: "...more screwball farce than a true noir...a delight from start to finish. Stars Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly have a charming chemistry...Shifting with elan between risque romantic comedy and shadowy suspense, Siodmak stuffs two features' worth of set-pieces into the sprightly running time. The material is pure Hitchcock-inspired hokum, but it's directed with a master's touch..."

FLY-BY-NIGHT runs 74 minutes. The plot line starts to peter out a little bit towards the end, but overall, this is a nicely done little "B" movie which puts an original spin on some tried-and-true themes. It's likely to be equally enjoyed by fans of film noir and romantic comedy.

Now if only Universal, which owns the rights to '40s Paramount films, would release it on DVD! They must have enough titles to make up a nice film noir boxed set...


Blogger Gemini730 said...

Dear Laura:
Hi !
I enjoyed reading your review of "Fly-By-Night". I recently became a fan of Richard Carlson`s early films(1938-1942) after watching "Beyond Tomorrow"(1940). I hope that Universal will eventually release 'Fly-By-Night" on DVD and that TCM will air it.
Lorraine C.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Welcome, Lorraine! Thanks for your note. Have you seen THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938)? Carlson is delightful in that one.

I agree, I hope FLY-BY-NIGHT will have an official DVD release. Hopefully the exposure it's getting from Film Noir Foundation screenings will help.

Best wishes,

10:24 AM  
Blogger Gemini730 said...

Dear Laura;
I have seen "Young at Heart"-enjoyed it very much. A young Richard Carlson reminds me a lot of young William Holden. They were the same height/athletic build and both had an earnest sweetness which is endearing.

7:14 AM  

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