Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Fallen Sparrow (1943) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight's double bill at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival paid tribute to novelist Dorothy B. Hughes. Two films based on Hughes' books were screened, RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947) and THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943).

Best of all, there was an interview with FALLEN SPARROW costar Patricia Morison, who just turned 100 in March.

I had had mixed feelings about Robert Montgomery's RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947) when I saw it in 2011, and I was pleasantly surprised to thoroughly enjoy it on this viewing. It's a dreamlike film requiring close attention -- one of those movies which simply plays better on a big screen in the dark than on the smaller screen at home. I found it also helped to have a better understanding of what would happen at the outset, as it's a fairly unusual movie.

I was interested to find that in 2011 I had written "I have a feeling this is a movie which might play better the second time around," as that proved to be very true. I plan to buy the Criterion Collection DVD, which includes a commentary track and a Lux Radio production, in the next Criterion sale.

At intermission Patricia Morison arrived to be interviewed by Alan Rode. I was seated at quite a distance so don't have a very good photo -- hopefully a camera with a better zoom lens is in my future! -- but here's one just to give a flavor of the moment:

We should all live to 100 and be as sharp and savvy as Morison! She told some very engaging stories, including Louis B. Mayer proposing marriage to her through an intermediary and being cut out of her role as Victor Mature's first wife in KISS OF DEATH (1947) because the Production Code would not allow her suicide to be shown. (Morison's name remained on some of the film's posters.) She also discussed meeting Cole Porter and being cast in the title role in the original Broadway production of KISS ME, KATE, as well as working with Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I, where she replaced the ailing Gertrude Lawrence in the Broadway cast.

Morison was one of three actresses who starred in the evening's next film, THE FALLEN SPARROW. She played Barby, the upper-crust ex-girlfriend of Kit McKittrick (John Garfield). As the movie begins, Kit has recently left a sanitarium where he was treated for what we would now call PTSD, as he recovers from a horrific experience as a prisoner of war in a Fascist prison camp in Spain.

The film also stars Maureen O'Hara, who might be a woman in distress or might be an enemy operative, and Martha O'Driscoll (CRIMINAL COURT) as a society songbird who is Kit's friend. It was nice to think that not only Morison but O'Hara (age 94) are still with us today. O'Driscoll died in 1998.

Kit returns to NYC to investigate the "suicide" of a cop friend who had helped him escape the POW camp. Kit believes his fall from the upper story of a highrise wasn't an accident and that it's likely a woman lured him to his doom. But which one, and why?

The plot, frankly, is on the muddled side, making it difficult to describe in more detail, and the film also has its distasteful moments, with Walter Slezak gleefully describing methods of torture. That said, the film is still interesting and has a great polished noir style, between Nicholas Musuraca's gleaming black and white photography and the elegant ladies of the cast, not least Morison.

Morison is absolutely gorgeous, gowned by Edward Stevenson, with her trademark long, dark hair done up in elaborate styles. I wished she'd had even more screen time as she's a very interesting and rather unique film personality.

O'Driscoll is also engaging in a substantial part which gives her a chance to sing. O'Hara might actually be the least interesting of the three ladies, as she's simply beautiful but mysteriously icy, right up till the end.

THE FALLEN SPARROW is an RKO film which was directed by Richard Wallace and edited by future Oscar-winning director Robert Wise. The Warren Duff screenplay of this 94-minute film was based on the novel by the previously mentioned Dorothy Hughes.

The supporting cast includes Hugh Beaumont, Bruce Edwards, John Banner, and John Miljan.

THE FALLEN SPARROW is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Blogger Kristina said...

I need to revisit both of these, I see from your review I have zero recollection of The Fallen Sparrow, and like you I found Ride the Pink Horse fascinating and well acted but weird and hard to like on first viewing. How nice to see Morison and hear those great stories!

10:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'd love to know what you think of both films when you revisit them, Kristina!

It was indeed an all-around great evening. :)

Best wishes,

6:08 PM  

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