The Clay Pigeon (1949)

Passed   |    |  Drama, Film-Noir

The Clay Pigeon (1949) Poster

Jim Fletcher, waking up from a coma, finds he is to be given a court martial for treason and charged with informing on fellow inmates in a Japanese prison camp during WWII. Escaping from ... See full summary »


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Cast & Crew

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Richard Fleischer


Carl Foreman (story and screenplay)

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9 February 2011 | dougdoepke
Too Many Plot Devices
Starts off well as amnesiac vet (Williams) is chased by mysterious forces including not so mysterious Naval Intelligence. Now he's got to unravel the puzzle before it catches up to him. Good thing he gets help from dead buddy's wife (Hale). That chase sequence from San Diego to LA is particularly well done, and in good noirish fashion. Then too, the fight in Hale's apartment almost had me yelling for help. Only a devoted married couple like Williams and Hale could make it so physically realistic. However, once events locate in LA, the story settles into a more familiar pattern.

Unfortunately, a compromised script prevents the promising start from reaching front rank. Paradoxically, the screenplay is from ace writer Carl Foreman (High Noon; Bridge on the River Kwai, et al). I can only surmise that the brief running time (63-minutes) and a tight B-movie shooting schedule forced him to compromise the narrative in implausible fashion. For example—Hale's quick turnaround with escaped fugitive Williams, especially when she thinks he's responsible for her husband's death; the chance encounter with Japanese ex-prison guard Richard Loo; the cops unexplained boarding of the train in the middle of nowhere when they planned to wait in Glendale; but most of all, the angelic mother who allows a fugitive stranger she's just let in the door to hide in the same room as her infant son.

These devices may expedite the plot, but they also come across as just that, plot devices-- too many, in my view, for what is also a pretty dense narrative. At the same time, guessing the mystery's real culprit becomes pretty easy, thereby undermining the suspense. Also, director Fleischer shows little of the personal engagement that distinguishes his other noirs. All in all, the movie adds up to an average programmer that unfortunately promises more than it delivers.

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