Sunday, June 13, 2010
The Fallen Sparrow
Before he died at the young age of 39, actor John Garfield sure packed a lot into a brief career. In just over 10 years, he was in 32 movies, some parts bigger than others and not all of them starring parts. But he carved out a niche for himself playing tough guys who remained likable despite their on-screen actions especially in The Postman Always Rings Twice where he's a wandering, murdering lover. In 1943's The Fallen Sparrow, he gets to play a character that reminded me in a lot of ways that reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island.
Garfield plays John McKittrick, 'Kit' to his friends, a man wrestling with his past demons. In the 1930s, McKittrick traveled to Spain and fought in the Spanish Civil War. Toward the end of the war, his battalion was involved in a bloody battle that resulted in a majority of the men being killed or captured. Kit has an item the enemy would love to get their hands on but refuses to give it up and is sent to a prison where he rots for two years, his captors torturing him physically and mentally. Finally he escapes with the help of a childhood friend and returns to the U.S. where he lives on a ranch in Arizona (it's hinted this is some sort of asylum). But even free from the prison, he's tortured by his memories of what happened in the prison, the sounds, the smells, all the little things get to him as he tries to cope.
Here's where the story kicks in because all of that background is handled in a few scenes of dialogue as information is slowly filtered out. Kit travels to New York when he receives word that a friend of his -- the one who helped him escape -- died when he accidentally fell to his death from a window on a top floor of a skyscraper. Kit doesn't believe it for a second and starts his own investigation. He meets all sorts of people who were at the party when his friend fell, but no one seems to be telling him the truth. It's just the start of a story that goes left and right with twists around every corner as Kit tries to reveal the truth while also struggling to keep his sanity.
My plot description was a little shorter than usual and for good reason. Even after finishing the movie, I wasn't quite sure what I'd just watched or what exactly happened. Foreshadowing the huge popularity of film noir that was to come, 'Sparrow's' story isn't content just to keep you guessing as to what is to come. This is a story that feels the need to confuse you. Characters are introduced and then drift in and out as needed, disappearing for extended segments and then reappearing when some new twist or reveal appears. Granted, I watched this movie in a couple different windows, but I'm usually able to keep up with most movies. Not so much here.
SPOILERS As for the twists and turns that I did keep up with, it's all pretty ridiculous. Garfield's Kit stumbles into a web of political intrigue with international spy rings, government agencies, blackmail, murder and Nazis hiding out in 1943 in NYC as refugees. Then as for the big reveal of who the actual bad guy is, I thought I'd missed something. From the get-go, their very first appearance it is obvious to a blind man who the Nazi killers really are. Then the story spends the next hour and a half getting to that point of the reveal. One worthwhile point mentioning, Hugh Beaumont (Ward Cleaver, the Beav's Dad on Leave it To Beaver) is one of the Nazi agents working with his 'dad' Walter Slezak. The reveal is so obvious it threw me off to the point where when the camera zooms in and the music swells I thought I'd missed something else. Nope, that was it, and I called it five minutes in like most moviegoers had to do when seeing this one.
But because of the good performances in this mess of a movie, I can't completely rip it to pieces. Garfield is a strong lead as he tries to piece all this crazy evidence together with everyone around him thinking he's completely lost his mind. Maureen O'Hara plays Toni Donne, a pawn in a much bigger picture who is forced to do things against her will. She of course falls in love with Kit right away in one of those ultra-believable romances that I'm such a fan of. Also look for a much thinner, very young John Banner as Anton, a mysterious piano player who knows more than he's letting on. It took me quite a while to figure him as Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes. This isn't going to be a very long, very detailed review because even with the solid cast, this one was a stinker. Pass and pass again.
The Fallen Sparrow <----trailer (1943): * 1/2 /****