Saturday, September 18, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Clay Pigeon

The Clay Pigeon
directed by Richard Fleischer
This is a film noir but very much at the lighter end of that cinematic spectrum. 
With a running time of just over an hour it's really very short and doesn't spend much time on character development or in invoking any sense of dread, existential or otherwise. 
There's actually a fair bit of comedy, some of it unintentional. The film actually tries to make us believe that a Japanese World War Two war criminal would attempt to hide out in a Chinese American residential area and NOT be detected by any of the people living therein. 
This makes about as much sense as thinking that a German Nazi war criminal would CHOOSE to live in a Russian-Jewish American neighborhood and move around with no problems. 
Perhaps to clueless outsiders every East Asian looks the same or every European looks the same but people within those groups and the hundreds of smaller groups that comprise them have no problems distinguishing among each other. They've been doing just that for hundreds or even thousands of years!
The most obvious tell would of course be language but there are so many many others. So that made me not take this film too seriously. 
And that's just as well because I don't think the writer or director took their jobs too seriously either.
It's post war US. But Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) has unfinished business. Jim is a Navy vet and former Japanese POW who wakes up in a hospital with a bad headache and a case of amnesia. 
The medical staff isn't too sympathetic to his problems. It seems that Jim is accused of informing on other American POWs, including his best friend, causing their torture and execution. 
Accused of treason, Jim likely has a date with the hangman or firing squad just as soon as he's healthy enough for the Navy to court-martial him. Well Jim's head hurts and he can't remember much but he's pretty sure he didn't snitch on his fellow Americans. 
So Jim escapes from the hospital and seeks out two people that he thinks can help him clear his name. 
These two people are the widow of his best friend, Martha Gregory (Barbara Hale, Williams' real life wife who would later become well known for her Perry Mason and Amana spokeswoman roles) and another survivor of the Japanese prison camp, the now well heeled Ted Niles (Richard Quine). 
If these people can assist him, Jim knows he can prove his innocence and find the brutal head prison guard, Ken Tokoyama (Richard Loo).
This was a bland movie with bland acting, particularly by Williams. His character is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. This would be ok except for the fact that the viewer will likely have figured everything out LONG before Jim Fletcher does. Fortunately this basic story was also much better depicted in a different movie that also came out in 1949, Act of Violence, discussed here. Hale did a good job with her role but was limited by the writer's choices. She flips back and forth between extreme emotional states far too quickly though she's always convincing.
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