Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Clay Pigeon

TCM ran World War II movies over Memorial Day weekend. When you think of traditional war movies, you don't necessarily think of noir, which brings up the question of what sort of movie Noir Alley would run over the Memorial Day holiday. But there are some excellent noir movies with war themes, specifically the theme of the returning soldier in a jam. Act of Violence is probably the best such movie that I can think of, but this Memorial Day, Noir Alley decided to run The Clay Pigeon.

Bill Williams plays Jim Fletcher, who at the beginning of the movie is in the naval hospital in Long Beach, CA, coming out of a coma. Another patient, now blind, tries to strangle Jim, saying that he wants to know what a traitor looks like! Poor Jim. Considering the whispers of the doctors and nurses, it's pretty clear that the navy is going to court-martial Jim when he gets well. Jim doesn't know why he's going to be court-martialed, so he knows that he has to escape.

Jim gets out of the hospital and makes his way to San Diego, where he knows that Martha (Barbara Hale), the widow of his navy buddy, lives. However, she wants nothing to do with him, because her husband and Jim were POWs together, and the official story is that Jim's actions while they were POWs got the other guy executed for trying to steal food from the Japanese guards. Jim decides to call up the third member of his old clique, Ted Niles (future director Richard Quine) and seek out his help. Of course, Quine is back in Los Angeles, and if Jim leaves Martha in San Diego, she's immediately going to sic the police on him, so he takes her and her car hostage to drive to Los Angeles.

However, along the way, another car which is not a police car comes and tries to drive them off the road, after which Martha has the illogically sudden character development of deciding that Jim must be innocent, and dammit, she's going to help him. Ted's assistance eventually leads Jim to Chinatown and a web of people who want to seem to do away with Jim for more than just his alleged war crimes. But who, and why?

The Clay Pigeon is a good idea, but I couldn't help but think while watching it that it has some flaws. It only runs 63 minutes, which I think is the main reason behind those flaws. Characters, notably Martha, have sudden character developments that deem nonsensical. There's also the trope of Jim suddenly getting key points of his memory back, which I don't think would happen in real life. And if Jim didn't have his memory, would he even be fit to be court-martialed? The plot veers from scene to scene a bit too quickly, making things confusing at times. If you're going to write a 63-minute movie, the script had better be very tight. I think The Clay Pigeon would have been helped by being 15-20 minutes longer, which would have given it time to flesh things out a bit better.

Still, The Clay Pigeon is an interesting idea and a look back at a time that no longer exists. It's available on DVD, from Warner Bros. "Film Noir Archive Collection", which means that the movie is a bit pricey. But judge for yourself.

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