Talkie of the Week: The Clay Pigeon
USA 1949, 63 minutes, b&w, RKO Radio Pictures. Director: Richard Fleischer, Screenplay: Carl Foreman. Cast: Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine, Richard Loo
Plot summary: When Jim Fletcher wakes up at a Navy hospital in California, he cannot recall what’s happened to him but he is certain that he is not the traitor the doctors say he is. In order to prove his innocence, he takes flight and finds, despite a rocky introduction, help from his war buddy’s widow Martha Gregory.
Review: The Clay Pigeon is a post-war film noir, tightly knit and narrated in a good pace with beautiful shots to underline the suspense. Based on a true story, the film is not one of its kind in post-war America, but it has the right mixture of conspiracy, adventure, mystery and romance to stand up to the variety of star-studded competition.
Bill Williams stars as Jim Fletcher who wakes up in San Diego and is haunted by a past he cannot fully remember. His portrayal is solid and good-natured. He knows to sell the story of a good sailor who’s wronged and rather fights than face court martial for something he hasn’t done. He is supported by his wife of then three years,Barbara Hale, whose acting complements her husband’s in the best of ways. Her Martha Gregory is a joy to watch from her first encounter with her on-screen spouse’s supposed murder, to the fight she puts on as a hostage, up to the turning point when Martha realizes that Jim may indeed be innocent.
It’s not surprising to find a sparkle of chemistry helping them along, but home field advantage or not, the couple makes the story work. And sixty-three minutes, although well timed for the plot, seems way too short for them to leave us towards the end. Adding to that sentiment is the fabulous cast of supporting actors, including Richards Quine and Loo. The often narrow setting of the film helps the film to run along, leaving the audience panting with our protagonist, fearing for his life.
All in all, The Clay Pigeon is a small but clever film with an eye candy cast of often falsely categorized B actors. Barbara Hale and husband Bill Williams have starred in a number of movies together, always adding spice, quality and heart to sometimes meager stories. This film may not have made it in the Best Picture category of the Academy, but it sure is a gem that’s worth watching on more than one cold Sunday night.