Early in his feature film directing career Richard Fleischer made a series of exciting low budget film noirs, among them, The Clay Pigeon, Follow Me, Quietly, Armored Car Robbery and his masterpiece, The Narrow Margin. Photographed in deep rich black shadowy light, most of the film taking place on a cross country train. The confined space results in a claustrophobic tense ride filled with twists and turns that do not let up for a second. Continue reading
Director Richard Fleischer had a paranoid career as a moviemaker. There was the Richard Fleischer who made all those overblown big studio special effect abominations like “Dr. Doolittle,” “Amityville 3-D,” “The Jazz Singer,” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Then there was the Richard Fleischer who made some of the tightest nifty crime thrillers like “The Boston Strangler,” “10 Rillington Street,” “Follow Me, Quietly,” “The Narrow Margin,” “The Clay Pigeon” and “Armored Car Robbery.” Fleischer was no auteur but he was a solid craftsman. Over the course of his career his output was erratic and his later years films like, “The Don is Dead” were generally poorly received and of deteriorating quality.
“The Clay Pigeon” is one of earliest in a series of bare boned budgeted film noirs director Richard Fleischer made in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Not as sharp as his best, “The Narrow Margin”, hampered by a lackluster leading man, the film still packs an interesting, if somewhat hard to believe story. However, with B-noir, stories are not always what is best. It is more about style and atmosphere and “The Clay Pigeon” has both. One of the unintentional highlights, as it is with Fleischer’s other noir works from this period, is the documentary view of 1950’s Los Angeles that has been captured on film.
Jim Fletcher wakes up in a naval hospital with a case of amnesia to find himself accused of treason and responsible for the death of his best buddy in a Japanese POW camp. Soon to be put on trail Fletcher escapes from the hospital in order to try and clear himself. He is aided, at first reluctantly by Martha (Barbara Hale), the wife of the buddy whose death he is being held responsible for. Together they head for Los Angeles where another former POW, Ted Hines (Richard Quine) believes Fletcher is innocent and is willing to help him out. Along the way they are almost killed when the driver of another car forcibly pushes Fletcher’s car off the road. Once in L.A. it seems everywhere Fletcher and Martha go someone is trying to kill them. Whoever it is, knows just about every move they make. The situation becomes even more unsettling when Fletcher recognizes his former POW tormentor on the streets of L.A.’s Chinatown. It all comes to a climatic ending in a train compartment. These scenes are sharply edited, with each cut quicker and shorter than the one before as a swelling of tension explodes within the final moments as the police arrive in the nick of time.
The screenplay is by Carl Foreman who also wrote such works as “Champion”, “High Noon”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “The Men” among many others. Filmed with enthusiasm, the film keeps you interested despite at times a hard to believe script and a leading man who is blander than vanilla ice cream There are some nicely done hallucinatory flashback scenes where we see Fletcher tortured while a POW. Barbara Hale who many will remember as Della Street, Perry Mason’s ever-vigilant girl Friday, portrays the female lead Martha. Hale and Bill Williams were husband and wife in real life at this time and would eventually give birth to “The Greatest American Hero”, aka William Katt (there is a strong family resemblance between father and son). Hale actually made quite a few films, mostly low-budget affairs, including a few westerns with husband Bill. Williams who is probably best remember for his early TV series, “The Adventures if Kit Carson.” Richard Quine would become better known as a director in the 1950’s and beyond making his own contribution to film noir a few years later with “Pushover.” In addition, contributing some nice performances are Richard Loo who is downright scary as the sadistic former Japanese POW guard and Mary Marco is affecting as a Chinese woman who conceals Fletcher from his pursuers. Look for a young Martha Hyer in a small role as a receptionist.
In the 1960’s and after Fleischer’s work would become filled with bloated and overblown productions (Dr. Doolittle, Fantastic Voyage, The Jazz Singer) or worst yet just plain dull (The Don is Dead). On rare occasions his talent still shown through in films like “10 Rillington Place” and “The Boston Strangler” smaller works, both based on true stories, as was his 1959 film “Compulsion.” These were all “A” pictures but small, closer in scale to his classic B-noirs. Overall, “The Clay Pigeon” is an efficient, nicelt paced and satisfying little film, essential viewing for any fan of film noir.
Director Richard Fleischer made a series of good tight low-budget film noirs in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s including, “Violent Saturday”, “The Clay Pigeon”, “Armored Car Robbery”, “The Narrow Margin” and “Follow Me Quietly”, a decent if pedestrian thriller. At a condensed length of barely 60 minutes, the film is worth watching as long as you are not expecting too much. This is unfortunate because the film opens up with some nice dark rainy filled streets, setting us up for what is hoped to be an atmospheric trip through some dark mean streets. Instead what we get is William Lundigan as Detective Sgt. Grant, a blander actor would be harder to find, who at first comes across in some early scenes with some potential only to slip into a state of insomnia. The female lead, played by Dorothy Patrick, is no femme fatale but a somewhat dorky journalist named Ann Gorman who works for a magazine rag and is continually trying to get Grant to give her a story on the serial killer known as “The Judge.” The strangest scene in the film takes place in Grant’s apartment when he unexpectedly finds Gorman waiting there for him, still trying to get information for a story. Grant, pretty much ignoring her goes into the bathroom takes the quickest shower on record, comes out in his pajamas and gets into bed finally agreeing to provide a story. He rolls over turning his back to her and says to her to shut the lights out as she leaves. The scene probably could have been played a lot more erotically, and maybe that was the intent, but it just seems to all fall flat. The supposed romance that develops between Grant and Gorman leads nowhere. Actually, considering the way he treated her in the beginning she should have had no interest in him anyway except for professional reasons.
The aforementioned serial killer, “The Judge” whom Grant becomes obsessed with capturing, is of the letter writing school of serial murderers, those who cut out letters from newspapers and paste them on a sheet of paper sending them to the police. Of course, he is called “The Judge” as he sets himself up as judge and jury to his victims’ for their alleged sins. From the various clues that have been left behind Grant and his crack team put together a life like though faceless dummy of “The Judge” to give fellow officers an idea of what the killer looks like. This later will lead to the most effective scene in the film that takes place in Grant’s office. As an aside, the faceless dummy is reminiscent of the old Dick Tracy comics’ character, which had a criminal with a blank face known as Frankie Redrum, aka The Blank. Yes, redrum is murder spelled backward just like in “The Shining.”
The ending itself , somewhat reminiscent of “White Heat” and “He Walked by Night” , is decent enough, through nowhere near as exciting and like most of the film it seems to promise more than it can deliver.
While Fleischer is credited as the sole director is has been suggested that Anthony Mann may have directed some scenes. Mann was a co-writer on the film and it has been previously written how the film’s ending is similar to other Mann works. Film writer Jeanine Basinger in her book “Anthony Mann” writes that Mann’s footprints can be seen in “the visual presentation of the final shoot-out in an abandon chemical plant and in the mixture of a semi-documentary police story and an atmospheric murder mystery.” However, she adds that without access to RKO files it is difficult to say for sure what input Mann had. The one certain highlight is the camerawork by Robert De Grasse whose other works include “The Men”, “Born to Kill” and nourish films like Val Lewton’s “The Leopard Man” and “The Body Snatcher.”
Overall, “Follow Me Quietly” is certainly worth watching as long a your are not expecting to find a buried treasure.