Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Spoiler included!!
None of my film noir reference books list this movie, but it certainly looks and feels like a noir, what with lots of shadowy atmosphere, a potential femme fatale (actually three), and attention to psychological matters. John Garfield is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who went through torture, survived, and has just been released from psychiatric care. He returns to his friends in New York City in the aftermath of the death of a war buddy; the cops called it suicide (a jump through a window at a party), but Garfield suspects foul play and decides he owes it to his friend to investigate. Some of the folks who might have some knowledge of the real circumstances of the death include Martha O'Driscoll (a singing socialite), John Banner (her pianist), Hugh Beaumont, Patricia Morison, and Maureen O'Hara. They all have connections to Walter Slezak, a well-regarded European war refugee in a wheelchair, whom we quickly suspect may be up to no good. It turns out that Nazi spies are after a war flag that Garfield and his dead friend had taken from a battleground. Garfield spends a lot of time creeping around in dark apartments, trying to get to the bottom of the situation, even as he suffers flashbacks from his torture, particularly the sound of a swishing limp that he frequently heard outside his cell. The plot becomes needlessly convoluted, but as with many a film noir, the plot isn't really the point. It is crystal clear from about 15 minutes in that Slezak is the Nazi boss, but from the way he is revealed toward the end, it seems like the director really thought we'd be surprised by that information. The real question is, which of the three women is the femme fatale? About midway through, another noir connection dawned on me: it's a lot like a wartime version of THE MALTESE FALCON. There's the noble loner who feels dutybound to hunt for the killer of his friend, there's a suspicious fat man, there are women involved with the hero who may not be what they seem, and there's the McGuffin at the center (the flag instead of the Falcon) that winds up being one of the least important elements of the movie. Garfield gives a fine performance and, despite the hard-to-follow plot, this one is worth sticking with to the end.

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