Fallen Sparrow, The: Espionage Melodrama, Starring John Garfield and Maureen O’Hara

John Garfield was borrowed from Warner by RKO for this tense, well acted espionage melodrama.

Tautly directed by Richard Wallace, “The Fallen Sparrow” is based on the best-selling novel by Dorothy B. Hughes.

Garfield plays John “Kit” McKittrick, an idealistic Spanish Civil War veteran who survives two torturous years in a fascist prison. Upon returning to New York, Kit is pounced upon by Nazi agents, who hope to learn the valuable secrets that Kit would not reveal to his captors during his ordeal.

The movie begins on a train, with Garfield’s arrival and end with his departure on an airplane, mission accomplished.
We learn that Kit endured two years of brutal torture after being captured. However, he managed to withhold the vital information sought by his captors, particularly their leader, a never-seen Nazi with a limp. His lifelong friend, Louie Lepetino, arranged his escape. When Louie, a New York police officer, dies under suspicious circumstances, Kit ends his convalescence in Arizona and returns to the city to investigate.

At the end of the trip, he bumps into attractive fellow passenger Toni Donne (Maureen O’Hara). When Kit goes to the police, Inspector Tobin (John Miljan) tells him it was suicide, but Kit knows better. He begins investigating the various guests at the last party Louie attended.

Among them are noted Norwegian historian and wheelchair-using refugee Dr. Christian Skaas (Walter Slezak), his nephew Otto (Hugh Beaumont)), Kit’s old flame Barby Taviton (Patricia Morrison), who hosted the ill-fated party, and Toni Donne. Also present were singer Whitney Parker (Martha O’Driscoll), who is Ab’s cousin, and her piano-playing friend Anton (John Banner). Kit is shaken when Dr. Skaas talks enthusiastically about the new, modern methods of torture.
Kit does not know whom to trust. It turns out that Toni was the only witness to Louie’s fall, raising Kit’s suspicions. Meanwhile, Kit keeps hearing the man with the limp.

When Kit is attacked in the dark, he fights back and discovers that his assailant is Anton. Anton reveals that Kit was allowed to escape from Spain, and that he has been watched constantly. Kit’s brigade killed a general who was close Hitler, and Hitler vowed to get revenge.

The next morning, Kit is awoken by a shot–his friend Ab had been shot. Inspector Tobin insists it must have been suicide, but Kit knows that Ab was terrified of guns as a result of a childhood incident. Kit publicly gives Toni a medallion (from the battle standard), mounted in a necklace, a signal that he knows where the flag is. Toni begs him to give up what she considers to be just a “dirty rag,” but to no avail.

Toni helps him get into Dr. Skaas’s office during another party. Before though, he has to drink a toast with Skaas. Kit switches his goblet with Skaas’s, an “old Borgia custom”. However, Skaas has outwitted him, having prearranged for Toni to drug his drink. While Kit is searching the office, he hears once again the man with a limp. The door opens, and Skaas enters, free of wheelchair. Skaas reveals that Kit has been drugged, that Otto killed Lepetino (who was investigating the Skaas for the federal government) and that he himself murdered Ab. However, Kit manages to shoot and kill the doctor, and calls the police.

Toni then explains she was forced to betray him because of her young daughter, held hostage. Kit lets her go and arranges to meet her in Chicago. However, when he and Inspector Tobin watch her board an airplane bound for Lisbon, he realizes which side she is on. Toni is removed from the plane, and Kit takes her seat to fetch the flag.

John Garfield’s intensely dramatic performance, the noir visuals, and moody tone elevate the melodrama. The casting against type of the beautiful Maureen O’Hara surprised many viewers at the time.


John Garfield as John McKittrick
Maureen O’Hara as Toni Donne
Walter Slezak as Dr. Christian Skaas
Patricia Morison as Barby Taviton
Martha O’Driscoll as Whitney Parker
Bruce Edwards as Ab Parker
John Banner as Anton
John Miljan as Inspector Tobin
Hugh Beaumont as Otto Skaas

Running time: 91 Minute

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