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

John Garfield was borrowed from Warner by RKO for The Fallen Sparrow, a well-executed espionage melodrama, co-starring Maureen O’Hara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, hoping 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 ends 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 vital information, 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 that 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.

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 after a childhood incident. Kit 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 explains she was forced to betray him because of her young daughter, who’s 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.

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.

Cast

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

Credits
Running time: 91 Minute