Saturday, November 28, 2020

Stubs - The Clay Pigeon

The Clay Pigeon (1949) Starring: Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine, Richard Loo. Directed by Richard O. Fleischer. Screenplay by Carl Foreman. Produced by Herman Schlom. Run time: 63 minutes. USA Black and White Film Noir, Drama, Crime.

Howard Hughes purchased RKO in 1948 and while he is known for giving his input, wanted or not, on the main, or A-Pictures, produced by the studio during his reign as owner, he did not seem to have the same interest in the B-Pictures the studio made. B-Pictures, with their lower budgets and shorter run times, were the second feature in a double bill. The first film produced after Hughes’ purchase was a B-Picture, The Clay Pigeon.

Made during the fall of 1948, The Clay Pigeon was an original screenplay by Carl Foreman, who reportedly based the idea on a news story about an actual incident in which a former serviceman recognized his Japanese prison guard in Los Angeles. Originally, Lawrence Tierney was set to star but Bill Williams was ultimately cast in the lead role. The film was released on February 14, 1949.

Seaman First Class Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens from a coma
being strangled by a blind veteran, Danny (Harold Landon).

The film opens at the Long Beach Naval Hospital, where Seaman First Class Jim Fletcher (Bill Williams) awakens from a coma, when Danny (Harold Landon), a blind veteran, tries to strangle him. Miss Collins (Ann Doran), the Nurse on duty, ushers him out. She tells Dr. Matson (Frank Wilcox) that Fletcher has awakened.

Dr. Matson (Frank Wilcox) and Nurse Collins (Ann Doran)
show their displeasure with Fletcher

Turns out he has been in a coma for two years after he was injured in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Jim remembers only his name and is disturbed to overhear the doctor and nurse discuss that he has been accused of murderous treason and is scheduled to face a court-martial.

That night, the still groggy Jim sneaks out of the hospital and heads for San Diego. News of Jim's escape reaches the U.S. Navy Zone Intelligence Office in Los Angeles and Lt. Cmdr. Prentice (Frank Fenton), who issues an all-points bulletin for his capture.

When he first meets Martha Gregory (Barbara Hale), she is very nice to Jim.

In San Diego, Jim tries to contact his best friend from the service, Mark, and meets instead his wife Martha Gregory (Barbara Hale). She tells him Mark will be back soon and invites him in, offering him coffee while he waits.

While he waits, he sees the newspaper, which has a story about his escape and the treasonous act he committed, which led to the torture and killing of Mark while they were POWs in the Philippines. Apparently, Jim had turned Mark in for stealing food from the Japanese, which led to Mark’s torture and death. It is then that he realizes she’s taken the phone into the kitchen and is trying to call the police. Jim manages to stop her and they struggle as she tries to leave. Jim is forced to knock her out and then he bounds and gags her.

Jim calls Ted Niles (Richard Quine) looking for answers.

He finds a photo of Mark in the apartment with a note from his other friend, Ted Niles (Richard Quine), who lives in Los Angeles. Mark calls him and Ted is willing to help and tells Mark to meet him in Los Angeles.

Jim forces Martha to drive him to Los Angeles.

Using a gun he found in a desk drawer, Jim forces Martha to drive him to Los Angeles. They manage to make it through a roadblock, which, as it turns out, is a safety inspection. Jim changes place with Martha, since he doesn’t trust her, and they are nearly run off the road by two men, Gunzel Blake (Robert Bray) and Davis (Ken Terrell), who are looking for her car on the highway. They manage to avoid detection by the men when they come looking for the wreckage but don’t find any.

Gunzel Blake (Robert Bray) and Davis (Ken Terrell) try to run Jim and Martha off the road.

Back on the road, Jim passes out at the wheel. When she tries to lend aid, Martha notices Jim’s scars from a severe whipping on his chest and finally believes his story. A motorist (Joel Friedkin) stops to lend aid and suggests she take him to a nearby doctor (Harry Chesire). The doctor suggests that he needs rest and she checks them into an Oceanside trailer camp, where she nurses Jim back to health.

Martha nurses Jim back to health at a seaside trailer park.

After he recovers, Martha insists on accompanying him to Los Angeles. Once there, they make contact with Ted, who has already been interviewed by Navy Intelligence, claiming he hasn’t heard from Jim. He tells them to lay low until he can figure out where to meet them. The two decide to dine out in Chinatown.

They seem to be having a good time until Jim recognizes Ken Tokoyama, (Richard Loo), a vicious guard known as "The Weasel" at the prison camp where he was held. Ken also recognizes him and disappears into Chinatown before Jim can find him.

Later, the two men from the highway suddenly appear at their hotel and Jim and Martha flee. After they’ve found a new place to stay, Jim calls Ted and tells him about Tokoyama. Concerned, Ted advises Jim not to leave his hotel and agrees to meet with Martha at his apartment.

When they meet at his apartment, Ted tells Martha that he'll help her and Jim.

When she goes to see him, Ted tells Martha that he’ll hire a private detective to find Tokoyama and insists that Jim stay low. Jim, however, doesn’t want Martha and Ted to do his fighting for him and returns to the restaurant to look for Ted. But the restaurant is closed and there is a real estate sign on the outside wall for J.C. Wheeler for inquiries about leasing.

Jim goes to their office and asks about the previous tenant. The receptionist, Miss Harwick (Martha Hyer), gladly gives him the address. Unknown to Jim, the agency is a front for Tokoyama, and that Tokoyama and one of his henchmen are waiting for him. Jim sees the henchmen in the mirror and manages to fight his way out of the room.

Jim is chased through Little Tokyo by Tokoyama and his henchmen.

But Tokoyama and his henchmen take chase. Trying to escape, Jim seeks refuge in the apartment of Helen Minoto (Marya Marco), a widow with a child. Her husband had been in the Army as part of an American Japanese company that had fought in Europe. She believes he’s in danger and even though Tokoyama and his henchmen claim to be police, she knows they’re not. They do a cursory search but don’t look in the room where Jim is hiding. It is her son’s room and he’s supposed to be taking a nap. Tokoyama goes to search the room anyway, but Jim makes the boy cry, which Tokoyama takes as a sign to leave.

Helen Minoto (Marya Marco) gives Jim refuge while he's being chased.

Later at their hotel, Jim and Martha receive word from Ted that Tokoyama has booked a train for that night. He tells Jim that he only has twenty minutes and gives him the train, car and compartment information in case they don’t meet ahead of time. Jim tells Martha to go wait at Ted’s while he goes to meet Ted.

When Jim arrives at the specified train car, however, he is surprised to find not only Tokoyama there, but Ted as well. Jim passes out again and then remembers that it was Ted who told on Mark and it was Ted who knocked him out. As Ted and Tokoyama plan Jim's impending "fall" from the train, Martha gets the manager to let her into Ted’s apartment.

While she’s there, she uncovers Ted's duplicity, tickets sent to him from Wheeler’s office with the same information she had heard him give Jim. She tries to leave when representatives from Navy Intelligence arrive and they take her to see Lt. Cmdr. Prentice. She tells him the story and he calls Glendale police to stop the train.

However, they arrive late and eventually Jim is taken to where he can be thrown from the train. While they’re waiting, the police manage to stop the train and arrest Tokoyama and Ted.

Later, Lt. Cmdr. Prentice tells Jim and Martha that Ted and Tokoyama were involved in a multi-million dollar counterfeiting scheme, along with J.C. Wheeler, and that the information Jim has given has helped shut down their illegal operations. He informs Jim that he’s owed a lot of back pay, which Jim says will come in handy when he marries Martha.

Director Richard O. Fleischer, the son of animator Max Fleischer, delivers a taut, face-paced film that certainly has every penny up on the screen. There are unfortunately some plot holes along the way, such as how does Martha get new clothes once they arrive at Oceanside? When we see her arriving with groceries to the trailer they’ve rented, she is definitely wearing a totally different outfit then what she was wearing the night they arrived.

While it seems like Martha went from hating to believing Jim pretty quickly, being run off the road was probably a good persuader. They didn’t seem to care if they killed her as well as Jim. But she does seem pretty friendly, sharing a trailer and various hotel rooms with Jim. Not exactly code friendly behavior. In typical Hollywood fashion, the two leads fall in love and marry. You can put it down to the circumstance, but it still feels very quick.

The two actors do seem very comfortable with each other and that may be due to the fact that they were married at the time. Having met on the set of West of the Pecos (1945), they were wed in 1946. They would remain married until his death in 1992.

Bill Williams may never have become a major film star, but he was popular on television, starring in the early television series The Adventures of Kit Carson, which aired in syndication from 1951 to 1955. He is good here and a better choice for this kind of role than Lawrence Tierney, who would have taken the role in a very different direction.

Barbara Hale would also find her claim to fame on the small screen, as Della Street on the long-running Perry Mason series (1957–1966), opposite Raymond Burr. She is perhaps better than her husband in this film but it’s not a competition. They are both good, though not great in this film.

Richard Quine began his career as a child actor, making his debut in Cavalcade (1933). Here, he plays a man who gets into cahoots with a man who once tortured him in a Japanese POW camp. That seems a little far-fetched, even though we’re supposed to believe that there is a great amount of money involved. However, it does make for an interesting, though somewhat predictable, twist.

Quine would move from acting into writing and directing, including such films as Bell, Book and Candle (1958), The World of Suzie Wong (1960), and Sex and the Single Girl (1964). After an extended period of depression and poor health, Quine shot himself in the head at his Los Angeles home on June 10, 1989.

Richard Loo, who plays Ken Tokoyama, is actually Chinese-American. A prolific actor, he appeared in over 120 films from 1931 to 1980. He became stereotyped during World War II as a Japanese enemy pilot, spy or interrogator, though he did also play a heroic Japanese-American in Samuel Fuller's Korean War classic, The Steel Helmet (1951). He is probably best known to James Bond fans for his last film, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), in which he played Hai Fat. He really has very little to do here other than to appear threatening, which is well within his wheelhouse.

The film is fast-paced and if you can maneuver around the plot holes, you will most likely enjoy the film. Not great but well made, I would recommend The Clay Pigeon to fans of film noir.

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