Friday, September 14, 2012

From Noir of The Week: The Clay Pigeon

Ed here: Really interesting review of this move from that fine site Noir of The Week. I remember seeing this in a theater.


The Clay Pigeon (1949)

The year 1949 was pivotal for RKO Radio Pictures. Just two years earlier, their balance sheet had showed a healthy, $5.1 million profit. But in 1948, that number had tumbled to $500,000, and the studio executives were desperately trying to find a way to reverse their financial misfortune. They weren't placing much confidence in Robert Mitchum, their number one star, because he was still dealing with some serious image problems. In the Fall of 1948, Mitchum was arrested and convicted for marijuana possession and spent nearly two months incarcerated, serving most of his term on a prison farm. Life magazine was nice enough to show up and snap some pictures of him mopping the floors in his prison uniform.

The studio was also dealing with some serious changes at the executive level. In March of 1948, Howard Hughes took over RKO and promptly fired most of the employees. He also shelved several “serious” pictures that were either set to shoot or already in production. He thought it was time to take the studio in a new direction. Starting in 1949, RKO would place a much higher priority on cranking out low-budget B films.

The Clay Pigeon was one of the first noirs that RKO released while Hughes was steering the ship, and it can be viewed as a template for many of the noirs that RKO released over the next several years. If you're watching a noir from the late forties or early fifties that runs approximately one hour, features little-known actors in the lead roles, moves the action along at a nice clip and ties things up neatly by the end, then you're more than likely watching an RKO film. And the chances are also good that it was directed by Richard Fleischer. Fleischer, who had worked for five years at RKO exclusively as a shorts director, got his big break in 1948 when, shortly after he completed a directing job on So This is New York(1948), the studio gave him the chance to direct Laurence Tierney in Bodyguard(1948). He impressed the brass enough that they gave him two B noir directing gigs in 1949 – The Clay Pigeon and the highly enjoyable Follow Me Quietly.

The Clay Pigeon fits neatly into a very distinct category: amnesia noir. At its most basic level, amnesia noir takes the typical elements of a noir and throws an amnesiac protagonist (usually a WWII vet) into the mix. The Clay Pigeon wasn't the first noir to attempt this type of story: Somewhere in the Night (1946) andHigh Wall (1947) both preceded it, and The Crooked Way (1949) was released in the same year as The Clay Pigeon. Because the amnesia element can be difficult to implement in a convincing way, these films vary in their levels of success. Fortunately, The Clay Pigeon is one of the better entries in the amnesia noir canon.
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1 comment:

Martin Edwards said...

Never heard of it before, but sounds like it's well worth watching.