The Fallen Sparrow


1h 34m 1943
The Fallen Sparrow

Brief Synopsis

Nazi spies pursue a Spanish Civil War veteran in search of a priceless keepsake.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1943
Premiere Information
New York opening: 19 Aug 1943
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Fallen Sparrow by Dorothy B. Hughes (New York, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,420ft

Synopsis

The death of his good friend, police detective Louie Lepetino, brings John "Kit" McKitrick to New York City. Kit, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, had been convalescing in Arizona after escaping from a Fascist prisoner-of-war camp in Spain. When the train stops in New York, Kit notices a beautiful woman passenger who, he later discovers, slipped something into his pocket. At police headquarters, Kit accuses Inspector Tobin, the head of homicide, of covering up the true cause of Louie's death, which the police have designated a suicide. After leaving police headquarters, Kit visits his friend, Ab Parker, who invites the veteran to stay at his apartment while he travels to Washington, D. C. to work as a decoder. Kit tells Ab of the two years of torture he suffered at the hands of an unseen tormentor, whom Kit knew only by the sound of his dragging foot. Kit tells Ab that he owes Louie his life for arranging his escape, and vows to find his friend's murderer to repay the debt. That night, Ab and Kit attend a party at the house of Barby Taviton, Kit's former girl friend and a patron of the refugee community. At Barby's party, Kit meets Otto Skaas and his uncle, Dr. Skaas, a crippled Norwegian historian who is studying different methods of torture. Dr. Skaas' description of the techniques of mental torture stirs Kit's memories. When Ab tells Kit that the Skaases were present at the party during which Louie fell to his death from an open window, Kit asks for more details and Ab suggests that he question his cousin, Whitney Hamilton, who was also at the party. Later, Kit sees Otto dancing with the woman from the train, whom he learns is Toni Donne, the granddaughter of Prince Francois St. Louis. After Barby informs Kit that she plans to go skiing with Otto, he and Whitney leave the party and go to the nightclub, where Whitney works as a singer. There, Whitney tells Kit that she suspects the Skaases are German agents. Whitney also informs Kit that Otto was in his room changing his shirt during the time of Louie's death and that Toni was the only eyewitness to Louie's fall. After Ab leaves for Washington, Kit returns to the apartment where Ramon, Ab's butler, has unpacked Kit's bags. When Kit opens his suitcase, he notices that the lining has been slit, and later, he finds Louie's badge in his suitcoat pocket and inside its case, the plea for help that he had sent to Louie. The letter triggers Kit's memories, and he listens in terror to the sound of a man dragging his foot while walking. The next day, Kit visits the hat store in which Toni works as a salesgirl, but Toni is rude to him and rejects his invitation to lunch. After leaving the hat store, Kit visits Whitney's apartment to question her about Anton, her refugee accompanist. When Whitney leaves for work, Kit is again haunted by the sounds of a lame man, and he hides under the stairway outside the building to catch a glimpse of the man. Upon seeing the man ascend the stairs, Kit climbs the fire escape into Whitney's apartment. Safe inside the apartment, Kit relates his ordeal and tells Whitney that the man with the bad foot is following him because Kit has something the man wants. The next morning, Toni calls Kit to apologize for her uncivility and invites him to the house to meet Prince Francois. That evening, Kit is greeted by the prince and his houseguests, the Skaases. The prince shows Kit his family banners, which, he explains, represent honor in the traditions of the old world. The prince then proposes that they drink a toast from a set of goblets bearing a medallion of the Lion of San Rafael. Later, Toni warns Kit that he is being watched and asks him to trust her. After dinner, Kit returns to Ab's apartment, where a man attacks him. After overpowering his assailant, Kit turns on the light and discovers Anton. Anton refuses to answer Kit's questions, but informs him that he was allowed to escape so that his captors could follow him to the hiding place of his brigade's flag. Kit then orders both Roman and Anton to leave the apartment. Alone, Kit hears the limping man in the hallway and is about to turn to drink, but resolves instead to be strong and bring Louie's killer to justice. Later that evening, Kit is awakened by the sound of a gunshot and finds Ab shot dead on the floor. After calling Whitney to the apartment, Kit visits Louie's parents' house, where he retrieves a souvenir that he had sent from Spain. He then returns to the apartment where Inspector Tobin is investigating Ab's murder. When Kit informs the inspector that he believes the Skaases were involved in Ab's murder and then tells him about the lame man, Tobin thinks that he is crazy and labels Ab's death a suicide, even though Ab was terrified of guns. Kit then pries open the souvenir case, which holds a medallion of the Lion of San Rafael, the medallion that was attached to his brigade's flag. When Kit gives the medallion to Toni and insists that she wear it, she again warns him of danger, and the two profess their love for each other. Tobin, impressed by Kit's tenacity, finally admits that he believes his story and apprises him that Louie, who was on the trail of an espionage ring, did not fall to his death, but was shot between the eyes and then pushed from a window in the Skaases' room. Kit then explains the signifigance of the flag: Kit's brigade had killed a close friend of the lame man, who then swore to kill every member of the outfit and capture its flag. After Kit leaves the police station, Toni meets him and tells him that Otto shot Louie because he was close to exposing the espionage ring. When Toni begs Kit to give up the flag, he declares that he cannot because it has become a symbol of his batallion's annihilation. Kit then pleads with Toni to go away with him, and she replies that she will give him her answer at the house that night. That evening, Kit is driven to the prince's house by a plainclothes police officer, who waits outside for him. At the house, Kit is greeted by Dr. Skaas, who offers him a drink from the goblets. As the guests are entertained by a Spanish dancer, Kit climbs the stairs to the Skaases' room. As he begins to search the room, Kit hears the sound of the lame man and Dr. Skaas appears in the doorway. Although Kit has a gun, Dr. Skaas accuses him of being too cowardly to shoot and then admits to killing Ab. After Skaas informs Kit that he drugged his drink, he readies an injection of truth serum to administer to him. As Kit collapses from the drug, he shoots Dr. Skaas and calls to his waiting driver for help. The driver comes to Kit's rescue, and over the wail of approaching police sirens, Toni tells Kit that she was married to the real Otto Skaas, who was killed in a concentration camp. When Toni explains that she was forced to cooperate with the spies because the Nazis are holding her daughter hostage, Kit promises to protect the girl and instructs Toni to run out the back door and meet him later at a hotel in Chicago. When Tobin arrives, Kit informs him that the man calling himself Dr. Skaas was really the head of the espionage ring and asks the detective to drop his pursuit of Toni. Kit has hidden the flag in Lisbon, and as he waits to fly to Portugal and retrieve it, he sees Toni board the plane. Accompanied by a police escort, Kit follows her on board and accuses her of being a German spy and lying about having a daughter. After the police escort Toni from the plane, Kit observes that "another sparrow has fallen."

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
Jan 1943
Premiere Information
New York opening: 19 Aug 1943
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Fallen Sparrow by Dorothy B. Hughes (New York, 1942).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 34m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
8,420ft

Award Nominations

Best Score

1944

Articles

The Fallen Sparrow


"In a world at war many sparrows must fall" are the ominous words that open the 1943 film noir The Fallen Sparrow directed by Richard Wallace. That sparrow could be Kit McKittrick (John Garfield), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who was psychologically tortured in a Franco prison camp from which he has escaped. The aftermath of that torture sends Kit on a path to near madness as he returns to New York to investigate the mysterious death of his friend Louie. Haunted by the memory of a sadistic man with a limp, he finds himself surrounded by Nazi spies who all want a certain precious artifact he has kept with him all the way from Spain.

The Fallen Sparrow was adapted from the novel by suspense writer Dorothy B. Hughes who also penned such notable books as In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse. RKO bought the rights to the novel in 1942, but the political backdrop involving Nazi villains and Spanish Fascists was a bit of a hot-button issue at the time. RKO executive William Gordon fired off a memo to producer Robert Fellows that stated his three "areas of concern" about the story's content: "1. Desire of State Department to maintain friendliest relations with present Spanish government. 2. Possibility of Spain as ally. 3. Offensive to most Latin Americans." He even suggested that the film's reference location should be changed from Spain to Nazi-invaded France. Similarly, Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration wrote to RKO saying, "We strongly urge that you consult your Foreign Department as to the advisability of the Spanish angle contained in this picture." Fellows chose to not be deterred by such warnings and moved forward with the film keeping all political angles and locations intact.

RKO spent six months looking for the right star to play Kit. James Cagney was offered the part, but he wanted nothing to do with The Fallen Sparrow since he was anxious to put his past personal support of Spanish Loyalists behind him. Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and George Brent all were approached. All said no. Finally John Garfield, an actor known for playing tough urban parts, was hired on loan to RKO from Warner Bros. It was a good career move for Garfield who stretched his acting muscles in new directions and won praise for his tense portrayal of the psychologically complex Kit.

In an unusual role for her, auburn-haired beauty Maureen O’Hara co-stars as Kit's femme fatale love interest. Character actor Walter Slezak also adds a deliciously sinister touch to his role as the mysterious Dr. Skaas, a professor fascinated by the effects of psychological torture. The Fallen Sparrow was edited by Robert Wise, just one year before becoming a film director himself and going on to win Oscars for such classics as West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

Producer: Robert M. Fellows
Director: Richard Wallace
Screenplay: Warren Duff, based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Mark-Lee Kirk
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Robert Wise
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: John Garfield (John "Kit" McKittrick), Maureen O'Hara (Toni Donne), Walter Slezak (Dr. Skaas), Patricia Morison (Barby Taviton), Martha O'Driscoll (Whitney Parker), Bruce Edwards (Ab Parker), John Miljan
BW-94m.

by Andrea Passafiume
The Fallen Sparrow

The Fallen Sparrow

"In a world at war many sparrows must fall" are the ominous words that open the 1943 film noir The Fallen Sparrow directed by Richard Wallace. That sparrow could be Kit McKittrick (John Garfield), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War who was psychologically tortured in a Franco prison camp from which he has escaped. The aftermath of that torture sends Kit on a path to near madness as he returns to New York to investigate the mysterious death of his friend Louie. Haunted by the memory of a sadistic man with a limp, he finds himself surrounded by Nazi spies who all want a certain precious artifact he has kept with him all the way from Spain. The Fallen Sparrow was adapted from the novel by suspense writer Dorothy B. Hughes who also penned such notable books as In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse. RKO bought the rights to the novel in 1942, but the political backdrop involving Nazi villains and Spanish Fascists was a bit of a hot-button issue at the time. RKO executive William Gordon fired off a memo to producer Robert Fellows that stated his three "areas of concern" about the story's content: "1. Desire of State Department to maintain friendliest relations with present Spanish government. 2. Possibility of Spain as ally. 3. Offensive to most Latin Americans." He even suggested that the film's reference location should be changed from Spain to Nazi-invaded France. Similarly, Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration wrote to RKO saying, "We strongly urge that you consult your Foreign Department as to the advisability of the Spanish angle contained in this picture." Fellows chose to not be deterred by such warnings and moved forward with the film keeping all political angles and locations intact. RKO spent six months looking for the right star to play Kit. James Cagney was offered the part, but he wanted nothing to do with The Fallen Sparrow since he was anxious to put his past personal support of Spanish Loyalists behind him. Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and George Brent all were approached. All said no. Finally John Garfield, an actor known for playing tough urban parts, was hired on loan to RKO from Warner Bros. It was a good career move for Garfield who stretched his acting muscles in new directions and won praise for his tense portrayal of the psychologically complex Kit. In an unusual role for her, auburn-haired beauty Maureen O’Hara co-stars as Kit's femme fatale love interest. Character actor Walter Slezak also adds a deliciously sinister touch to his role as the mysterious Dr. Skaas, a professor fascinated by the effects of psychological torture. The Fallen Sparrow was edited by Robert Wise, just one year before becoming a film director himself and going on to win Oscars for such classics as West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). Producer: Robert M. Fellows Director: Richard Wallace Screenplay: Warren Duff, based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Mark-Lee Kirk Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca Editing: Robert Wise Music: Roy Webb Cast: John Garfield (John "Kit" McKittrick), Maureen O'Hara (Toni Donne), Walter Slezak (Dr. Skaas), Patricia Morison (Barby Taviton), Martha O'Driscoll (Whitney Parker), Bruce Edwards (Ab Parker), John Miljan BW-94m. by Andrea Passafiume

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening credits feature the following written prologue: "...in a world at war many sparrows must fall..." According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, RKO purchased the rights to Dorothy Hughes's novel for $15,000 as a vehicle for Maureen O'Hara. Other pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter mentioned that Anna Lee, Barton MacLane and Walter Kingsford were to be in the cast, however, they are not in the viewed print. Although the CBCS lists Russell Wade as "Ab Hamilton," the character "Ab" in the film was named "Ab Parker" and was played by Bruce Edwards. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, RKO planned to promote Wade from a bit role to the part of "Ab" because of his performance in Bombardier. The studio was prevented from expanding Wade's part, however, because of the actor's prior committments to The Leopard Man and Gildersleeve's Bad Day. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart includes Wade in the cast, it is unclear whether he was filmed in the part of "Ab" and later replaced by Edwards, appeared in a minor role or did not appear at all in the completed film. Although Sam Goldenberg's character is named "Prince deNamur" in CBCS, he is addressed as "Prince Francois St. Louis" in the film's dialogue.
       This picture was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Score. According to modern sources, RKO traded its rights to Of Human Bondage and The Animal Kingdom to Warner Bros. in exchange for the services of John Garfield in this picture and Joan Leslie for The Sky's the Limit. Maureen O'Hara and Walter Slezak reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on February 14, 1944, co-starring Robert Young.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1943

Released in United States 1943