Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE CLAY PIGEON. RKO Radio Pictures, 1949. Bill Williams, Barbara Hale, Richard Quine, Richard Loo, Frank Fenton. Director: Richard Fleischer.

   Sandwiched between Bodyguard (1948) that I reviewed here and Armored Car Robbery (1950) that I reviewed here is another film noir programmer directed by Richard Fleischer, The Clay Pigeon, from 1949. Much like the other two films, it takes place in postwar boomtown Los Angeles.

   Bill Williams portrays Jim Fletcher, a World War II Navy veteran who wakes up from a coma. The back of his head still hurts and he’s not sure what happened to him. He had been in a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines. Surely that has something to do with his condition. Not too long after waking up, he overhears his doctor and a nurse discuss the fact that he’s been accused of treason and is awaiting a court martial. Fletcher absconds from the hospital and heads to San Diego. Surely, his friend, fellow prisoner of war Mark Gregory will be able to help. It doesn’t take long for Fletcher to learn that Gregory is dead and that he’s been accused of his friend’s murder!

   Suffice it to say, there are plot twists and unanswered questions. Did Fletcher really commit the murder? What is his amnesia preventing him from remembering? Eventually, Fletcher ends up teaming up with Gregory’s widow (Barbara Hale) to solve the myriad mysteries.

   Overall The Clay Pigeon does a good job in keeping you on your toes. But here’s the thing about certain movie plots stemming from a leading character’s amnesia. Neither you, nor the protagonist in question, really know exactly what’s going on. The screenwriter thus has to walk a tightrope so as to keep the viewer engaged, all the while not revealing too much pertinent information too quickly. On the other hand, the screenwriter must find a way to make sure that the “big reveal,” so to speak, flows naturally from what has come before and doesn’t come too late in the movie.

   Indeed, after murder and mayhem, it’s tempting to wrap things up with a tidy bow and an “ah-ha” moment and end the movie immediately after. Unfortunately, that is exactly what The Clay Pigeon ends up doing. The ending feels so tacked on, so forced that it actually ends up making the film far less memorable than it could have been.

   Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed watching this movie and admire Fleischer’s work in the film noir genre. It’s just that, compared to Bodyguard and Armored Car Robbery, The Clay Pigeon ends up feeling like an overly ambitious project that strives for a payoff that it’s not capable of delivering.