THE FALLEN SPARROW. RKO Radio Pictures, 1943. John Garfield, Maureen O’Hara, Walter Slezak, Patricia Morison, Martha O’Driscoll, Bruce Edwards, John Banner, John Miljan, Hugh Beaumont. Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. Director: Richard Wallace.

   Although released in 1943 and nominally a spy film with patriotic undertones, RKO’s The Fallen Sparrow is far more of a film noir than many of the post-war crime melodramas that contemporary critics have attempted to pigeonhole into that movie genre. From a protagonist teetering on the edge of sanity to the noticeable absence of a traditional upbeat Hollywood ending, the film works best as a study of a man trying to survive in a world that is seemingly one step ahead of him.

   Based on the eponymous novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, the film likewise benefits from its casting of John Garfield as the lead protagonist. He portrays Kit McKittrick, the son of a New York cop who has spent the last two years imprisoned by fascists in Spain. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, Kit is dealing with the traumatic psychological fallout resulting from his being tortured repeatedly by a Nazi official during his term in captivity. He doesn’t remember his torturer’s face. In fact, it’s not clear that he’s ever seen it. What he does remember is the sound of his persecutor’s limp. A shuffling sound followed by a distinct plodding thud.

   The plot follows Kit as he returns to New York to investigate the apparent suicide of his friend, a New York detective. He suspects not only that his friend was murdered, but also that his death had something to do with Kit’s imprisonment in Spain. And when Kit begins to hear the footsteps of his torturer he begins to wonder whether he’s lost his mind or whether his persecutor has followed him back home.

   Although an enjoyable suspense film, The Fallen Sparrow is not a movie that necessitates repeated viewings. The film can be slow going at times and is rather talky. It’s almost as if the screenwriters literally tried to adapt Hughes’s novel in total rather than capture the essence of her story and then use it to create something excitedly fresh in cinematic form.