A former Spanish Civil War prisoner, John McKittrick arrives in New York to find the truth behind the death of his friend Louie Lepetino. He finds himself being chased by Nazi agents who want an item he has brought back from Spain and cannot give up. When another of his friends is murdered, McKittrick realizes that he cannot trust anyone around him – not anyone.
— Jim Beaver (IMDb)
Out of a bizarre idea, RKO has produced a strange and restless melodrama that opened yesterday at the Palace under the title of “The Fallen Sparrow.” As the story of an extraordinary conflict between a group of Nazi agents and a onetime Spanish Loyalist volunteer whose sanity has been wrenched by their tortures, it is a far-from-flawless film. The issue upon which the motivation rests seems odd and dubious, and the film all too often wanders into a bewildering labyrinth of devious and intersecting plots But by virtue of a taut performance by John Garfield in the central role, and the singular skill with which director Richard Wallace has highlighted the significant climaxes, “The Fallen Sparrow” emerges as one of the uncommon and provocatively handled melodramas of recent months.
The pawn is nothing more than a battle flag from the Spanish war. The German espionage must get it to salve the pride of the man in Berlin, one of whose comrades of the beer-hall putsch had been killed by members of the volunteer’s brigade. Through two years of torture in a Spanish dungeon, the volunteer has refused to give up the flag. Allowed to escape, he tries to regain a measure of mental stability in a sanatorium, then returns to New York in search of the Nazi “with the lagging step” whose footstep had always been the signal for new tortures. The Nazi, likewise, has pursued the soldier. And after a rather confused game of cat-and-mouse in which psychology, hokum and drugs are used as weapons, the pair finally confront each other.
What lifts the film above the merely far-fetched and macabre is largely the skill with which Director Wallace has used both soundtrack and camera to suggest the stresses upon the volunteer’s fear-drenched mind. A street lamp shining through a fire escape throws a lattice across a sweating face; in a shadowy room, the remembered footsteps mingle with the tinkle of a bell and become the sound of dripping water from a leaking faucet. And again, when the climax is being quietly prepared at a refugee gathering in a mansion, the strident strains and swirling skirts of a gypsy dance brush momentarily across the silence between the warring opponents.
Through these scenes and others Mr. Garfield remains almost constantly convincing and without his sure and responsive performance in a difficult role Mr. Wallace’s effects would have been lost entirely. Maureen O’Hara, strong in the highly keyed moments, is wooden in the less hectic moments. Walter Slezak makes a reasonably deceptive menace, and the other roles are handled capably.
— New York Times
Language(s):English, German, Italian