"The Fallen Sparrow" is based on a bestselling novel by Dorothy Hughes. A former POW from the Spanish Civil War (John Garfield) returns to New York in 1940 to find the killer of his lifelong friend, and in the process he stumbles upon a Nazi spy ring and is stalked by the man who conducted his torture sessions.
The film stars ruggedly handsome John Garfield (1913-52), the original "method" actor. Garfield made his screen debut in 1938 with the popular "Four Daughters" for which he received his first Best Supporting Actor nomination (he got his second in 1947 for "Body and Soul"), and "They Made me a Criminal" (1939) propelled him into the A list. He's best known for "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946). Blacklisted in the communist scare of the early 50s, his career was cut short, and he died in 1952 at age 39. This film comes at the height of his popularity and it was his chance to show a wider range of acting skill, which he does.
Maureen O'Hara (1920) plays the granddaughter of a French nobleman who appears to be part of a Nazi spy ring. Early on she lit up the screen at 19 as Esmeralda in "Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939). She could play comedy ("Miracle on 34th Street in 1947), or action ("Bagdad" in 1949), but perhaps is best known for the 5 films she did with John Wayne - "Rio Grande" (1950), "The Quiet Man" (1952), "Big Jake" (1971), "McClintock" (1963), and "Wings of Eagles" (1957). O'Hara does her usual good job.
Walter Slezak (1902-83) plays a sinister character who is interested in torture. Slezak was a great character actor who appeared in more than 50 films, often as a villain (e.g., "Lifeboat", "Born to Kill") but he did well in comedies (e.g., "The Pirate", "The Inspector General") and musicals and won a Tony for "Fanny" (1955).
Martha O'Driscoll (1922-98) plays a friend of Garfield. Her good looks and great singing voice helped her through three dozen films between 1936 and 1946 after which she married a rich businessman
Richard Wallace (1894-1951) directs. Wallace was best known for his work with female actors and he made 3 films with Shirley Temple. He was a versatile director and among his more than 60 films are "Sinbad the Sailor" (1947) and "Bombadier" (1943).
This was his last film as an editor for Robert Wise (1914-2005) who is best known as the director of the Oscar winning musicals "West Side Story" (1961) and "Sound of Music" (1965). Just prior to this film he worked as an editor for Orson Welles on "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) and while Welles was overseas Wise reduced it to 88 minutes. Welles said it had been edited "by a lawnmower".
The musical score from Roy Webb (1888-1982) is excellent, a great example of how music can supplement the story without imposing. Webb is best known from his work with Val Lewton, though he worked on more than 200 films and was nominated for an Oscar 6 times between 1938 and 1946. He was nominated for an Oscar for his work on this film.
1943 was an OK year in films - The top grossing films included "This is the Army", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Song of Bernadette", "Coney Island", and "Stage Door Canteen". Other notables included "The Ox Bow Incident". The big Oscar winner was "Going My Way", and other winners included "Gaslight" and "None But the Lonely Heart"
War films were particularly popular - "Action in the North Atlantic" with Bogart and Raymond Massey, "Air Force" with John Garfield, "Bataan" with Robert Taylor and Lloyd Nolan, "Bombadier" with Pat O'Brien and Randolph Scott, "Corvette K-255" with Randolph Scott, "Five Graves to Cairo" with Franchet Tone and Anne Baxter", "Hangmen Also Die" with Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan, and "Hitler's Children."
The NY Times called it "a strange and restless melodrama... far-from-flawless" yet also an "uncommon and provocatively handled melodrama". Garfield was praised for a "taut performance" and Wallace "has used both soundtrack and camera to suggest the stresses upon the volunteer's fear-drenched mind."
Bottom line - a compelling drama.