Review: Robert Siodmak’s “Fly-By-Night,” Starring Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly

Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly in
Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly in "Fly-By-Night"

German director Robert Siodmak became one of film noir’s pioneers when he moved to Hollywood in the forties, making Phantom Lady, The Killers, Criss Cross, and more throughout the decade. When he first arrived in 1941, however, Siodmak signed with Paramount and primarily made comedies, including his first American film, West Point Widow. The most notable of these early American films was his second, Fly-By-Night, which comes closer to noir than the others while remaining uniquely funny.

Stealing a lot of content from The 39 Steps, Jay Dratler and F. Hugh Herbert’s script follows a young doctor (Richard Carlson) who is framed for a murder, gets mixed up with spies, and goes on the run with a reluctant hostage (Nancy Kelly) to prove his innocence and save the day. The film follows The 39 Steps beat-for-beat—at least for the first act—but in fact, the screenwriters are not purely ripping off Hitchcock. It isn’t quite a full-on parody of his film the way My Favorite Blonde seems to be, but it is firmly a comedy. One running gag depicts Pat, the hostage, constantly trying to alert men to the criminal she’s traveling with; instead, they all think she’s flirting with them. “Sorry lady, I’m on duty,” a cop tells her.

Some also cite Siodmak’s film as almost a noir parody, which isn’t really accurate—it isn’t playing on tropes or anything like that, and is merely a very funny thriller. The look of the film is sometimes noir-like, which isn’t surprising—cinematographer John F. Seitz later shot many noir classics such as Double Indemnity and This Gun For Hire. Though Siodmak had to wade through a few more lazy comedies and B horror movies before he made the noir classics he was remembered for, Fly-By-Night remains a diverting little movie with more merit than most others of its size and budget.

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For More on Fly-By-Night

Read the review in Variety