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Fly by Night

Entry updated 25 September 2023. Tagged: Film.

US film (1942; vt Secrets of G32). Paramount Pictures. Directed by Robert Siodmak, brother of Curt Siodmak. Written by Jay Dratler, F Hugh Herbert, Ben Roberts and Sidney Sheldon. Cast includes Albert Bassermann, Richard Carlson, Nancy Kelly, Martin Kosleck and Miles Mander. 72 minutes. Black and white.

On a stormy night George Tieler (Kosleck) breaks out of a sanatorium by strangling a guard, whose gun he uses to force passing pathologist Dr Geoffrey Burton (Carlson) to drive him to a hotel, all the while insisting he is not a maniac. Once in a room he hands over the gun and begins to tell his story. He had been travelling to Washington to deliver G32, an Invention of the Scientists Professor Langner (Mander), a Nobel Prize winner for chemistry. Tieler adds that his pursuers will be after a baggage ticket he holds. Before he can explain further he is murdered; and when the police arrive Geoffrey realizes he is their main suspect, and flees. This involves climbing through a window into another hotel room, where Pat Lindsey (Kelly), a professional sketch artist, is staying. When the police knock on the door he runs into the bathroom, asking her not to expose him – but she does, so he leaves through the window, but returns shortly after to kidnap her so she cannot draw his likeness for the newspapers. They leave in her car, with Pat's attempt to discreetly warn a constable being misinterpreted: "I'm sorry lady, but I'm on duty." Geoffrey makes a deal with Pat to give him two hours to get Professor Langner to clear his name.

They meet Professor Langer at his home and the discussion seemingly goes well until Geoffrey realizes the man is impersonating the Professor; the real one is being held at the sanatorium. An attempt to free him fails, so they use the baggage ticket to claim the box containing G32. Inside they find a model of the invention, but cannot make head nor tail of it. They are then captured by Nazi spies (see World War Two) and returned to the sanatorium where the apparently broken Professor Langner, after a quiet word with Geoffrey, agrees to show their captors how the model, which is of a Weapon, works. Geoffrey contrives to get himself and Pat out of the room. Then, as the leader of the spies (Bassermann) follows his directions for operating the model, the professor explains the full-sized device would be attached to a parachute and dropped over enemy trenches: a searchlight would then be turned on it, activating the gases within – which would shine with a brilliance that destroys the optic nerve. The model now emits a prodigious burst of light that soaks the room and blinds the spy leader – the professor explains he had discovered this process by accident, resulting in his own blindness. In the resulting confusion Geoffrey and Pat let the police in, circumstances having led to the latter's suspicion there might be something to Geoffrey's story after all. All ends happily.

Fly by Night is a moderately enjoyable screwball comedy (see Humour), with some Alfred Hitchcock-like elements. For most of its length the G32 is no more than a McGuffin that provides the excuse for the shenanigans; however, as it is eventually used and directly plays a part in the plot's resolution, it edges this film into sf territory. [SP]


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