In Reginald Le Borg's Fall Guy, based on Woolrich's story `Cocaine' (though `Ethanol' would be the more apt title), Clifford Penn wakes up in a psych ward. There's blood on his clothes, and the police are barking questions at him. He gives them the slip and heads home where his brother-in-law, police detective Robert Armstrong, tries to straighten him out with black coffee. Armstrong's benders are frequent, to the disgust of Armstrong and Penn's fiancée Teala Loring (her guardian, `family friend' Charles Arnt, is especially sour on Penn's shenanigans). But this time Penn is convinced he killed a woman.
Fragments of the past start to resurface. A stranger at a bar (Elisha Cook) invited him to a party; there a blonde (Virginia Dale) sang `Tootin' My Own Horn' and urged him to drink up (they slipped him a high-powered Mickey Finn). When he came to next morning, a dead blonde tumbled out of the closet; he picked up the knife as a keepsake (who wouldn't?), then ran into the police.
When Penn and Armstrong try to retrace his drunken steps, odd things occur. Cook at first denies ever having met Penn, then gets shoved into traffic. Penn catches sight of the horn-tootin' blonde, supposedly dead; they finally track her down, but somebody else is following her trail as well....
Monogram Pictures put the `poverty' in Poverty Row. Its releases were hastily cobbled together from whatever talent (or lack thereof) happened to be around on any given day. Fall Guy is no exception. Acting runs the gamut from the adequate to the amateurish. A profusion of night scenes disguises the crummy sets (though there are a couple of visually inventive shots: A silhouette lurks in an alcove, wreathed in cigarette smoke; Armstrong reads a sealed letter by holding a lighter behind it and the words shimmer into relief). There's a rendezvous in a movie house where the (unseen) movie must have been Monogram's Decoy from the previous year, for we hear its sweeping symphonic theme, composed by Edward J. Kay, musical director for Fall Guy (but then he used exactly the same theme in Las Vegas Shakedown; maybe it's the only one he ever wrote).
Fall Guy brings to mind another noir drawn from Woolrich's febrile imagination: The much better Black Angel. In that movie, Dan Duryea tries to reconstruct another evening that ended up in homicide, only to learn that his blackest nightmares are true. Fall Guy, casting about for a sunnier wrap-up, opts for a the-butler-did-it resolution. It's like finding the stiff drink you hoped for is nothing but ginger ale with a dash of bitters thrown in.