Thursday, November 19, 2015

Angel Face

Only a couple weeks left in the Harvard Film Archive's Sunday-afternoon "Five O'clock Shadows" program, but I'm going to miss it. This and the Monday evening "Furious and Furiouser" programs remind me of the vertical calendars that initially played a big part in my falling in love with the Brattle Theatre. The wordplay in their titles and generally impressive selections, mostly on 35mm film, are also excellent for combating the stereotype of the HFA as the stodgiest of the Boston area's repertory cinemas. It can be, but it can also have electric material. Maybe it's just me, but they seem to be having more fun lately.

As much as I love the weekly presentations, I will admit that they don't cooperate with the format of this blog much, so stuff like this either gets ticked awry in a weekly update or with some other vaguely related item. This one gets a spotlight as much via timing as anything, though it's deserved. It's a movie I exited liking but more hung up on the silly courtroom scenes than anything else, but which gets a lot better with a little more thought. It's one that got better the more I poked at it, and those are rare.

One side thought: Sometimes you get hung up on contemporary things when watching old movies, and for a good chunk of this one, I was thinking about how much young Jean Simmons looked like Krysten Ritter. It's a shame Ms. Simmons is no longer with us, because that would be some great older/younger casting.

(Then again, if would probably be in an adaptation of some Nicholas Sparks book, and they both deserve better.)

Angel Face

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Five O'clock Shadows, 35mm)

It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but one thing that many films noirs have in common - especially if the viewer knows going in that the film has been tagged as part such - is that you can see disaster coming. The specific way and moment it arrives may be a shock, but make no mistake, the protagonist is doomed, and half those in the audience will grudgingly admit that the temptation may have been irresistible. Trouble announces itself faster and more clearly than usual in Angel Face, and that's part of what makes it a fine example of the genre.

Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) should know better; a race car driver before the war and behind the wheel of an ambulance now, it's the very end of his shift when he takes a call to the home of writer Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) when his wife Catherine (Barbara O'Neil) nearly dies from a gas leak in her room. On the way out, he meets Charles's 20-year-old daughter Diane (Jean Simmons), who wastes no time getting into her little sports car, meeting Frank at a diner near the hospital, and offering him a better-paying job as the family chauffeur which could also lead to an investment in the garage he dreams of opening. That it gives her plenty of time to try and seduce him away from his lovely girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman) is not lost on anybody, but just because you see the disaster coming...

From the very first scene, it's clear that something isn't right, and watching the film 60-odd years after its original release may add an unintended but intriguing level of misdirection to the opening: Though it's painfully clear how unlikely the "accident" story all of the men coming to Catherine's aid agree upon is, it initially looks like they're perhaps not willing to consider mental health problems on top of not taking a woman's concerns seriously. It's more than soft chauvinism, of course, and the situation becomes even more clear when Diane visits Mary and cheerfully lays out that she intends to insinuate herself into their lives, as a friend, of course. Later, Frank will see the mess he's gotten himself into, but he'll let it go until too late.

Full review on EFC.

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