Otto Preminger, who showed how to mix a beautiful woman with murder in the landmark Laura, directs this tale of a passion gone haywire. Frank's a regular guy with a steady girl and a dream of owning his own garage when he ... more »crosses paths with Diane. She wants him. Or does she want a fall guy to blame when Diane's stepmother plunges off a high cliff and leaves her fortune to Diane? Alibis, betrayals, courtroom thrills and the fire of a woman too dangerous to trust and too alluring to resist make Angel Face a film-noir classic.« less
Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 10/24/2010...
Paint by the numbers Film Noir
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Speaking during the special features DVD commentary, noted film noir 'expert', Eddie Muller, concedes that when he first watched 'Angel Face', he had a nagging feeling "underneath" it all, that this was a film that was "fairly minor and somewhat unexceptional". Somehow Mr. Muller's gut feelings were subsumed by other factors. Undoubtedly he was swayed by famed New Wave Director Godard placing the film on his top ten list of the sound era, a fact which he happens to mention during the DVD commentary. But beyond that Muller seems to be most impressed by Director Otto Preminger's "efficiency" in telling his story. Perhaps we were both watching a different movie because if anything, it's precisely the inefficiency of the storytelling that relegates it to the "B" list of mediocre noirs, despite the "A" list cast!
As Muller informs us, when Angel Face was first released, it was not a box office success. Critics rightly pointed out that it suffered from a slow-moving narrative and certainly this is true up until the midpoint, when Diana, the film's femme fatale (servicably played by Jean Simmons) murders her father and step-mother. The beginning of the film starts off with a bang, as paramedic Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) races to the upper-class Tremayne household where he and his partner find that Diana's stepmother, Catherine, has been almost asphyxiated by gas. Soon, Diana takes an obsessive interest in Frank and she even tries to ruin his relationship with current girlfriend Mary Wilton by meeting with her for lunch and telling her that she had a date with Frank. Diana's parents and their Japanese servants also prove to be interesting characters but are never developed (the father is a 'famous novelist' who now has writer's block and the stepmother enjoys weekly bridge games).
The story soon becomes lethargic and predictable as the focus is mainly on Diana's obsession. Like many of these femme fatale characters, the obsession is usually a 'given' and in this case Diana appears to have a thing for her father which causes her to hate the stepmother (she mainly blames the stepmother for causing Daddy's writer's block). There are just too many repetitious talky scenes where Diana meets with Frank as she tries to ensnare him. When Frank finally agrees to take the chauffeur job at the Tremayne's, with the hope that his sports car shop will be bankrolled, the hard-boiled Mitchum seems miscast as a chump who's willing to go against 'his better judgment' in hooking up with nut job Diana. While the manner in which Diana kills her parents is certainly quite cinematic (with the family car dramatically going over the cliff), it's all rather predictable stuff. In a bit of over dramatic foreshadowing, Preminger has Diana watch as she flips a cigarette box over the cliff shortly before the murder . What's more, Frank recognizes that Diana is obsessed and correctly predicts that she intends to murder her stepmother—this propels him to tell Diana that's he's leaving.
I also had a hard time believing that Diana wouldn't account for her father's whereabouts before she fixes the car so it'll drive in reverse. After all, the whole idea is to finish off the stepmother so she can have her father all for herself.
Ironically, the courtroom scene is finally a welcome relief after all the prior stodgy, dialogue-laden scenes before the murder. With the help of an excellent Leon Ames as Diana's slick attorney and some good cross-cutting cinematography, the courtroom drama doesn't seems as 'talky' as all the stuff prior to the midpoint. That's probably because we've become tired of Diana's histrionics and since she remains in the background during the trial, the "B" players take over and provide us with a refreshing change of pace.
Since this is 1952, during the height of the Hollywood 'decency' code, a murderer must get his/her just desserts (and Diana's seeming remorse is not enough to save her!) . Since Frank lied to the police about his knowledge of Diana's state of mind, he too must be punished. The ending of Angel Face is disappointing as we see it coming from the get go. We know that Diana is going to bump off Frank since he rejects her but we don't know exactly how. So when it turns out, it's another 'over the cliff with the car' job, the sense of deja vu leads us to exclaim, 'been there, done that!'
The problem with the entire femme fatale storyline is that by 1952 it's been done so many times before that the screenwriters needed a new angle to keep the audience's interest. But there are no surprises here in Jean Simmon's one-note portrayal of the demented socialite. The fault is not entirely with the actress since the part in itself lends itself to one-note overacting.
Finally, despite being miscast in Angel Face, it's comforting to know that Robert Mitchum wasn't such a milquetoast in real life. According to Mr. Muller, after Otto Preminger insisted that Mitchum slap Simmons multiple times during rehearsal, Mr. Mitchum turned around and slapped Preminger in the face and asked, "is this the way you want it done?" Mitchum objected to Preminger treating women the way he did and Preminger then stalked off the set, insisting that Mitchum be fired. Preminger was unsuccessful in his demand and Mitchum continued to live up to his reputation as a chivalrous tough guy knight in shining armor.
An Effective Noir Thriller--"Angel Face" Is A Great Change-O
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 01/09/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Otto Preminger's "Angel Face" has always had a special place in my heart. Preminger, as a filmmaker, is certainly noteworthy--but aside from a few films (including "Laura" and "Anatomy of a Murder"), he isn't one of my particular favorites. I don't know--to me, he was more of a technician than an artist. He made good films, in general, but doesn't have the appeal of some of the other "big name" directors. I love "Angel Face," however, pretty much for one reason--Jean Simmons. Simmons, I believe, is one of our most underrated actresses. She has played the lead in some very high profile and versatile films, including the scathing "Elmer Gantry," the epic "Spartacus," the terrific musical "Guys and Dolls," and Olivier's "Hamlet." Relegated to mostly TV roles for the last few decades, I wish her film legacy was more widely appreciated. "Angel Face" is particularly noteworthy in her film oeuvre because it gives her the rare opportunity to play a femme fatale type.
Robert Mitchum, playing an ambulance driver, responds to call involving a wealthy matriarch. It seems as if Mrs. Tremayne has been mysteriously poisoned by gas. Upon his visit, he meets Mrs. Tremayne's freeloading husband and her stepdaughter--played with haughty playfulness by Simmons. Infatuated with the young beauty, he soon falls under her spell and actually starts to work for the estate as the chauffeur. Relinquishing a former relationship and financial independence, he becomes more and more involved in the family dynamic playing out in the mansion. It soon becomes apparent that not all is as it seems and a psychological thriller, of sorts, starts to develop.
Essentially, while "Angel Face" is structured as a conventional noir--it can also be judged as an effective character study. From the haunting music, the shadowy stretches of mansion, the wistful stares from rain-streaked windows--the mood and atmosphere establish a familiar ambiance. But pitting the tough guy persona of Mitchum against the emotional aloofness of Simmons, we see two distinct and intriguing personalities. Simmons, with her doll-like features and regal manner, is really what distinguishes this picture. With a more typical noir leading lady, "Angel Face" would not be nearly as effective. Simmons' playing against type adds to the suspense and mystery--it's almost as if we are lured (along with Mitchum) deeper into the story due to our expectations connected to Simmons as an actress.
I highly recommend "Angel Face." While not Preminger's best film, it certainly ranks in the top. And while not necessarily the best or most original noir, it certainly is effective and creepy. This is the case of a lot of talented individuals making a very solid and entertaining film. KGHarris, 01/07."
Unappreciated Film Noir With A Difference
Phoust | London, England | 04/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Angel Face was directed in 1952 by: Otto Preminger (Laura, 1944; Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959). Otto Preminger's `Laura' is now rightly regarded as one of great film noir masterpieces, however he made some less appreciated noirs like Fallen Angel (1945); Whirlpool (1949); Where The Sidewalk Ends (1950) and this film Angel Face. Upon it's release critics and public alike had seen perhaps far too many of this type of film hence the negative reviews. However I feel that this film is deserving of some rehabilitation. The theme is a familiar one of the Femme Fatale attempting to get some chump to assist in a murder. Angel Face is slightly different in that the Femme Fatale's (performed by Jean Simmons (Great Expectations, 1946; Hamlet, 1948; The Black Narcissus, 1947)) motivation is not the standard killing for money but for love. This makes it similar to the Ellen Berent character played by Gene Tierney in `Leave Her To Heaven' (1946, John M. Stahl). Generally in noir's guys kill for the girl and girls for the money. Robert Mitchum (Out Of The Past, 1947; Crossfire, 1947; Night Of The Hunter, 1955) gives a wonderful performance of a guy who is not so stupid as to get suck into her trap. He also has some great dialogue that one wish's they could always have at hand to deliver in those situations. Along with Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster, Mitchum has to rank as one of the great noir actors. Cinematography was by Harry Stradling (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951; Johnny Guitar, 1954; A Face In The Crowd, 1957)
This DVD comes with a wonderful audio commentary by Eddie Muller and is well worth a listen. In 1964 Jean-Luc Godard placed this film at no. 8 in his list of the greatest American films of the sound era. That alone should be good enough reason to investigate this film. It also has one of the great endings. "
A Great Cast in an Entertaining Noir
Alejandra Vernon | Long Beach, California | 12/06/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, with the unlikely casting of Jean Simmons as a manipulative, deceitful, and dangerous vixen, this little-known noir is vastly entertaining, and well acted throughout. It has a fabulous score by Dimitri Tiomkin that sounds often like a classical piano concerto, a tight script by Ben Hecht, and wonderful b&w cinematography by Harry Stradling of the mansion on a hill, where most of the action takes place.
The film starts out with the near-death of wealthy Mrs. Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil), that has the earmarks of being an attempted murder or suicide, but is deemed "an accident." One suspects that either her neer-do-well husband (Herbert Marshall), or her stepdaughter Diane (Simmons) had something to do with it. One of the ambulance attendants is tough-guy Frank (Robert Mitchum, perfectly cast), who gets immediately entangled with the seductive Diane, despite having a beautiful and sensible girlfriend (Mona Freeman).
Jean Simmons, usually cast in gentler parts, is gorgeous as Diane, and manages to get a hard glint in her huge, liquid eyes, making her very believable as the wicked wench, who becomes obsessively in love with Frank, and involves him in her equally obsessive hatred of her stepmother. Also in the cast is Jim Backus, remembered for his humor as Thurston Howell III in "Gilligan's Island," and as the voice of Mr. Magoo, but here quite serious as District Attorney Judson. A nifty noir with a great cast, this film is one not to miss if one has the opportunity to see it on a classic movie channel, or locate a DVD of it. Total running time is 91 minutes. "
Hackneyed Plot and Vicious Intent Produce a Chilling Film No
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Conceived simply as an instrument of Howard Hughes' revenge, "Angel Face"'s perverse production history and mundane plotting yielded a disquieting cult classic in the deft hands of director Otto Preminger. Actress Jean Simmons had successfully sued Hughes to get out of a 7-year contract but still owed RKO a movie. Not one to let bygones be bygones, Hughes pulled an unexceptional script out of the vaults and plied Preminger to direct, promising him full creative control. It was the sort of "murder drama" that we now call "film noir", already rapidly losing appeal in the early 1950s. Preminger's rewrites, a low budget, 18 shooting days, a mission to make life miserable for Jean Simmons, and bodily conflict between Preminger and star Robert Mitchum produced a film that is not especially memorable for its story but whose eerie, disturbing undertones make it unforgettable.
Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is called to the Tremayne mansion when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil) nearly asphyxiates from a gas leak in her bedroom. Her husband Charles (Hebert Marshall) and police speculate on how the accident may have occurred, but Catherine believes that someone tried to kill her. After a brief flirtation with Catherine's oddly unstable stepdaughter Diane (Jean Simmons), Frank heads back to the station. Diane impulsively follows, easily convincing Frank to beg off his evening with girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman). Frank sees a lot of Diane, an idle, rich young woman who idolizes her doting novelist father and jealously despises her stepmother. She gets Frank a job as Tremayne family chauffeur. She connives to come between him and Mary. She lies. She dramatizes. Frank sees through her. But, intrigued by Diane's' lifestyle and flattered by her neediness, he goes along anyway.
Maybe the on-set strife and cruelty informed "Angel Face"'s perverse psychology. Neither profound nor clever, Diane's clumsy machinations and Frank's submission pack an emotional wallop. Diane is trouble all right, but not a classic noir femme fatale. Her motives are entirely emotional -insecurity, instability, infatuation. Her scheming is childish and transparent. Frank Jessup, very much in noir protagonist form, is foolish enough to entangle himself in it. The film is elevated by careful, though certainly cliched, writing of the supporting characters, who provide the circumstances from which Frank and Diane's self-destruction emerges: Diane's burned-out, free-spending father and indulgent stepmother. Frank's pragmatic, hard-working girlfriend. Diane barely in control of her devastating behavior and Frank thoroughly in control to no avail make a lasting impression.
The DVD (Warner 2007): There is a nice audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller, who obviously admires the film. He discusses themes, Robert Mitchum's noir archetypes, the film's structure, refutes the idea of the femme fatale as a reaction to post-war working women, and provides a lot of background information on the motives, rewrites, and conflict behind "Angel Face". Subtitles for the film are available in English. Dubbing is available in French."
Yes, a great film
J. Laplagne | Washington, DC | 05/16/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After reading the comments by those here, I placed the film in my "Wish List" here on Amazon. Last night on Turner Classic Movies they showed this movie. It was really wonderful. I enjoyed the whole cast and I agree that Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons were perfect in these roles. While her deadly deed plays out, she sits there emotionless with cold eyes and porcelain beauty. It was somewhat chilly. Simmons usually played the sweet wife or love roles in movies. I loved seeing her in a completely different role. I definitely recommend this movie. And what a surprise ending! OMG!"