Thursday, September 27, 2018
Noir Watch: Angel Face (1953)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM/ DVR
Angel Face (1953) is a heck of a film - a dark, twisted noir about honey traps, stepping out on perfectly lovely receptionist girlfriends, cool cars, retaining your Robert Mitchum cool in crazy situations, and maybe not going along to get along.
For those of us who follow TCM's Noir Alley, host Eddie Muller's disquieting story about producer Howard Hughes' machinations to obtain the contract of and harassment of star Jean Simmons (a very married woman) may have seemed like Hollywood truth-is-weirder-than-fiction a few years ago, but now feels like part of a culture that's just now getting exposed. While it's not clear Hughes actually ever touched Simmons, her refusal to be touched seems to have seen Hughes trying to break her before she ended her contract.
Sometimes I'm glad I work for a library and from home. People are all terrible.
Speaking of - Mitchum plays an ambulance driver who responds to an incident at a manse in the hills over LA. The lady of the house was almost overwhelmed by an open gas line in the fireplace in her bedroom. It's a bit weird, but easily explainable and she'll recover just fine.
Exiting, Mitchum sees the daughter of the house, a 20 year old girl, who seems in hysterics. He literally slaps her to get her settled down (the past was a weird place with bad rules), and she decides she must meet this fascinating man.
Look, Mona Freeman is no slouch, but she's kinda bland next to the Audrey Hepburn/ Elizabeth Taylor hybrid with money that comes at Mitchum. I don't want to give too much away, but she's also a bit of a passive-aggressive evil genius who worms her way into Mitchum's life (and pants).
We get plenty of hints that Simmons was trying to find an angle to bump off her step mother, and she finally manages to do it, accidentally taking her father with her (although her guilt isn't entirely clear til much later). But check that poster. They spoil it right on the poster.
Some unfortunate circumstantial evidence implicates Mitchum, and they both go to trial - getting off scott free thanks to veteran character actor Leon Ames as their attorney.
What's fascinating is that this is one of the very few noir films I can think of where the femme fatale has a moment of clarity and realizes she was wrong all along. I mean, it takes her down the murder/ suicide route, but it's a pretty unique twist to a "shoot, this sexy lady I've been hanging around with is deadly" angle that litters the noir genre. I've seen characters flip for various, self-interested reasons, but Simmons' post-trial realization of what she got away with does *almost* make you pity her a bit.
It's kind of impressive when these movies get some money put behind them. The plots may not change a huge amount, but A-level actors like Simmons plus a director like Otto Preminger can make a difference in the final product - just a sleekness and better foundation to the movie that a poverty row movie just isn't going to pull off (and often, that's their charm).
I'd consider this one a great double-bill with Out of the Past. Mitchum was in plenty of movies where he got in over his head with a woman (technically, any movie with Jane Russell - and he made at least two), but I think it's an interesting flip on the premise from one to the next.