Saturday, May 9, 2020
Noir Watch: Fallen Angel (1945)
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Director: Otto Preminger
This movie sort of felt like it was all over the place, or like parts of a few movies crammed together and held together by the twin powers of Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell. Which is a shame, because Alice Faye, with whom I am not familiar, is good in this movie as well, but her plotline feels like it's sliced and diced til it leaves what looks like an interesting role as a sort of bystander on the sideline of her own story.
Is it a Nightmare Alley look at carnival people and illusion? Is it a Postman Always Rings Twice story of a girl stuck in a rut of her own making and wanting out, making a sap of a guy to do so? It is a small town drama about spinsters and a travelling huckster? It's got all of these elements, and you can see the lines where the stories are fused, but it does stick together.
Dana Andrews is a pushy drifter who shows up in a small coastal California town between LA and San Francisco, and more or less immediately comes across Linda Darnell, just as she comes off her latest and final disappointment of romance with a feller - one more guy who saw her as a carnival ride but wouldn't put a ring on it. Likely because they're already married.
Andrews stumbles across a pair of showmen putting on a spiritualist act, and to make a quick buck to impress Darnell, he turns on the charm and helps the hapless pair successfully sell out their show, even including a pair of spinster sisters who had previously kept everyone else in town from showing interest.
Darnell still isn't impressed with Andrews - he may have had a score, but she's done with thrills and and wants a roof over her head and steady income rolling in. Andrews sees an angle with Alice Faye, the blonder of the two sisters, and moves in to take her for every cent so he can grab Darnell and get out of dodge.
It's all going to plan to Darnell (a) gets grossed out by his plan and (b) turns up dead. Which, (c) makes Andrews a suspect.
It's incredibly early in the noir game and WWII was wrapping up as this film was being made. Andrews is the most virile male in Hollywood who wasn't drafted (he was married with kids and thus not asked to serve), and every other actor around him is showing gray. But I do wonder, if this film came along a year or three later if the ending hadn't been so pat.
When Darnell turns up dead, it was possible Andrews, any number of men on screen or off, could have been suspects. But it was also possible either of the sisters had motivation to knock off Darnell. SPOILER: It is the creepy ex-cop you met at the beginning of the movie, just like you thought it was. END SPOILER.
It's a strange ending in it's WWII era desire to push characters into happy endings, and in this case - one that feels like it should end a bit more like The Graduate, with these two people realizing they now are together and NOW what? Now they have to go live with the sister who seems like a barrel of chuckles? How long is *that* gonna last? The movie is also weirdly mute about Darnell's desire to have exactly what these two wind up with.
Muller does ask who the Fallen Angel of the movie actually is, and that's a great question. Frankly, I figured this was going to end with Faye having had bumped off Darnell in her own obsession with Andrews. From virginal spinster to sexually awakened murderess = fallen angel. But Darnell makes a strong argument for an angel who already wound up in a bad place before this movie even starts, and in trying to get out, just buries herself. Or, had the other spinster killed Darnell... I hesitate to turn this into a "I woulda done it this way" complaint, but it's oddball to feel like you don't nee dto outguess a movie when it keeps circling back with a neon sign that says "this guy did it".
Anyway. I actually *liked* this movie well enough, even if I wouldn't rush to get it in my collection of noir DVDs. Darnell is amazing and just commands the screen whenever she's in a scene. The plot is twisty enough with flourishes like fortune-tellers (I always like a good sideshow hustle in my movie), cheap diners, and character actors coming out of the woodwork. In other hands, this is B material, but it's Preminger, and it's interesting how he can make dime-store novel stuff rise to another level. As in all things, it's not so much about the idea, it's about the execution (we managed to see a superhero movie get nominated for Best Picture, something considered a fantasy in prior decades). And Preminger was a strong enough storyteller that - despite reported massive cuts to Faye's storyline in this film - it still holds.