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In Otto Preminger's Angel Face, Robert Mitchum lays out his credo: `Never be
the innocent bystander. That's the guy who always gets hurt.' He's being
disingenuous; he's not quite so innocent as he pretends but he still ends
up getting hurt.
An emergency medical technician, Mitchum responds to a call at a mansion high up a hill. There a wealthy woman (Barbara O'Neil) has almost asphyxiated from the gas in her unlit bedroom fireplace. Was it a suicide bid, or something more sinister? Her husband (Herbert Marshall), a burnt-out novelist she supports, can't explain it. Neither can his daughter by a previous marriage (Jean Simmons).
Mitchum finds Simmons quite the dish, but she finds in him something more than a passing fancy. She jumps into her sleek sports car, follows the ambulance back down to the hospital and waylays Mitchum in a diner. Generous with his affections, Mitchum breaks a date with his steady girlfriend (Mona Freeman) in order to spend a perfectly `innocent' evening of dining and dancing with Simmons.
But his experience with fractures and coronaries hasn't equipped him to deal with a dangerously scrambled psyche. Simmons first invites Freeman to lunch so she can humiliate her by spilling all the details, cunningly tweaked up, of her `innocent' rendezvous with Mitchum. Then she arranges for him to take on the job of family chauffeur, installing him in a garage apartment (just like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd.). And she hits up her stepmother to lend Mitchum the money to start up his own business as a car mechanic. Telling himself that he's just looking out for Number One, Mitchum blithely lets her erase any boundaries between them.
Klaxons start bleating, however, when she pounds on his bedroom door in the middle of the night with a cockamamie story about O'Neil hovering over her bed and playing with gas again; the earlier incident, she claims, was just a smokescreen. She tells him, too, that the stepmother reneged on his loan in order to get back at her. Mitchum's wariness enrages Simmons and redoubles her delusional obstinacy.
When her father and stepmother perish in a spectacular freak accident (their car plummeted in reverse down the steep ravine abutting the driveway), the heiress Simmons finds herself charged with murder. As does Mitchum he had the expertise to sabotage the vehicle. Wily attorney Leon Ames (in a small but succulent part) sees the defendants' marriage as the path to acquittal. Which leaves Mitchum with a Hobson's choice risking either the gas chamber or the psychotic wrath of a woman he never loved....
Though Preminger can deploy twists of plot with the best of them, he had a subtler knack of keeping his audience off-balance, never quite sure in which direction the story might develop. So for a while we share the perplexity of Mitchum, so laid back that he doesn't grasp that he's playing with a five-alarm blaze until it's too late; opportunistic but lazy, he's the perfect stooge.
Simmons may have been working within her limitations in her low-voltage, passive-aggressive performance, but she fits the character, who operates in a world inhabited only by herself. She's not a duplicitous vixen scheming to get what she wants; what she wants is the only reality she knows. Preminger recognizes this, and gives her one of the movie's quietest, most freighted scenes: During one of Mitchum's flights from her, she snoops as if sleepwalking through his rooms, finally curling up in his easy chair, his sport coat draped around her shoulders against the dawn chill. It's an eerie calm before the final storm.
"Angel Face", according to one film journal, has become a cult film with a strong repeat-viewer base ... a bit like the children at a scary movie who cover their eyes but continue to peek through fingers just the same. I'm an "AF" fan, too. One of the film's most powerful aspects is the utterly chilling soundtrack score with its turbulent minor-key piano. To my mind, Dimitri Tiomkin never composed a more appropriate theme than this. And during the lonely nighttime scene when Jean Simmons' character revisits the windswept driveway where her parents had met their horrific death, when the wordless chorus swells into Tiomkin's theme, see if you don't agree that this is one of cinema's most memorable moments. Highly recommended to all except young children and sensitive adults for its surprising and shocking imagery.
Otto Preminger takes the noir/ femme fatale genre a step beyond in his usual pessimism. This world of shady mansions, sad piano-playing and lonely boulevards perpetually driven, suits well Jean Simmons's calm insanity and Mitchum's stoic acceptance of his tragic destiny. Mitchum uses the same discontent tone to order a beer and to refuse to be part of a murder. He smokes, empty-minded, staring out of the window, too tired to get his way out of the schemes of his employers. He may take the most important decision of his life, but after the cigarette's over he'll be doing the total opposite. On the other hand one has the feeling that the film wouldn't worked as well with one more conventional noir leading lady, like Lana Turner. Simmons' charming and weak aspect makes her character irresistible. To top it all there's a masterful score by Dimitri Tiomkin and the most surprising of endings.
Jean Simmons meets the man of her dreams just as he walks into a
nightmare in "Angel Face," an Otto Preminger film released in 1952.
Simmons is excellent as a beautiful young woman who hates her wealthy
stepmother, adores her father, and is obsessed with an ambulance
driver, played by Robert Mitchum, who comes to the family home when it
appears Diane's stepmother tried to kill herself. Although the victim
claims that someone tried to kill her...
Mitchum brings a perfect touch of ne'er do well and untrustworthiness to the role. He has ambition, he has a job, but he's a jerk to his girlfriend (Mona Freeman) and seems more than happy to take up with Diane when she pursues him.
Simmons, though not as striking as Vivien Leigh, has a similar look - she's petite, with a beautiful figure and facial structure, and gorgeous eyes. Her performance as Diane is right on - even the cynical Mitchum character can't quite figure her out, even when he thinks he has. She keeps her stepmother off-balance, too. There are some wonderful touches - when she walks into her father's house toward the end of the film, without any dialogue, one knows she can no longer live there.
The ending is breathtaking. This Preminger film has the pace lacking in "Fallen Angel," which is another character study of a sort.
Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons give great performances in this deliberate but interesting drama about a beautiful woman who is not what she seems. The ending will surprise and shock you. I saw this film in 1953 as a young boy and can remember it like it was yesterday. It has a way of sticking with you. Leon Ames,Herbert Marshall, Barbara O'Neil, and Jim Backus (voice of Mr. Magoo) round out a nice cast.
Angel Face was a recommended film according to several noir chronicles, so I figured when it rolled around on TMC I could tape it and erase if it failed to satisfy. Despite initial difficulty getting involved in the plot, before I knew it I was absorbed by Jean Simmon's keynote performance. The myriad small moments of suspense along the way in no way prepare the viewer for the shocking moment which closed this cautionary tale. Definitely recommended viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A sense of unavoidable doom hangs over this film from the start, when
an ambulance, its siren blaring, races to a mansion whose owner has
almost been asphyxiated by gas--whether by accident or design is not
Jean Simmons is mesmerizing as the haunted and haunting Diane, who lives luxuriously in postwar L.A. , but whose wartime-London childhood has irreparably scarred her. (Robert Mitchum' s hapless Frank would have done well to remember that in Roman mythology Diana was the huntress.) This film has one of the most melancholy scenes of any film near its end when Diane wanders disconsolately through a deserted mansion. She enters and leaves rooms where she had once been happy, and Dimitri Tiomkin's music painfully underscores the character's desolation. That loneliness is later echoed in the final image: a cab driver drives up to the empty house and honks his horn in vain for passengers who will never appear.
This very poetic film is really, in essence, a study of two characters: 'Robert Mitchum' and 'Jean Simmons.' It's very style affords them ample opportunities for revealing aspects of their fascinatingly complex personalities that would have never been unveiled in more standard Hollywood fare. Although it doesn't have the ingenious plot of 'Laura,' as soon as you look beyond plot, you realize how much more poetic and ultimately satisfying it is. For some reason, 'Angel Face' isn't out on video, but Turner Classic Movies plays it every other month; so catch it there and make sure you have your VCR running.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Otto Preminger's "Laura" and "Fallen Angel" concerned themselves with men obsessed with beautiful but dangerous women. Preminger's "Angel Face" reverses this and is about a woman (Jean Simmons) obsessed with a man (Robert Mitchum)to the point of wanting him dead if she cannot have him for herself. There is a second woman who is nearly obsessed with Mitchum, Mona Freeman, but her obsession is much less lethal and she learns how to wean herself away from him. Another famous director, Alfred Hitchcock, would take the theme of obsession to the heights of its glory in the movie classic "Vertigo." Most men and women have found certain dangerous others to their liking and it's easy to see how such liking can become perverted into obsession. Stalking, which is so much in the news today, can become a lethal form of obsession. I have often wondered why such a gifted and talented actress as Jean Simmons never received her just desserts in Hollywood or with the general public. After seeing this movie, I partly understand why. She reminded me so much of a young Elizabeth Taylor that at first glance I thought that was the actress I was seeing. The title is apt for Jean Simmons. She certainly does have an angel face, but what is in her heart? Watch the film and find out. Some critics have downplayed the ending as not very shocking, but the viewer must realize that this film was made in 1952, long before such movies as Thelma and Louise et al. Even today the ending packs a punch. Though not on the same level as the classic "Laura," this is still top notch film noir.
Just saw this movie for the first time today and don't know why I've not seen it before; we taped it off TCM some time ago. It is haunting, as others have commented. I'm surprised that no one compares it to the admittedly somewhat overblown "Leave Her to Heaven" from 1945: the obsession with possession of those she loves by both Ellen and Diane is remarkable. I wonder if any scholars of women's film history have ventured here.
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