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In the 1930's, a First World War flying ace named Roger Schumann is reduced to making appearances on the crash-and-burn circuit of stunt aerobatics. His family are forced to live like dogs while Shumann pursues his only true love, the airplane. When Burke Devlin, a reporter, shows up on the scene to do a "whatever happened to" story on Shumann, he is repulsed by the war hero's diminished circumstances and, conversely, drawn to his stunning wife, LaVerne. Written by
During the location shooting in San Diego of this film, Robert Stack's wife was about to have their first child. While filming the tense scene where Stack propositions his own wife (played by Dorothy Malone), suddenly a plane flew right by the cameras with letters tailing four feet tall proclaiming IT'S A GIRL! Rock Hudson had arranged to have the hospital call immediately when the news came and hired a stunt pilot to tow the message behind the plane. Stack was deeply moved by Hudson's generosity, saying in his autobiography, "It's a moment I've never forgotten. Anybody who tells me that Rock Hudson isn't a first-class gent had better put up his dukes." See more »
Despite the fact that the story is taking place in the early 1930s, all of Dorothy Malone's clothing, hairstyles and make-up are strictly 1957, the year the picture was filmed. See more »
On the level, what'd you do last night?
Nothing much:just sat up half the night discussing literature and life with a beautiful, half naked blonde.
You better change bootleggers.
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Alone, during an all night boot camp fire midwatch in a huge, sepulchral building, at one o'clock in the morning I dared (had I gotten caught I'd have done a punishment tour at 'Happy Hour') to switch on the TV in the Master At Arms' office. On came the titles of 'The Tarnished Angels'.
I've been enthralled by it ever since.
It would be a revelation to get to see this film in CinemaScope, but it's one of those few films whose themes seem to be intensified by pan-and-scan: the characters' claustrophobic loneliness in a throng; the pressing anxiety of a child about his parentage; the narrowing, time-running-out bravado of the former war ace; the ache of the mechanic who can fix only aeroplanes but not his timorousness; the naked greed and lust of the depression mogul lucky to have been spared the worst of his era's depredations; the despair of the wife who followed a man and ended up jilted by his corpse, with no place to turn; and the outside-looking-in fascination, desolation, and crashed dreams of a reporter lying torpidly in a pond of bootleg hootch.
Atypical of director Sirk's opus 'The Tarnished Angels' shows his grasp of his medium in the haunting chiaroscuro of black & white, and in the edgy editing of the flying scenes that furnish the only relief from - or should that be masterful exacerbation of - the confining, torturous ties and jealousies, yearnings and flailings that bind the characters in existential angst.
Not much of a plot here, but the acting is to marvel at. Robert Stack's muscular, sexy, once-genuine hero turns to tin before your eyes. Dorothy Malone's aching milk-and-honey farm girl fecundity, horse-traded libido, and lovelessness struggle against the vast flush of the Depression's The Blight Stuff toilet in which her husband's sole skill is no life preserver for his family's plunge into life-and-death, give-and-give, take-and-take despair. Rock Hudson's goodhearted reporter, yearning to find some goodness in humankind, having his search thwarted by the grinder of want and need, loyalty and betrayal, helplessness and manipulation. The mogul frustrated because his only skill is heavy-handed buying and selling (played wonderfully by Robert Middleton - in a diabolical role that makes the bargain in 'Indecent Proposal' look frivolously angelic by comparison), whose physiognomy oozes reptilian menace that cloaks his unrelievable aching to possess one immutable, beautiful, worthy thing.
'The Tarnished Angels' left me feeling as wrung out as the overstressed airframes in its hell-for-leather air race scenes, and quite a bit more grown-up than I was before I'd seen its characters rooting round in the Depression gutters of abasement and debasement.
After my midwatch, near dawn, when I tumbled into my open-bay barracks rack, I couldn't sleep. I wished for an angel to hand me a tin of BrassO for my coming-of-age, tarnishing soul.
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