Ambulance driver Frank Jessup is ensnared in the schemes of the sensuous but dangerous Diane Tremayne.Ambulance driver Frank Jessup is ensnared in the schemes of the sensuous but dangerous Diane Tremayne.Ambulance driver Frank Jessup is ensnared in the schemes of the sensuous but dangerous Diane Tremayne.
An extraordinary film in many ways, including simply avoiding clichés. It starts with a slap, and ends with a real shock. Between it beguiles, it plays with your sympathies, it seems to toy with an obvious turn of events then subverts it.
Robert Mitchum is the obvious centerpiece for most viewers, and if you know him you know he's consistent in all his roles, including in this one where he plays a mechanic doing odd jobs. More impressive, for me, is the femme fatale, the leading woman, Jean Simmons, who not only has an angel face, but an expressive one, moving from lively and untarnished to devious, pained, or stubborn. The two of them do not have the on screen chemistry of some of the great romances in film--blame Mitchum, maybe, for his coolness, attractive as it is to the viewer, or blame the director, Otto Preminger.
Preminger, for all his genius and willingness to flaunt the censors, is a director's director, a little like Welles without the burden of virtuosity. His best films ("Man with the Golden Arm" and "Laura" and possibly "Anatomy of a Murder") present a romantic situation as if it is a given. It doesn't really develop into something steamy or passionate or emotionally necessary. That is, he's no Nicholas Ray in this sense. And so in "Angel Face" there is a romantic involvement that is believable but never quite compelling.
And usually this is perfect, because Mitchum and Simmons in their parts are wary of each other, or are not quite involved for the sake of love. Or for love alone. That's partly why the movie works, as a movie, in a slightly different way than we expect from this kind of romance. And it's not just a romance, of course, with the hint of murder in the fringes. And then a real murder, with a huge and awful twist.
There's no question this is a beautiful movie, and a compact one, moving through several phases of the plot with fluidity. The secondary actors are good, mainly the inimitable Herbert Marshall as the father. And the writing is particularly good, I think. This is a special movie the way Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past," which also stars Mitchum. It's has film noir strains, but it is something else completely, too. Special stuff.
- Feb 11, 2011