Noir-Vember, Day One: Angel Face (1952) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Noir-Vember, Day One: Angel Face (1952)

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Danny INDIFFERENTIt's strange to start off a month dedicated to one of the most narratively twisted genres in cinematic history with something as straightforward and unassuming as Angel Face. But of course that doesn't mean it's bad. Jean Simmons stars as the titular face, the daughter of a doddering old author and stepdaughter to a wealthy woman. She's unhappy with the arrangement, feeling her dad is being held back by her stepmom and it's after Simmons decides to bump off stepmom that the story begins.

She tries to flood the woman's room with natural gas, but stepmom escapes and the police believe the stepmother accidentally turned the gas on herself. One of the paramedics arriving at the scene finds where the key had been kicked, and, after being dismissed by the officer at the scene, he finds the hysterical Simmons. He doesn't know that she's trembling out of regret at a near miss rather than fear for her stepmother's life.

Simmons is solemn and eerie as the want-to-be murderess.

The paramedic is Jessup, and he's played by Robert Mitchum with his usual laid back charms. While I know I'm alone on this point, Mitchum has always reminded me of the cinematic equivelent of a block of cheese; he's too cool and calm to ever seem like much of a threat or even someone to get behind. He makes people like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood look high strung.

Obtuse and impenetrable, he works on calming the hysterical girl down by the usual medically approved method of slapping her across the face. She snaps out of it and gladly reciprocates a slap across his face. And, wouldn't you know it, the fire of passion is lit.

Mitchum already has a girl named Mary (what a name) who also works at the hospital, but after Simmons chases him down and corners him in an empty little bar, his wilder side must be indulged. A night of dancing and her hanging on his every word and he's smitten in a bad way.

The Simmon's character is the sphinx of the film. She does next what practically no other woman would dare dream of; she calls up Mary and invites her to lunch. She informs her of the dancing and discreet canoodling of the night before and coolly offers Mary a bribe, testing how far she can push the woman. Mary, played by Mona Freeman with an appropriate amount of pathos, sees through the charade and promises to fight for Mitchum, canoodling or no.

This through-way defines Angel Face; it's about a seduction of a man from two different women, one promising him the moon and the other promising him stability and sanity. This is rendered all the more fascinating by the fact that Mitchum's Jessup is a rare breed in a film noir, the male antagonist who's not complicit in the murders that kick the third act into gear.

Simmons' mood swings work in her favor as Mitchum gets entangled in her web of lies.

Rather, his laid back charm and reluctance to make decisions doom him. He picks up on her homicidal urge rather quickly, and, in a welcome scene, tells her he wants no part of it. His is a man who wants honest respectability, but his high ideas and poetic ideas come crashing down to earth as Simmons searches for his weak spots and preys upon his uncertainties.When Jessup is presented with the opportunity to leave Simmons, he is almost out the door before she lunges at him with a kiss. In a brilliant turnaround, the the kiss begins with her pushing forward and ends with her pulling back, like a fisherman casting and ending up with dinner on the end of the hook.

The movie prolongs his plight, and while it's shown that Mitchum does indeed help out in the murder, he isn't guilty of anything other than sticking around when he knew better. While many noir will make many harsher points, this simple one will serve as a good starting point for anyone's understanding of the genre.

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Posted by Danny

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