Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jeff's #98: Angel Face

# 98: Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1952)

I don't exactly remember the first time I saw it.  It was one of  the many classics I caught for our golden age top 10 lists project.  Back then I was easily tearing through 50 or more movies a month.  Most of the movies I watched I loved.  Truthfully, even as I'd finish one movie on TCM and instantly start another, it never felt like a chore, but always a boon.  It was a much needed escape from the doldrums of modern culture.  And, even though I fell in love with so many movies during this time, it's interesting over the years to see which ones have stuck with me and which have simply faded away into a fog of hazy, black-and-white memories.  ANGEL FACE is one that has stuck with me vividly, and truly I've never been able to shake it.  Repeat viewings have helped.  But even without seeing it again, there are images from it that are burned in my memory.  And when I think about the crowded field of wonderful films from the early 1950s, it's one that sticks out saliently in my mind as one of the most splendidly horrific.

ANGEL FACE is easily one of the nastiest, most audacious noirs to come out of Hollywood during the golden age (perhaps only rivaled by LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN in terms of sheer cruelty and shock value).  Honestly, I can't think of a more brutal ending in all of Hollywood history.  I still marvel that it was made (it wouldn't make it past an initial test audience nowadays), and that it was able to follow the Code's rules so ruthlessly that it became a grotesque reflection of its laws of judgment. I sort of wish I had placed this right next to THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT in my count down because it perfectly encapsulates the post-war fatalism that TDBN gracefully eschews but that would terrorize noir protagonists throughout the late 40s and early 50s.  Plot-wise, I can understand its detractors.  It's basically a more lurid retread of Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.  But, it's tense sexuality, perversity, and overbearing sense of impending horror make it unique - not just in Preminger's already controversial oeuvre, but in all of film noir.  It brilliantly takes Cain's story of Depression-era desperation and turns it into a psycho-sexual cold war nightmare of paranoia and mutually assured destruction.

Stats: one of many Mitchum films to appear on here (one of my favorite actors) and one of several featuring Jean Simmons (whom I also love).  Sadly, the only Preminger directed film on here, but ADVISE AND CONSENT and ANATOMY OF A MURDER are very honorable mentions.


  1. Great pick. I'll be talking about this one too.

  2. It's funny u mention the black and white haze bc I looked at my golden age list and couldn't remember a thing about certain titles. I never understood the Preminger detractors. His filmography has a few holes, but Anatomy, Advise, Bunny Lake, Bonjour, etc make for a respectable career. I am over the auteur purists. Mostly bc they seem willing to toss guys like Preminger, Curtiz, or Seigel into sub levels like artisan or whatever. U win some and u lose some.

  3. I need to give this another watch

  4. Preminger's great. I get that auteurism is an important gateway into seeing the art of Hollywood films, but eventually it becomes debilitating. I think one of the healthiest things a film lover can do is give up on stringent auteurism. It opens up the door to guys like Preminger, Delmer Daves, Edwin L. Marin, Andre De Toth, etc.

    Also, it's so sad how horrible my memory is from a bunch of the films on my lists. Couldn't describe a single scene from some of them.