Angel Face (1952)

 “I’d say your story was as phony as a three-dollar bill.”

WWII veteran Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is the ambulance driver who responds to the emergency call from the cliff top mansion of the wealthy Tremayne family. Mrs. Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) claims that someone tried to murder her, but that accusation is dismissed and instead the gas leak in her bedroom is chalked up to an unfortunate accident. But underneath the trappings of extreme wealth, there is something about the Tremayne family that exudes an unhealthy aura.

Meanwhile, Catherine’s husband, Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) doesn’t seem overly perturbed that his wife had a near brush with death. He’s a British author who married the wealthy Catherine after his first wife was killed in an air raid. Although he hasn’t produced a word in years, he’s happy to sponge off of Catherine’s money, but meanwhile her patience is wearing thin. His daughter Diane (Jean Simmons) has just arrived from England, and she loathes her stepmother.

Before he leaves the house that evening, Frank meets Diane–a troubled young woman who immediately attaches herself to the strapping ambulance driver–insinuating herself into his life by her seemingly helpful, harmless manner. Frank was a race car driver before the war, and he dreams of opening his own garage–specializing in sports cars. Diane offers to help him fulfill that dream, and soon she leads Frank on a one-way ticket to film noir purgatory.

Angel Face is one of my Top Ten Film Noir titles. The film has a marvelous tone of impending doom which is woven into almost ever aspect of the film. Directed by Otto Preminger, Angel Face is a perfect example of the genre. Personally, I’m a sucker for noir titles that contain a really evil femme fatale, so naturally, I can’t resist the allure of Angel Face. It’s also interesting to see Mitchum cast in the role of a hunk who can’t quite seem to fight his way out of the net of deceit woven oh-so-cleverly around his libido.

The DVD extra feature is film commentary by film noir guru Eddie Muller, and with his disarming and deceptively casual style, Muller walks the viewer through the film scene-by-scene providing details about problems on the set as well as analysis of the film. As Muller points out, the film includes “two archetypal females”–the good woman–Frank’s girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman), and the sly, evil damaged Diane. It’s easy to see why Muller is such an acknowledged expert on film noir, and it’s certainly worth the price of the DVD to get his expertise. If you’re a film noir fan, don’t miss this one.

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