Angel Face (1953 film)

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Angel Face
Angel face b.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Otto Preminger
Produced by Otto Preminger
Screenplay by Frank Nugent
and Oscar Millard
Story by Chester Erskine
Starring Robert Mitchum
Jean Simmons
Mona Freeman
Herbert Marshall
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
(composed and conducted)
Cinematography Harry Stradling, A.S.C.
Edited by Frederic Knudtson
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • February 4, 1953 (1953-02-04) (Premiere-Los Angeles)[1]
  • February 11, 1953 (1953-02-11) (US)[1]
Running time
91 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Angel Face is a 1953 American black-and-white film noir directed by Otto Preminger.[2] The drama, filmed on location in Beverly Hills, California, features Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons.[1][3]


Frank and Bill, two Beverly Hills ambulance drivers, arrive at the Tremayne mansion, where Catherine Tremayne has been affected by gas poisoning, but has already been treated by the police. When Frank tries to reassure Catherine’s stepdaughter, Diane, she becomes hysterical, causing them to trade slaps. After they leave, Diane follows Frank to a diner, where they flirt and decide to go to dinner, in spite of Frank already having a girlfriend, Mary.

Over the course of dinner, Diane tells Frank about her father, and Frank tells her about Mary. We learn that Frank had been a race-car driver, and that Mary was saving up money in order to help Frank to buy his own garage. The following day, Diane meets with Mary under the pretense of contributing to Frank’s garage, but in reality she wants to make Mary jealous by letting it slip that they had dinner the prior evening.

As Mary loses confidence in Frank and agrees to go out with an old boyfriend, Bill, Frank tracks down Diane to berate her about telling Mary about their impromptu dinner. Frank berates but when she tells Frank he can work at the estate as the chauffeur and offers him the chance to prepare and drive her sportscar in an upcoming race, Frank forgets about what she has done. Following this, she convinces her parents to hire Frank as their chauffeur and he can live in a small apartment on the estate grounds. She further ingratiates herself to Frank by getting her stepmother Catherine to agree to listen to Frank’s proposal about investing in a garage. The two begin a romantic involvement.

While Catherine is awaiting advice on Frank’s proposal from her attorney, Diane lies to Frank, telling him that Catherine wants nothing to do with the project. She further attempts to alienate Frank from Catherine by telling him that she would fire Frank if she ever found out about his and Diane’s romance.

When Frank tries to assuage her fears, she tells him that Catherine would take it out on both her and her sickly father, if she felt she was being defied. In an attempt to convince him, she tells Frank that she saw Catherine in her bedroom and that she even attempted to kill Diane by turning on the gas in the fireplace. Frank is skeptical, as a street-wise man, and suspects Diane is lying.

Frank goes to Mary and says he is getting out of the Tremayne situation, both the chauffeur job and his romantic entanglement, after which they reconcile. But when he goes back to the Tremayne estate to get his gear and leave, Diane plays the pity card, crying and begging him to run away with her. While he won’t agree to that, he is confused enough to agree to stay for a few days until she can figure out what she’s feeling, but is no longer going to work as the chauffeur.

Shortly after, as Catherine is about to drive off for a weekend Bridge Tournament, her father Charles asks to be driven into town. After he gets in the car, Catherine puts the car in drive, but instead of moving forward as expected, the vehicle speeds in reverse, crashing through a guard rail and careens down a steep cliff, killing them both As Diane is the sole heir, she comes under suspicion for their murder; police arrest both her and Frank. She is devastated as she never intended her beloved father to be in the car and is admitted to a hospital for treatment. She confesses that she planned and executed the murders. They believe she is delirious.

Their criminal defense attorney, Fred Barrett, convines Frank that he will take the rap since her suitcase was found in his room, of which he had no prior knowledge. He suggests Frank and Diane marry, which means they cannot be compelled to testify against one another and tactically allay suspicions as to why Diane and Frank were both packed to leave.

The tactic works and Barrett is able to convince the jury that Frank and Diane are simply lovebirds caught up by circumstance and they are both acquitted. This despite expert testimony of circumstantial evidence the car's drivetrain was tampered with. Expert rebuttal suggested reasonable doubt it was done deliberately, given the violent crash and inability to forensically establish definite cause.

When they get back to the mansion, Frank tells Diane he wants no part of her, knowing she deliberately committed the murders and is going to try and get back with Mary. Diane tells him she won't take him back and bets her car on it. When he goes to Mary, Bill is there and she refuses to take him back, telling him she will stay with Bill. While this is happening, Diane goes to her attorney Barrett and confesses everything to him. He listens to allow her to unburden herself, then informs her she can no longer be convicted since double jeopardy is attached and thus she cannot be retried.

When she returns to the mansion, Frank is packed to leave and has called a taxi. She begs Frank to take her to Mexico with him, but he rejects her offer. She asks for one last chance to convince him, professing her love for him, and he reluctantly agrees to let her drive him to the bus station. After they get into the vehicle, she looks at him with a steely sinister look, then quickly shifts the car into reverse and jams on the gas pedal, sending them careening to their deaths over the same cliff in the same manner which took the lives of her father and stepmother. The last scene shows the taxi he ordered pulling up to the mansion.



Critical response[edit]

The film mostly receives positive reviews today.[4][5][6] Dave Kehr from the Chicago Reader writes: "This intense Freudian melodrama by Otto Preminger (1953) is one of the forgotten masterworks of film noir... The film is a disturbingly cool, rational investigation of the terrors of sexuality...The sets, characters, and actions are extremely stylized, yet Preminger's moving camera gives them a frightening unity and fluidity, tracing a straight, clean line to a cliff top for one of the most audacious endings in film history."[7]

Film critic Paul Brenner wrote, "Preminger transforms a second rate James M. Cain murder plot, re-orchestrating this textbook tale of passion and murder into a haunting and haunted refrain. The by then clichéd story line is pared away and brought down to an elemental level -- there is not a wasted scene in the film — and the story's familiarity breeds an aftertaste of inevitability and doom. The hallucinogenic nature of the proceedings is accented with Preminger's direction and camerawork, having actors drift from foreground to background or having the camera track to fluid and suffocating close-ups. Preminger, ever the mesmerizer, weaves his style into a half-dreamt haze of nightmare."[8]

It was also named by critic Robin Wood as one of his top 10 films, shortly before his death.[9]

In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard named it the 8th best American Sound film.[10]


External links[edit]