Angel Face (1953 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Otto Preminger|
|Produced by||Otto Preminger|
|Screenplay by||Frank Nugent|
|Story by||Chester Erskine|
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
(composed and conducted)
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling, A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Frederic Knudtson|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
Frank (Robert Mitchum) 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, despite the fact Frank already has a girlfriend, Mary.
At 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. In reality, she wants to make Mary jealous by letting it slip that they had dinner the prior evening.
Mary loses confidence in Frank and agrees to go out with Bill, an old boyfriend. Frank tracks down Diane to berate her for telling Mary about their impromptu dinner. But when she tells Frank he can work at the estate as the chauffeur, as well as prepare and drive her sports car in an upcoming race, Frank forgets about what she has done. Diane convinces her parents to hire Frank as chauffeur and let him 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 him from her stepmother by saying Catherine would fire Frank if she ever found out about his and Diane's romance and that Catherine would take it out on both her and Diane's sickly father if she were being defied. Diane claims Catherine even attempted to kill her by turning on the gas in the fireplace. Frank suspects Diane is lying.
Frank goes to Mary and says he is getting out of both the chauffeur job and romantic entanglement, after which they reconcile. But when he goes back to the Tremayne estate to get his gear, Diane cries and begs him to run away with her. He is confused enough to agree to stay for a few more days, but will no longer work as the chauffeur.
Catherine is about to drive herself to a bridge tournament, and Diane's father Charles asks her for a ride to town. Instead of moving forward as expected, the vehicle speeds in reverse, crashing through a guardrail. It careens down a steep cliff, killing them both. As Diane is now the sole heir, she comes under suspicion for murder; police arrest her and Frank as well. Diane is devastated, as she never intended her beloved father to be in the car, and she is admitted to a hospital for treatment. She confesses that she planned and executed Catherine's murder. Doctors believe she is delirious.
Defense attorney Fred Barrett warns Frank that he will take the rap since Diane's suitcase was found in his room. He suggests Frank and Diane marry, which means they cannot be compelled to testify against one another. This could allay suspicions as to why Diane and Frank were both packed to leave.
The tactic works. 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 the expert testimony of evidence the car's drivetrain was tampered with before the crash.
Frank tells Diane he wants no part of her and will try to get Mary to take him back. Diane scoffs that Mary won't and bets her car on it. Mary refuses him, saying she will stay with Bill. While this is happening, Diane goes to attorney Barrett and confesses everything. He allows her to unburden herself, then assures her she cannot be re-tried because of the legal principle of double jeopardy.
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 says no. Frank reluctantly agrees to let her drive him to the bus station. In the car, she gives him a steely look, then quickly shifts the car into reverse and steps on the gas pedal, sending them careening to their deaths over the same cliff where the previous murders occurred.
The taxi that Frank ordered to take him to the station arrives. The driver honks the horn, gets out and waits for Frank to arrive, not aware that he has just gone off the cliff.
- Uncredited (in order of appearance)
Character names are not indicated in on-screen credits.
In 2018 on Turner Classic Movies Noir Alley, host Eddie Muller claimed that Hughes hired Preminger expressly for the purpose of torturing Simmons. The film had a production schedule of just 18 days, starting June 18, 1952, and a budget of under one million dollars. Previews were held in December 1952, with write-ups appearing throughout the month in Box Office, The Film Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Motion Picture Herald and Variety.
Latter Day Critical Response
Nowadays the film receives mostly positive reviews. 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."
Film critic Paul Brenner writes, "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."
- "Angel Face: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
- Blackstone, Lillian. "'Angel Face' Enthralls With Murder, Punishment" (St. Petersburg Times, April 24, 1953, p.22)
- Silver, Alain (2010). Film Noir: The Encyclopedia. p. 28. ISBN 978-0715638804.
- Turner, Adrian. "Actress who has never 'gone Hollywood'" (New Straits Times, January 20, 1989, Times Two, Page Ten)
- "SNEAK PREVIEWS / A Critical Guide To TV Movies By Andrew Sarris / Friday, October 28" (The Village Voice, October 31, 1977, p.51)
- Gaus, Andy. "9 days a week / Thursday 23" (The Boston Phœnix, Section Three, p.15)
- Flaus, John / Harris, Paul. "What's On / Buff's Choice / Angel Face" (The Age, 13 February 1987, p.6)
- Kehr, Dave, film review. Last accessed: December 3, 2009.
- Brenner, Paul[permanent dead link], AMC filmcritic, film review, 2009. Last accessed: December 3, 2009.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan Blog post. Last accessed: December 25, 2009.
- Cahiers du Cinema via Godard on Godard, Da Capo Press, March 22, 1986. Last accessed: February 26, 2011.
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