Thursday, August 4, 2011

Angel Face (1952)

A Film Noir House Of Cards

- Angel Face (1952) is like a present on Christmas Day, beautifully wrapped with a colorful wrapping paper and flowing bow. Attached is a card that reads: "ANGEL FACE - a film noir starring the awesome Robert Mitchum and directed by the great Otto Preminger." Naturally, you dive in head-first, stripping off the bow and ripping the wrapping paper to shreds. But when you open it up, the box is empty. Angel Face is a film that looks great on the outside but lacks substance and logic and ends up being nothing worthwhile.

Angel Face makes sure that it has all the ingredients to be a film noir:

Femme Fatale? Check.
Likable fall guy? Check.
Crime? Check.
Dark picture? Check.

Although everything that one might look for in a film noir is present, they are all just fluff: an exoskeleton of a film noir made up of things that have worked in past films but fail here.

The film follows Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum), an ambulance driver who answers the call of a woman who nearly died from gas poisoning. He meets and falls for the woman's step daughter, Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), a woman who, to all normal people, appears to be clearly clinically insane. We are never given any reasons as to why Frank falls for this nutzoid broad, but we are supposed to believe it anyways and, as you might guess, things turn not-so-safe for Frank.

I am a huge Robert Mitchum fan - it is easy to call him my #1 favorite actor - but if you want to see a great performance from him, watch something else. Mitchum has a reputation for sleepwalking through his roles with little feeling being put into his performances but most of the time one has a hard time believing it because he is so good. While Mitchum is good about half the time in Angel Face with some classic moments of Mitchum coolness as Frank, one can tell through the rest of his performance that he does not care one iota about the character or film as a whole. One can tell how pointless Mitchum finds the film to be through his many mind-free line deliveries - and you cannot help but agree with him. One scene in particular shows Mitchum's "I wish I wasn't here" moments in a significant court room scene. As everyone else in the scene looks anxious, surprised, or relieved by the testimonies and evidence being put forward by both parties, Mitchum looks like he just cannot wait for the scene to be over. This likable fall guy could not care less.

I suppose it also did not help that Mitchum and Preminger did not get along during the filming of Angel Face. One particular incident saw Preminger demanding Mitchum to be fired: during a scene in which Mitchum slaps Jean Simmons, Preminger would yell action, Mitchum would slap Simmons and Preminger would tell him to do it again. Preminger did this so many times that Simmons started to tear up as Mitchum hit her and when Preminger told Mitchum to slap her one more time, Mitchum turned around and slapped Preminger.

But Mitchum is FAR from the worst aspect of the film; his indifference to the role is welcomed to the down-right failures on a part of the rest of the cast and Preminger himself.

Mitchum's lifeless performance is brilliance compared to the rest of the cast, all of whom are either embarrassing, unmemorable or, in the cast of Jean Simmons, unconvincing. The miscast Simmons does the best job she can the poorly conceived Diane Tremayne character but is really too tiny and cute to pass as a creepy killer. Simmons does not work in the role but the way that the character is used throughout the film is far more detrimental for the film; a flaw that points to Preminger more than anyone else. Diane is meant to create mischief and mystery throughout the film but, while she certainly does the former, the film fails to use the character in an ambiguous way. Rather than keeping the audience guessing whether or not Diane is good or bad, the audience always knows exactly who she is, what she did and what she will do. Nope, no mystery or dimension here in this festy femme fatale.

Preminger films Angel Face as best he can, giving the film a pretty good look with some excellent camera movements. Unfortunately, none of Preminger's efforts to give the film a nice visual presentation help the film out in the long run because he mishandles the film's story. Preminger simply tells a potentially entertaining story very poorly. The audience is never sucked into the story and never gets attached to the characters; all of the film noir story points are there and executed at the right time in Angel Face but the story never gets exciting, interesting, or poignant. Even if the performances were stellar, Angel Face would still be a subpar film because its story is as empty as Matt Damon's head.

Even though Angel Face has all of the elements that usually make a good film noir, because those elements are empty, unmemorable and/or substandard, the film is nothing but a film noir house of cards.

CBC Rating: 5/10

1 comment:

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