Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not one of Eve's faces

Coming up this afternoon is the fun, if flawed, movie Angel Face, at 4:00 PM ET on TCM.

Robert Mitchum stars as Frank Jessup, a paramedic who is only working the job until he can make enough money to open up a garage. One night, he gets called to the home of wealthy Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil), who has been overcome by gas from a heater in an apparent suicide attempt. There he meets Catherine's husband Charles (Herbert Marshall), a writer who's living off of his wife's financial support; and Charles' daughter (and Catherine's stepdaughter) Diane (Jean Simmons). Diane quickly arranges for Frank to get a better job, working as a chauffeur for the Tremaynes. Frank also begins to fall for Diane, despite the fact that he's already got a girlfriend in Mary (Mona Freeman).

By now, you've probably seen enough noirs to know that falling for Diane like this is a Big Mistake for Frank to make. Diane sabotages Frank's relationship with Mary, and gives Frank good reason to suspect the stepmother's "suicide attempt" was in fact an attempted murder. Unfortunately for him, however, he can't get out of the situtation: Diane has been asking innocent questions about car mechanics, and using the information she's learned to rig up an "accident" that will kill her father and stepmother. Nobody but Frank knows about her newfound mechanical expertise and, since he was the one whose duty it was to keep the car in working order, he's the obvious suspect for the murder charges that come once the cops investigate and find the car has been sabotaged. What's a man to do? Apparently, the only thing he can do in this case it to marry Diane, which gives them both spousal immunity and keeps them from having to testify at the trial. There goes the evidence.

But how can Frank get out of a marriage to Diane when he's learned about her true nature, and doesn't love her? There's that great line in Double Indemnity about the two murderers being tied together in perpetuity, "straight down the line" -- and so it is here. There really is no way out. And yet, that's one of the things that makes the movie not as good as it could be. By the time it was made in the early 1950s, much of the noir genre had already been done to death (no pun intended), and the plot here seems trite. The ending, in particular, seems more laugh-inducing than anything else. Still a cast like Mitchum, Simmons, and Marshall is more than worth watching. It's been released to DVD, but the only one apparently available right now is part of a Robert Mitchum box set. Not that Mitchum isn't worth watching, of course; but if you just want to watch Angel Face, you might want to stick to the TCM airing.

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