Saturday, September 30, 2017

Angel on My Shoulder

I recorded Angel on My Shoulder when it was on TCM not too long ago, and notice that it's available on DVD. So I watched it to do a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off with Eddie Kagle (Paul Muni) getting let out of prison. He's a head gangster of some sort, and gets picked up at the jailhouse gate by his second-in-command Smiley (Hardie Albright). Smiley apparently enjoyed heading up the gang while Eddie was in prison, because Smiley takes Eddie's gun and shoots him dead! Now Eddie was a bad guy which we already know since he spent time in prison, which would have satisfied the Production Code. However, authorities higher than Joe Breen wouldn't have been satisfied, which is why Eddie gets sent straight to Hell (except of course that it's not called that).

Eddie is obviously displeased with his new surroundings, and tries to get out -- who wouldn't? Of course there are bouncers whose job it is to keep people in and keep them doing the backbreaking labor their souls have been sentenced to do for all time. Anyhow, in one of his escape attempts, Eddie winds up in Mephistopheles' office. Mephistopheles is the closest our devil (played by Claude Rains) gets to calling himself Satan, usually being preferred to be called Nick because that's something Eddie can understand more easily.

Eventually Nick comes up with a scheme that will at least temporarily allow Eddie out of this hell. There's a goody-two-shoes judge named Parker who looks amazingly like Eddie. And Nick doesn't want Judge Parker to succeed because apparently that would make Nick's work up on the surface of planet earth much more difficult. So Eddie will be put into Parker's body, and in exchange, Eddie will get to deal with Smiley for double-crossing him.

Poor Eddie gets more than he bargained for when he winds up in Parker's body. Parker had a fiancée Barbara (Anne Baxter) who probably deserves to wind up in Hell for being such a grasping exploitative bitch using Parker for her own ends of fame, wealth, and power. But Barbara is supposed to be one of the good guys here. Eddie begins to fall in love with her because she's good looking, but this causes all sorts of moral problems for Eddie. Nick, for his part, is insistent that their bargain be carried out (where's Bruno Kirby when you need him) and desperate to ensure that Eddie wind back up in Hell.

There's a fair amount to be recommended in Angel on My Shoulder, first in the performance from Paul Muni but even more so in the performance from Claude Rains, who is as always excellent here. The story at times strains credulity, although that's to be expected considering the supernatural nature of the material. But having to satisfy the Production Code probably had something to do with it too. Still, I can't help but think there are some open questions left by the resolution of the Eddie/Smiley dispute. A bigger problem for me, however, was an extended sequence when Eddie first takes over Judge Parker's body. Everybody around him realizes something is up even if they don't know what, but it's all presented as one of those lies on top of lies things that have always turned me off. And really nobody would ever have noticed the similarity in appearance between Eddie and Judge Parker?

Still, Angel on My Shoulder is definitely worth watching for anybody who likes older movies.

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