Thursday, June 13, 2024

Angel of Color

Another of the noirs that Eddie Muller selected for Noir Alley that I had never heard of before was the Universal film Black Angel. It sounded interesting, so I recorded it and recently got around to watching it.

After some establishing shots of the Universal back lot substituting for Los Angeles, the camera pans to a window which is one in the apartment of Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). After her maid goes out for the evening, she calls down to the doorman, and tells him that if a certain Martin Blair should come asking to go up and see her, the doorman is most emphatically not to let him up. Sure enough Marty (Dan Duryea) comes into the building, claiming to be married to Mavis. The doorman blocks him, but then soon enough for Marty to see it, anothr man, a Marko (Peter Lorre) shows up looking for Mavis, and the doorman lets him right up.

Marty is so ticked off that he goes off and gets stinking drunk, playing the piano at a local dive bar since he's also a musician. He was in fact married to Mavis, but the drinking is why she's left him. So one of Marty's friends takes him home. While Marty is passed out drunk, also going up to Mavis' apartment is Kirk Bennett. He'd been in a relationship with Mavis despite being married to Catherine (June Vincent), and Mavis was blackmailing him, which would explain why Kirk would go up to see Mavis.

The next thing we know, the cops stop by the Bennett place. Capt. Flood (Broderick Crawford) is looking for Kirk, since he was the last person to see Mavis, at least until the maid returned and found that Mavis was really quite dead, having been murdered. The maid also saw Kirk leaving the building, so it's unsurprising that the police would suspect him of the murder. He's put on trial for it, and found guilty. Catherine, however, still believes that he must be innocent. Or, at least, she's acting like she believes that.

Kirk is eventually found guilty, and Catherine decides she's going to spend the rest of her life, or at least until the day of the execution arrives, trying to clear her husband's name. She goes looking for Blair, since to her it seems obvious that he must have killed the wife who dumped him. At least, until she finds out that Marty was really quite drunk at the time Mavis is believed to have been killed, and that a couple of his friends can corrobrate that. He's willing to help Catherine find out who really did it.

But Marty has ulterior motives, which is that having seen Catherine, he's attracted to her. And this is where the story really gets weird. Catherine was a singer until she married Kirk, and since Marty is a piano player and songwriter, the two team up in order to get Catherine into places like Marko's nightclub, since Marko was in Mavis' apartment after Marty was sent away by the doorman. So in theory Marko could be a suspect too.

Eddie Muller, in his Noir Alley presentation, mentioned that this was based on a story by Cornel Woolrich, which means that you shouldn't always expect the story to be that logical. Having recently watched another Noir Alley movie also based on a Woolrich story that will be the subject of a post in the relatively near future, I can certainly understand Muller's comments about Woolrich. As for who killed Mavis, I won't say, other then to point out that a killer was revealed, since the Production Code probably required that.

Dan Duryea was already known as a smooth villain in noirs; Black Angel was made after The Woman in the Window and Scarlett Street. Duryea is unsurprisingly good here; ditto Lorre although this is a relatively small role for Lorre despite his being so high up in the cast. Black Angel works in spite of the story and is definitely one worth watching.

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