Angel Face (1952) 3.57/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 73.7
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 91 mins
Director: Otto Preminger
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman

Low-flying but meticulously crafted psychological thriller adorned with some deftly realised themes of regret and despair. As he often tended to do, Robert Mitchum gives a relaxed performance as Frank Jessup, an ambulance driver trying to earn enough money to set up a specialist auto-parts garage who stumbles into the life of a spoiled young woman in the form of Jean Simmons’ wonderfully played Diane. Diane is an ice cold manipulator who resents sharing her doting father with her rich stepmother and will do anything to get rid of the latter while retaining the wealth. It’s not long before Frank falls afoul to her possessive streak and he finds himself not only in her employ as the family’s live-in chauffeur but also implicated in a nefarious murder plot.

Angel Face is not your typical thriller. Though intricate in set up, the plot is not the main thrust of the film. Instead, it’s the sense of dangerous inertia behind Frank’s well meaning but not altogether innocent character that seems to take centre stage. Caught in the web of a malicious psychopath, there’s a sadness to his predicament realised chiefly through his stop-start relationship with his girlfriend (played by Mono Freeman) which is sabotaged so ruthlessly by Diane. The regret he shows in that final act is palpable accentuated as it is by Frank’s helpless acceptance of his circumstances.

Angel Face shows all the polished composition of Preminger’s films with the lighting, framing, and set design providing a substantial backdrop to the dramatic tension. The script is not as sharp or caustic as the films noirs that have traditionally made plots like this work and it’s in that arena more than anywhere else that this film loses points. At times, it also feels like something is missing between Mitchum and Simmons, a fire which might explain the actions of Frank more sufficiently. Though both do well when their characters are apart, this film could’ve been imbued with a far richer personality had they replicated the steamy antagonism of say Stanwyck and MacMurray, whose relationship in Double Indemnity followed a similar arc. That said, Angel Face is still a fascinating and well shot thriller which is content to play out somewhat differently to the norm.

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