Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Angel Face (1953)

From AfI:
"One night, Beverly Hills ambulance driver Frank Jessup and his partner Bill are called to the cliffside estate of Charles and Catherine Tremayne. By the time they arrive, Catherine has already been treated for gas inhalation, which the police believe occurred accidentally, but which the wealthy Catherine suspects was deliberate. As he is leaving the house, Frank notices Catherine's beautiful English stepdaughter Diane playing a melancholy piano piece and assures her that her stepmother will be fine. When Diane becomes hysterical, Frank slaps her face to calm her. Confused, she slaps him back, then apologizes. Later, after getting off work, Frank goes to a nearby diner, unaware that Diane is following him in her sports car. In the diner, Frank tries to call his girl friend, Mary Wilton, a hospital receptionist, but gets no answer. Diane then comes in and strikes up a flirtatious conversation with him. When Mary finally calls him, Frank turns down her dinner invitation, claiming that he is too tired. Frank takes Diane out, and over dinner, she tells him that her father is a well-respected novelist but has not finished a book since her mother's death during the war. Diane then asks Frank, a former race car driver who dreams of owning his own garage, about Mary, and he reveals that Mary has been saving her money to help him. The next day, Diane invites Mary to lunch and, while pretending that she wants to contribute to Frank's garage fund, lets her know that he spent the evening with her..."

Jean Simmons (the titular Angel Face) is the apex of the manipulative femme fatale in this film as Diane. From the first frame she appears, she is playing a role, difficult for an actress to pull off and still reveal the character underneath. Robert Mitchum is the chump that falls for her, or does he? There certainly seems to be an attraction between the two, but I don't think that's the only reason he continues to see her. It seems he's trying to play his own cards right, but doesn't play as well as she does. Ultimately, they're brought into a situation similar to the one Frank and Cora face in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, one that will either bring them closer or pit them against each other. Otto Preminger directs, but gone are the signature three-shots and fluid camera movements of LAURA and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS. Instead, the film focuses on two-shots, pairing characters off and watching their interaction evolve into complex situations: Diane and Frank, Diane and Mary, Mary and Frank, Diane and her father, Diane and her step-mother, Frank and the step-mother. All these conversations become private and thus do not have any verification by a third party. Dimitri Tiomkin's haunting piano-based score runs through the film, ensuring that Diana's presence is felt, no matter who's on screen.

Judgment: noir

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