Directed by: Otto Preminger
Yet another Preminger film that’s just short of working. There’s no doubt all his films possess an unmistakable and unique style, full of kinks and quirks. It’s a style that puts him in the upper echelons of Classic Hollywood auteurs for some, but for me they come from a place of forced eccentricity, as if Preminger is trying his best to make films that live up to his name.
Angel Face is a film noir that seems to be heading towards a mystery plot when a wealthy woman is poisoned in a gas leak at her mansion, which she claims is a murder attempt. Robert Mitchum is one of the ambulance staff called to the house. As he makes his way downstairs any mystery dissipates as he comes upon Jean Simmons playing the piano, so obviously the culprit. Not that this is a flaw on the films part, nor is it really a spoiler. It’s made quite clear that Diane (Jean Simmons) is the culprit, but what isn’t clear is the extent to which Frank (Robert Mitchum) is aware of the deviousness of the femme fatal. The film focuses on the power relations between Diane and Frank, on who can gain and retain control over the other.
Frank retains his cool at all times, even when wrongly implicated in the murder he seems somehow above it all. He’s a man who, for the most part, knows what he wants but lacks the resources to get it. This in contrast to Diane who has the resources to do anything but has no idea what she wants. Does she seduce Frank in order to frame him, or does she really love him? This question is posed and never answered, although it’s implied that she doesn’t really know herself.
What we know for sure is that she ends up being Frank’s downfall. The only time he breaks from his stoic and principled sensibility is when he becomes intrigued by the young heiress. He stands up his girlfriend, the far more homely Mary (Mona Freeman), a nurse, in order to be with Diane. One could say a similar question is posed in regard to Franks intentions. Does he have feelings towards Diane or is he using her? He attempts to get back together with Mary and only begrudgingly goes back to Diane when she rejects him. This is, however, after Diane has murdered and attempted to frame Frank, which would warp anyones feelings.
Diane, sexually immature, is very much the seductress, even taking the audacious step of meeting with Mary, just to feel her out, another power play. Mary calls her on it though, showing that the young Diane, doesn’t have the power to manipulate anyone she wants. Indeed her downfall is underestimating Frank (as well as not anticipating when her dad might need to hitch a ride).
Re-reading what I’ve read so far I feel like I should like this more than I do. I just can’t seem to get on with Preminger. I also don’t really believe in Simmons’ character. Is anyone really so self-destructive? I suppose the summation of my feelings toward the film come through best during the final scene, which was, I assume, aiming to be shocking or tragic. It struck me as silly. What had until that point been a character of some considerable complexity, ends up as a hyperbolic caricature of a character, presumably to facilitate Preminger’s compulsion for the eccentric.
Rating – 56/100