Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rick29 and Sark on Otto Preminger's Angel Face (1952)

Rick29 and Sarkoffagus, film buffs from different generations, discuss Otto Preminger’s Angel Face this month.

Plot Synoposis: Jean Simmons stars as Diane Tremayne, a young woman who idolizes her once-famous father Charles (Herbert Marshall) and despises her wealthy stepmother Catherine (Barbara O’Neil). When Catherine almost dies in her sleep from an apparent mishap with a gas fireplace, Diane meets ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum). The two “accidentally” meet again later and, even though Frank has a girlfriend, sparks fly between Diane and him. Is it love or does Diane have ulterior motives?

Spoiler Alert! The following dialogue between Sark and Rick29 assumes you’ve seen the movie and reveals much of the plot.

Rick29: I thought Angel Face was second-tier Preminger, certainly not in the same class as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, or Bunny Lake Is Missing. However, it has its virtues and I can see why it intrigued me when I saw it thirtysome years ago. It still boasts one of my favorite movie endings.

Sark: First of all, it seems that we're in near complete agreement over this film. The three Otto films you mentioned are indeed superior films, but Angel Face has its moments. I agree wholeheartedly about Jean Simmons' casting. She's pretty, but I suspect Diane was intended to be a knock-out beauty. She says near the beginning that she's 19 (nearly 20). Jean looks much older, certainly not aged (she would've been in her early 20s at the time of filming), but more mature. Maybe that was the point, that Diane was more experienced than most women her age, or at least not as naive. But I kept having to remind myself that she was merely 20.

Rick29: When I originally saw the film, I remember being stunned with the ending. But watching Angel Face this time around, Diane's intentions seem clear from the lengthy montage where she walks around the house and ends up sleeping in Frank's jacket. Either Frank will have her or neither of them will have anyone. I don't believe she intended to drive off the precipice when they both got in her car...but I am convinced it was in the back of her mind. And when Frank snaps at her (I love the look she gives it), she makes a quick decision...which really had been lingering for awhile.

Sark: When Frank poses this question to Diane: "How stupid do you think I am?" I’d have to say pretty damn stupid. As you stated, it's incredibly obvious that Diane is playing Frank from the start, and consequently, Frank comes across as a putz. Sure, he was smart enough to try to keep his distance after the trial. But getting in a car with a woman who he knows rigged a car to murder her stepmother? I knew Frank was a goner long before he did.

Rick29: I wish we would have learned a little more about Catherine. Obviously, she was aware of her husband's flaws, but still loved him. I really liked that Diane finally comes to realize that—unfortunately, after she has killed her stepmom and father. The undefined coolness between Catherine and Diane is nicely developed, but a few more scenes between them would have made the movie stronger in my opinion.

Sark: Yes, we could've seen more of the stepmother and -- as you said -- more between her and Diane. I thought many of the supporting characters were more interesting than Frank and Diane. I was actually more intrigued by Ito and Chio, and sadly, I didn't care for the two main players. I truly felt nothing as they both crashed to their death, not sorrow, depression, anger, not even sympathy. Bill –Frank's former co-worker who steps in as Mary's beau –was a flat character, as was Mary herself. Their relationship seemed rather pathetic. They looked ridiculous together at the end, but that may have to do with the tepid performances from both actors. Bill asks Frank what he saw in Diane. Well, what did Bill see in Mary? She's boring. I can't understand why Frank tried to go back to her after the trial, except maybe out of guilt. Perhaps he just wanted to make sure Mary was okay and happy.

Rick29: I've always been a Jean Simmons fan. She eventually developed a screen elegance that few other actresses possessed (though Deborah Kerr still ranks No. in elegance). Jean gives a nicely nuanced performance, even though I agree with you that the script was written with more of a young beauty in mind. Jean is attractive, but I wouldn't call her stunning. In fact, in the scene in the car where Diane first kisses Frank, she comes across as a playful school girl. But she does make Diane consistently interesting and, in the end, I truly believe that Diane felt a combination of remorse and guilt about the murders. I think Mitchum was fine as Frank, but I don't think it was a challenging role for him. Really, Frank was just an ambitious guy who wasn't sure what he wanted. He wants Mary, but dumps her for Diane. He starts to return to Mary, but stays with Diane. After the trial, he tries to go back to Mary. Make up your mind, dude!

Sark: I don't know Jean Simmons' movies very well, but I thought she was good in Angel Face, in spite of the apparent miscasting. As you know, I'm a fan of Robert Mitchum, and he was adequate but not exceptional. I blame the script. He was a laid back gent in the beginning, but by the end, he had little to do. Was he depressed? Did he truly intend to divorce Diane? Was he genuinely leaving or waiting for her to return? Did he suspect he would be killed? I think these are legitimate inquiries considering the story, but none are addressed in even the most subtle manner.

Rick29: I think the film's biggest flaw is that Diane and Frank have nothing to do for whole trial sequence. Instead, we get lawyers played by Mr. Howell from "Gilligan's Island" and the Colonel from "Mister Ed." And while Jim Backus and Leon Ames are good supporting players, they aren't dynamic performers and the trial came across as boring. Then the story limps along to its conclusion...but, hey, I still love that final shot of the car flying down the hill.

Sark: Once again agreeing with you, the trial was probably the worst part of the film. It nearly killed the plot. How did marrying one another garner sympathy? And were jurors allowed to pose questions to witnesses? That was strange. I thought both shots of the cars crashing were excellent. That cliff didn't look very steep, but based on the results, I guess speeding in reverse and going over was a deadly feat.

That's our assessment of Angel Face, but we always like to hear other opinions!

1 comment:

  1. When I saw this movie for the first time, I thought the ending was one of the biggest surprises I had ever seen. I haven't seen it in many, many years. The ending is one I will always remember.