Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) is a girl from a wealthy family. She lives with her successful businessman father, Charles (Herbert Marshall), and his second wife Catherine (Barbara O’Neil).
One night, ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is summoned to the home where the Tremaynes live. Catherine has been treated for accidental gas inhalation, but she is sure that it was no accident at all, thinking that someone was trying to kill her.
Frank meets an upset Diane while leaving the house, attempting to calm her. Diane later follows Frank to a diner near her house and the two have dinner together, with Diane telling Frank all about her family and offering financial assistance to him so he can fulfill his dream of opening his own garage.
Frank’s girlfriend, Mary (Mona Freeman), meets Diane for lunch the next day and rejects her offer, seeing through to Diane’s motives with Frank.
With the trust in his relationship with Mary broken, Frank continues seeing Diane, and Diane continues her scheming. Things take a turn for the truly sinister as it becomes clear that Diane is willing to do anything — perhaps even kill — to get what she wants.
There are plenty of interesting behind-the-scenes stories from the making of this film, as I’ve learned from researching it in TCM’s database. The film was made by RKO, which at the time of production was owned by Howard Hughes.
Hughes and Jean Simmons were not getting along, and her contract with RKO was almost up. They had recently had an argument which resulted in Simmons cutting off all of her hair, knowing that Hughes preferred his leading ladies to have long hair.
Desperate to get one more film out of her before her contract ended, Hughes convinced Preminger (on loan from Fox) to take on this project. He gave Preminger complete control of the film, even control of the script, on the condition that he would make Simmons wear a long wig during filming.
On set, tensions didn’t cool. According to TCM, Preminger slapped Simmons one day during an argument. Robert Mitchum stepped in to defend her, punching Preminger in the nose.
Behind-the-scenes troubles aside, Angel Face is a pretty great film. All of that on-set turmoil managed to result in a film that is quite dark and intriguing.
Tension builds greatly as the film progresses and the story becomes more complicated. The script is quite nicely done, with a couple of big, shocking moments thrown in. This tension is also bolstered by great music from four-time Oscar-winning composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Simmons and Mitchum give very strong performances, Simmons in particular. Her character of Diane isn’t an easy one to pull off. She has to believably be both innocent and manipulative. The audience needs to understand how everyone (Mitchum’s character in particular) could fall into her trap, while not sympathizing with her ourselves. Simmons does pretty well with both sides of her character, the sweet and the sinister.
I enjoy quite a few Preminger films, and now this one can be added to the list. Angel Face is a very good watch for fans of noir or psychological crime dramas. The score: 4/5