Some of you may remember that back in 2014, I reviewed all four of the films in TCM’s “Greatest Classic Films: Romance” DVD set. Having added a few more “Greatest Classic” DVD sets to my collection over the summer, I’ll be reviewing them in that same format. Today we begin with the first film from the Robert Mitchum “Greatest Classic Legends” set, Angel Face.
Film #1: Angel Face (1952)
Directed by Otto Preminger
Written by Frank Nugent and Oscar Millard
Starring Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons
Angel Face is the first film in TCM’s four-film Robert Mitchum “Greatest Classic Legends” set. The film tells the story of Frank Jessup (Mitchum), an ambulance driver who becomes involved with a manipulative, scheming woman named Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) after paying an emergency visit to the Tremayne home.
I reviewed this film once before in 2014 and gave it a score of 4/5. I was very impressed by it, expecially the performances. I stand by my previous evaluation of the film — Simmons and Mitchum are great to watch together, and Simmons in particular gives a stellar performance, portraying a fascinating twist on the femme fatale.
Diane is a blatantly manipulative character and a compulsive liar. She has a lot of charm and uses it to fool people into sympathizing with her. In the special feature commentary, Eddie Muller points out that while most femmes fatale were motivated by a want for money (perhaps an inheritance, or an insurance policy), Diane’s actions are motivated by her twisted love for Mitchum’s character, making her an unusual example of the female noir antagonist. As Muller points out, she’s already wealthy. She has the money, without having to work for a living. All that’s missing is her “perfect” match.
In terms of performance, though Simmons steals the show, Leon Ames is also fantastic in his supporting performance as *SPOILER* the lawyer defending Diane and Frank after her father and step-mother are killed. He makes the courtroom scenes absolutely riveting. *SPOILER*
Going into the film knowing that the performances were going to be stellar, I was wowed by the story and artistic value upon re-watching Angel Face. The twists are every bit as shocking now as they were the first time I watched the film, and the score is beautiful. While the pace is a tad slower than I remember, it’s steady, and plenty of tension is built through music, cinematography, and script.
All of that brilliance leads up to an ending that truly leaves the viewer stunned, whether watching the film for the first time or the fiftieth.
Special feature: Commentary by Eddie Muller
Eddie Muller’s commentary on Angel Face made me love the film even more than I did after watching it for the second time for this review. Muller points out that audiences at the time were probably expecting a totally different film, since Mitchum had made a few lighter pictures with Howard Hughes/RKO, and Jean Simmons was mostly known as “that cute British actress.” He says that Godard considered Angel Face to be one of the best American films; Muller himself places the picture in his top 10 of the sound era. In one of my favorite parts of his commentary, Muller points out that in certain scenes, Mitchum’s character seems to believe that he’s totally in control of the situation with Diane — but in reality, Diane never loses control, and in the end she is totally responsible for the fate of both characters. Amazing.