Angel Face, 1953. 6/10.

I liked Anger Face. But for once, I’d rather have seen someone other than Robert Mitchum as the male lead. He tends to dominate his scenes to such an extent that the other characters, except for Jean Simmon’s Diane, end up as a backdrop of wallflowers.

Frank’s role calls out for a more nuanced, less self-assured presence, maybe a Dana Andrews or Richard Widmark. Mitchum definitely brings his wry humor and maverick attitude to the role; but that has the effect of mitigating the noir suspense and atmosphere with an almost comic slant. I agree with the reviewer who feels that Barbara O’Neil’s and Herbert Marshall’s characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting. It’s Mitchum’s love interests who animate the plot.

As it is, Frank’s spin between Mary and Diane makes little sense. Mary has the obvious good nature and girl-next-door prettiness that would seems such a better match for the everyman Frank than Diane, who has only wealth. Okay, she’s certainly attractive too, but seems incredibly immature compared to Mary, and looks young enough to be Frank’s daughter. Plus there’s the little matter of needing her parents dead in order for her to realize her wealth.

Why would Mitchum be eager to take up with Simmons when she obviously hates the stepmother for no good reason, and he suspects, based on the opening sequence, that she has tried already to kill her? He has plenty of opportunities to go back to Mary, but ultimately burns his bridges. Mary’s right that he can’t expect her to drop everything, including her new boyfriend/fiancee, just because he becomes available. Frank’s last scene with Mary seems stiff and formal from his perspective; he’s forever lost the casual familiarity she now shares with Frank’s former friend and coworker.

There’s two possibilities for Frank: either he’s ‘fallen between two stools’ by losing both women, or he really doesn’t care that much for relationships anyway. That explains his last-minute decision to split to Mexico. And that puts Diane in the driver’s seat, literally, just long enough for her to kill both of them.

That leads us to Simmon’s character. If we accept that she’s a budding sociopath, then the murder/suicide makes some sense. If she can’t have Mitchum, then no one will. Still, since sociopaths are inherently selfish, wouldn’t she want to live? Also, If she’s just having a sudden nuts/jealous impulse, why not kill just him? At least there was a point to setting up her stepmom’s murder. She gets closer to the family money.

On the technical side, Angel Face hits on all cylinders: both of the car crashes follow-through with the actual car (first the Chrysler, then the Jaguar) tumbling down the hill, not the usual substitute-a-jalopy-for-the-expensive-car deal. Even better, in the courtroom scene when the engine from the wrecked Chrysler is used as evidence, we get an authentic and properly banged-up early Chrysler hemi.

Anyway, a watchable but not-so-noir film noir. There’s an interesting plot, which, as others have pointed out, shows up in better company in other noir thrillers. I was disappointed enough with the way the cast interacted, or rather failed to interact convincingly, to rate Angel Face higher. Good title, though. 6/10.

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