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The Black Angel (DVD, 2004) Reviews
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The Black Angel (DVD, 2004)

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A pretty good B-noir adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich

Jun 6, 2012 (Updated Jun 6, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Duryea, Lorre, the alcoholic dream

Cons:some plausibility issues revolving around ye olde "wrong man"

The Bottom Line: There are better noirs, better whodunits, but also many worse ones than this


I wanted to see “Black Angel,” (1946), adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (whose work was the basis for Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, and many other movies) primarily to see Constance Dowling, the ostensible cause of the great Italian poet/novelist Cesare Pavese in 1950. This was not a very good reason, since his character nightclub singer Mavis Marlowe is murdered early in the movie. Mavis is quite vile to everyone and has the doorman of her Wiltshire Blvd. apartment building not admit her husband, Martin Blair (Dan Duryea).

While Martin is around, he sees Marko (Peter Lorre) be passed up to see Miss Marlowe. Later that night, one of her paramours, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips) goes up and finds her dead. Total dope that he is, he picks up her from the bed and is seen by the maid fleeing down the stairs. Soon enough he is on death row.

Though publicly humiliated by her husband’s affair and, in the view of a jury, murder, his wife Catherine (rather horse-faced June Vincent) seeks to exonerate him, though LAPD Capt. Flood (Broderick Crawford) agrees to look for the hear-shaped, ruby-trimmed brooch that Bennett said she was wearing and then wasn’t wearing while he was in Miss Marlowe’s apartment.

The brooch came from Blair and he attempts to help Catherine clear her husband. The go undercover (as singer and pianist) to work in Marko’s swank nightclub. Martin is soon very in love with Catherine, giving him n acute conflict of interest between his sleuthing to clear the man whom the state has slated for execution and being ready to comfort the widow-to-be to the altar.

As her savior, Martin has quite drinking, but when Catherine reminds him that she loves her husband (don’t ask me why, but wives have stood by more abusive husbands than Kirk!), he goes on a bender that provides the opportunity for strobing dreams that recall “The Lost Weekend” which had just collected some Oscars.

Running 81 minutes, the movie is a fairly efficient whodunit, and nocturnal and urban enough to count as a noir, a genre in which Duryea was no stranger, though usually as a snide thug rather than a White Knight (most notably harassing Edward G. Robinson in The Fritz Lang noirs “The Woman in the Window” (1944) and “Scarlet Street” (1945), and later in “Criss Cross” (1949) and out West as the nemesis of the James Stewart characer in Anthony Mann’s “Winchester '73” (1950), He’s reported as having said You can't make a picture without a villain: it pays well and you last.” For aficionados of noirs, it is interesting seeing him play a nice guy, albeit an alcoholic.

Peter Lorre seemed sinister without moving or saying anything, though he could be poignant (even as a serial killer of children in Lang’s “M”). Broderick Crawfored played  lot of cops (though I wonder why anyone thought he had the charisma to play a version of Huey Long in “All the Kings’ Men” for which he won a fairly inexplicable Oscar). June Vincent could do determined and could sing, though also lacking charisma. Her changes in style of dress are more notable than her performance, though she is good in the scenes in Marko’s office.

Except for the alcoholic waking dream sequence (and a shot out of the Bennett liquor cabinet at Dan Duryea feeling up a bottle), there is nothing of note visually (no strange angles, menacing shadows, or spiral staircases) from the yeoman B-movie cinematographer Paul Ivano (one of the two credited cinematographers on von Stroheim’s “Queen Kelly” (1928)). The movie was directed by Roy William Neill, who had directed Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a string of movies.

Woolrich didn’t like the movie, which took a lot of liberties with his storyline, though preserving his twist at the end.

The only DVD bonus feautre is a trailer (a pretty misleading one btw). That is the basis for rounding a 3.5 rating down.


©2012, Stephen O. Murray


Recommend this product? Yes

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