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Angel Face [Import USA Zone 1]
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This is the first UK DVD release of this 1952 drama from RKO Pictures. It started like any other night... Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) gets a call from the house of Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil), little realising where this routine call will take him. Mrs Tremayne has a beautiful, wilful stepdaughter Diane (Jean Simmons); she's attracted to Frank and insists he take a job as the family chauffeur. Frank's wary of getting too close to the kid, however, especially when he realises she's not as sweet as she looks. But Diane has a habit of getting what she wants and it doesn't matter what - or who - it costs...
Outrageous melodrama --Halliwells Film Guide --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition DVD.
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A Howard Hughes production, Angel Face has one of the most sensational conclusions in film - one has to see it to believe it
Special footnote trivia -- When Robert Mitchum got fed up with repeated re-takes in which the director Otto Preminger ordered him to slap Jean Simmons across the face, he turned around and slapped Preminger, asking whether it was this way he wanted it. Preminger immediately demanded from Howard Hughes for Mitchum to be replaced. Hughes refused.
Under the production staff of:
Otto Preminger [Director/Producer]
Frank S. Nugent [Screenplay]
Oscar Millard [Screenplay]
Chester Erskine [Story]
Dimitri Tiomkin [Original Film Music]
Harry Stradling Sr. [Cinematographer]
Frederic Knudtson [Film Editor]
1. Otto Ludwig Preminger [Director]
Date of Birth: 5 December 1905 - Wiznitz, Bukovina, Austria-Hungary (now Wyschnyzja, Ukraine))
Date of Death: 23 April 1986 - New York City, New York
2. Robert Mitchum [aka: Robert Charles Durman Mitchum]
Date of Birth: 6 August 1917 - Bridgeport, Connecticut
Date of Death: 1 July 1997 - Santa Barbara, California
3.Lire la suite ›
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This DVD comes with a wonderful audio commentary by Eddie Muller and is well worth a listen. In 1964 Jean-Luc Godard placed this film at no. 8 in his list of the greatest American films of the sound era. That alone should be good enough reason to investigate this film. It also has one of the great endings.
Robert Mitchum, playing an ambulance driver, responds to call involving a wealthy matriarch. It seems as if Mrs. Tremayne has been mysteriously poisoned by gas. Upon his visit, he meets Mrs. Tremayne's freeloading husband and her stepdaughter--played with haughty playfulness by Simmons. Infatuated with the young beauty, he soon falls under her spell and actually starts to work for the estate as the chauffeur. Relinquishing a former relationship and financial independence, he becomes more and more involved in the family dynamic playing out in the mansion. It soon becomes apparent that not all is as it seems and a psychological thriller, of sorts, starts to develop.
Essentially, while "Angel Face" is structured as a conventional noir--it can also be judged as an effective character study. From the haunting music, the shadowy stretches of mansion, the wistful stares from rain-streaked windows--the mood and atmosphere establish a familiar ambiance. But pitting the tough guy persona of Mitchum against the emotional aloofness of Simmons, we see two distinct and intriguing personalities. Simmons, with her doll-like features and regal manner, is really what distinguishes this picture. With a more typical noir leading lady, "Angel Face" would not be nearly as effective. Simmons' playing against type adds to the suspense and mystery--it's almost as if we are lured (along with Mitchum) deeper into the story due to our expectations connected to Simmons as an actress.
I highly recommend "Angel Face." While not Preminger's best film, it certainly ranks in the top. And while not necessarily the best or most original noir, it certainly is effective and creepy. This is the case of a lot of talented individuals making a very solid and entertaining film. KGHarris, 01/07.
Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is called to the Tremayne mansion when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil) nearly asphyxiates from a gas leak in her bedroom. Her husband Charles (Hebert Marshall) and police speculate on how the accident may have occurred, but Catherine believes that someone tried to kill her. After a brief flirtation with Catherine's oddly unstable stepdaughter Diane (Jean Simmons), Frank heads back to the station. Diane impulsively follows, easily convincing Frank to beg off his evening with girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman). Frank sees a lot of Diane, an idle, rich young woman who idolizes her doting novelist father and jealously despises her stepmother. She gets Frank a job as Tremayne family chauffeur. She connives to come between him and Mary. She lies. She dramatizes. Frank sees through her. But, intrigued by Diane's' lifestyle and flattered by her neediness, he goes along anyway.
Maybe the on-set strife and cruelty informed "Angel Face"'s perverse psychology. Neither profound nor clever, Diane's clumsy machinations and Frank's submission pack an emotional wallop. Diane is trouble all right, but not a classic noir femme fatale. Her motives are entirely emotional -insecurity, instability, infatuation. Her scheming is childish and transparent. Frank Jessup, very much in noir protagonist form, is foolish enough to entangle himself in it. The film is elevated by careful, though certainly cliched, writing of the supporting characters, who provide the circumstances from which Frank and Diane's self-destruction emerges: Diane's burned-out, free-spending father and indulgent stepmother. Frank's pragmatic, hard-working girlfriend. Diane barely in control of her devastating behavior and Frank thoroughly in control to no avail make a lasting impression.
The DVD (Warner 2007): There is a nice audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller, who obviously admires the film. He discusses themes, Robert Mitchum's noir archetypes, the film's structure, refutes the idea of the femme fatale as a reaction to post-war working women, and provides a lot of background information on the motives, rewrites, and conflict behind "Angel Face". Subtitles for the film are available in English. Dubbing is available in French.
Otto Preminger's ideal symbol for his moral ambiguity-tinged dramas was Dana Andrews, who starred under Preminger at Fox in classic noirs "Laura" and "Fallen Angel," but he was busy at the time. It was only natural, therefore, for Mitchum to then assume the lead at his home studio. The cinematographer who provided those brilliant, appropriately shadowy black and white noir hues was the veteran, England-born Harry Stradling, who was on loan out from Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
This 1953 release was unsuccessful on its initial run. This is typical of so many of the great noir films of the forties and fifties, many of which are now celebrated as classics as the genre receives current deserved recognition and accompanying plaudits.
One of Mitchum's towering film monuments came at RKO in the 1947 gem "Out of the Past," but it also had trouble gaining traction initially with the public, but has gone on to earn deserved classic status. That great film can be used as an instructive comparison to "Angel Face" to create an important distinction.
In "Out of the Past" Mitchum is confronted with femme fatale Jane Greer, who lights up the screen with her pure explosiveness. Mitchum, despite his persona as a shrewd and streetwise detective, is unable to let go of the potent handful of TNT he is irresistibly drawn to in the form of Greer. The ever-shrewd Greer knows this and plays Mitchum like a Wurlitzer. He is aware of this and still comes back for more, unable to shake her.
This femme fatale model is a familiar one and is exemplified as well by Barbara Stanwyck and Claire Trevor in "Double Indemnity" and "Murder, My Sweet" respectively. Better than a generation Kathleen Turner would carve out a similar niche in "Body Heat."
Master of moral ambiguity Preminger shrewdly presents a deadly but different style of femme fatale in Britisher Jean Simmons. Elegant and soft-spoken, Simmons presents the image of "soft sell femme fatale." Her IQ for man trapping and manipulation, however, is at the same genius level as Greer, Stanwyck, Trevor and Turner.
Mitchum shows up at the mansion where Simmons resides with her author father, played by veteran British leading man Herbert Marshall, and the rich woman who has been keeping both of them. She is soft-spoken and superficially harmless, even seemingly angelic as the title informs us, "Angel Face."
Before Mitchum knows it he has been diverted away from the uncomplicated nice girl he has been dating, Mona Freeman, and is squarely in Simmons' headlights. Before long puppet master-femme fatale Simmons has induced burly but helpless Mitchum to quit his job as an ambulance driver and assume a job as chauffeur. She even promises to help grub stake him to launch his own garage business.
What makes Simmons so convincing and such a unique femme fatale is that not only can she appear angelic; the most frightening events containing shattering magnitude can be carried out with her exuding a detached and relaxed nonchalance. The moral ambiguity emphasized by Preminger has found the perfect communicator in Jean Simmons.
The harder that Mitchum tries to pull away after realizing that a tiger has him by the tail, the more determined and formidable Simmons becomes. Events build to a dramatic climax with an unforgettable twist ending.
Angel Face is a taut, well-told noir with a superb performance by Jean Simmons and an equally good one by Mitchum. Who knows what triggered Mitchum to get involved enough in a movie of his to put forth the effort for a complex performance. Whatever it was, he delivers the goods as Frank Jessup. Frank is an ambulance driver, ambitious enough to be saving his money to start his own garage. He has a girl friend he more than just likes. But when he arrives at the Tremayne mansion on an emergency call one night he finds himself caught up in a number of temptations. He may be a reasonably honorable guy, but deep behind his eyes he can see the possibilities when Diane Tremayne begins to pursue him. It's not long before he has agreed to become the chauffeur for the Tremaynes, to place on hold his relationship with his girl, to allow himself to relax with Diane's attentions, to let himself think of that garage he wants financed by Tremayne money. And he begins to recognize Diane's obsessiveness...her hatred of her step-mother...the likelihood she had something to do with that gas leak...her way of innocently manipulating things. "You hate that woman," he tells Diane, "and someday you'll hate her enough to kill her." Frank is no fool. "Diane, look. I don't pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours and I don't want to. But I learned one thing early. Never be the innocent by-stander...that's the guy who always gets hurt." Too late, Frank.
What Frank has to deal with is Diane Tremayne, and that means Jean Simmons. She was a marvelous British actress who became a Hollywood star. This was one of her first movies after she came to America. Her innocent, vulnerable beauty too often disguised an immense range as an actress. At 17 she played young Estella in Great Expectations. Her imperious ways of making young Pip's life difficult is fascinating. At 18 as Kanchi, the native girl in Black Narcissus, she was sexy, spoiled and believably knowing. At 19 she proved she could hold her own against Olivier when she played Ophelia in Hamlet. At 22 she was almost unbelievably fragile and vulnerable as Sophie Malraux in The Clouded Yellow. In Hollywood, she became a star, but all too often the films she was in were big fat productions which are scarcely thought of now. With Angel Face, Simmons gives a portrait of obsession that keeps us off balance. She looks at us and we want to believe the best...but we know better than to do so. There's always that slight edge of unnatural wheel-turning that, thanks to Simmons' skill, we only catch at the corner of our eyes. The story of Angel Face may be strictly linear, but Simmon's Diane Tremayne gives the movie a lot of uneasy depth. Combine that with Mitchum's first-rate performance and we're looking at a very good movie. The ending, while perfectly set up, is memorable and startling.
Along the way we can enjoy the subtle, charming job Herbert Marshall does as Diane's father...an aging author who has given in to the luxuries and security of a very rich wife, and the smooth performance of Leon Ames as Fred Barrett, the lawyer who defends Diane and Frank against murder charges. Barrett is not sleazy, simply an excellent and realistic legal strategist. Angel Face is a fine movie; anyone who likes noirs, or just good drama, should welcome this to his or her collection.
The DVD transfer looks just fine. The only extra is a commentary track by Eddie Muller, identified as a film noir historian. I listened to parts of it. Muller was knowledgeable and pleasantly gossipy.