ANGEL FACE (1953, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Romance
dist. RKO Radio Pictures; pr co. RKO Radio Pictures; d. Otto Preminger; w. Frank S. Nugent, Oscar Millard (based on a story by Chester Erskine); exec pr. Howard Hughes (presenter); pr. Otto Preminger; ph. Harry Stradling Sr. (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Dimitri Tiomkin; ed. Frederic Knudtson; ad. Carroll Clark, Albert S. D’Agostino; set d. Jack Mills, Darrell Silvera; cos. Michael Woulfe; m/up. Mel Berns, Larry Germain; sd. Clem Portman, Earl A. Wolcott (Mono (RCA Sound System)); rel. 2 January 1953 (UK), 4 February 1953 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 91m.
cast: Robert Mitchum (Frank Jessup), Jean Simmons (Diane Tremayne Jessup), Mona Freeman (Mary Wilton), Herbert Marshall (Mr. Charles Tremayne), Leon Ames (Fred Barrett), Barbara O’Neil (Mrs. Catherine Tremayne), Kenneth Tobey (Bill Crompton), Raymond Greenleaf (Arthur Vance), Griff Barnett (The Judge), Robert Gist (Miller), Morgan Farley (Juror), Jim Backus (District Attorney Judson).
Beautiful Diane Tremayne (Simmons) is a sophisticated, wealthy young woman capable of manipulating anyone who crosses her path. She also has a dark side she manages to conceal behind her appearance and her good manners. Soon after the untimely death of her stepmother (O’Neil), Diane pursues handsome Frank Jessup (Mitchum). Before long, she starts to win him over — but Frank quickly suspects that the manic Diane had more to do with her stepmother’s death than she lets on. This hastily filmed noir melodrama echoes the work of James M. Cain in its plot device of the beautiful and manipulative girl and the sap whose strings she pulls. The hasty production schedule (due to the impending expiration of Simmons’ contract with Howard Hughes) is occasionally evident in this otherwise top-draw drama. The plot unfolds quickly – a little too quickly at times – helping to gloss over some of the more implausible moments. Simmons and Mitchum are both excellent with Simmons playing her role with subtle ambiguity, thereby keeping us guessing as to her true motives. Mitchum is at his laconic best as the self-centred driver who cannot help himself. The staging is standard for the most part, but Preminger does extract all he can from both the cast and the story, whilst Tiomkin’s score perfectly captures the mood. The finale may ultimately be predictable, but the performances manage to keep you second-guessing yourself.