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.
BLACK NARCISSUS (1947, UK) ****½
dist. General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK), Universal Pictures (USA); pr co. The Archers / Independent Producers; d. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; w. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger (based on the novel by Rumer Godden); pr. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; ph. Jack Cardiff (Technicolor. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Brian Easdale; ed. Reginald Mills; pd. Alfred Junge; cos. Hein Heckroth; m/up. George Blackler, Biddy Chrystal (both uncredited); sd. Stanley Lambourne (Mono (Western Electric Recording)); vfx. W. Percy Day; rel. 24 April 1947 (UK), 13 August 1947 (USA); cert: PG; r/t. 101m.
cast: Deborah Kerr (Sister Clodagh), Flora Robson (Sister Philippa), Jenny Laird (Sister Honey), Judith Furse (Sister Briony), Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth), Esmond Knight (The Old General), Sabu (The Young General), David Farrar (Mr. Dean), Jean Simmons (Kanchi), May Hallatt (Angu Ayah), Eddie Whaley Jr. (Joseph Anthony), Shaun Noble (Con), Nancy Roberts (Mother Dorothea), Ley On (Phuba).
A group of Anglican nuns, led by Sister Clodagh (Kerr), are sent to a mountain in the Himalayas. The climate in the region is hostile and the nuns are housed in an odd old palace. They work to establish a school and a hospital, but slowly their focus shifts. Sister Ruth (Byron) falls for a government worker, Mr. Dean (Farrar), and begins to question her vow of celibacy. As Sister Ruth obsesses over Mr. Dean, Sister Clodagh becomes immersed in her own memories of love. The tension is slow build in this superbly shot tale of sexual repression. The theme is represented by Kerr and Byron’s struggles to come to terms with their celibacy and young native girl Simmons’ need for sexual expression. All this was quite daring in 1947 and the film was heavily cut on its initial release in the USA. Powell and Pressburger take their time in building the antagonism between the characters until a perfect final act in which the suppressed rage boils to the surface in Byron’s superbly unhinged Sister Ruth. Make-up design, superb colour photography (Cardiff’s use of lighting and colour tones is exemplary) and editing all come together magnificently to produce this climactic dramatic cocktail. The backdrops were blown-up black-and-white photographs. The Art Department then gave them their breath-taking colours by using pastel chalks on top of them. Remade as a TV mini-series in 2020.
AA: Best Cinematography, Color (Jack Cardiff), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Alfred Junge)