Otto Preminger's "Angel Face" has always had a special place in my heart. Preminger, as a filmmaker, is certainly noteworthy--but aside from a few films (including "Laura" and "Anatomy of a Murder"), he isn't one of my particular favorites. I don't know--to me, he was more of a technician than an artist. He made good films, in general, but doesn't have the appeal of some of the other "big name" directors. I love "Angel Face," however, pretty much for one reason--Jean Simmons. Simmons, I believe, is one of our most underrated actresses. She has played the lead in some very high profile and versatile films, including the scathing "Elmer Gantry," the epic "Spartacus," the terrific musical "Guys and Dolls," and Olivier's "Hamlet." Relegated to mostly TV roles for the last few decades, I wish her film legacy was more widely appreciated. "Angel Face" is particularly noteworthy in her film oeuvre because it gives her the rare opportunity to play a femme fatale type.
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.