"Fallen Angel" is the second film that director Otto Preminger made with cinematographer Joseph LaShelle and actor Dana Andrews, the first being his 1944 masterpiece "Laura". This time Dana Andrews brings his deep voice and nuanced deadpan delivery to a film noir based on the novel by Marty Holland (who is actually Mary Holland), adapted by first-time screenwriter Harry Kleiner and photographed with Joseph LaShelle's spectacularly fluid camera. After an attention-grabbing credit sequence speeds down a dark road at night, Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) gets off his bus before it reaches his destination. He ran out of bus fare. He finds himself in a small California coastal town, where an errant waitress named Stella (Linda Darnell) catches his eye. She's a tough-talking beauty coveted by every man she meets. But only the one who will marry her and give her a comfortable life will get her. Eric wants that to be that man, so he schemes to seduce money out of prim and proper June Mills (Alice Faye). But when Stella is murdered, circumstantial evidence points to Eric.
Dana Andrews was fantastically suited to film noir. Like Humphrey Bogart, he barely moved his facial muscles when he spoke but was able to deliver a layered performance without emoting. It's interesting to watch his face in "Fallen Angel", because so much of Eric Stanton is revealed in his forehead. It's an exercise in acting with fine muscles only. Unlike Humphrey Bogart, Andrews had an imposing speaking voice. He could deliver dialogue forcefully without raising his voice. Again, perfect for film noir. Three films that Andrews made with director Otto Preminger and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle are often classified as "film noir". One of them, the brilliant "Laura", is not film noir in my book. It's mystery/romance. The other, 1950's "Where the Sidewalk Ends", is often considered superior to "Fallen Angel" due to its psychological complexity. But I prefer "Fallen Angel" for its fantastic crane shots, its far more complex women, and its aggressive introduction to its protagonist, who gets off the bus and immediately starts conning the local conmen.
Credit is due Alice Faye for bringing depth to a character that could easily have been saccharine and two-dimensional. "Fallen Angel" was to be her dramatic comeback after her great success in musical roles. It didn't work out that way, because she felt that producer Darryl Zanuck had butchered her part so walked out on her contract. But I'm impressed with Faye's ability to convey subtle desperation underneath June Mills' sensible, uptight exterior. June is more terrified of ending up a spinster, like her sister, than she is of losing her money, her reputation, or marrying a swindler. And when it looks like her sympathy and loyalty will not hold her flimsy marriage together, she's distraught. But her comportment changes only once. She's a credible and sympathetic character, not just Eric Stanton's saving grace. "Fallen Angel" is a superb film noir, with a knock-out performance by Dana Andrews, a star-making appearance from Linda Darnell, a dramatic turn from Alice Faye, great supporting work all around, and a seamless, mobile camera from Otto Preminger and Joseph LaShelle.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): There are 3 photo galleries: A "Publicity Gallery" (20 posters and ads), a "Production Stills" gallery (49 photos), and a "Unit Photography" gallery" (38 behind-the-scenes photos). The theatrical trailer (2 1/2 min) is interesting in that it features a voice-over narration by Dana Andrews, a common technique in film noir, but one that is not featured in "Fallen Angel", except in the trailer. There is a good audio commentary by film noir historian Eddie Muller and Susan Andrews, who is Dana Andrews' daughter. Accordingly, there is a lot of discussion oft Dana Andrews, his career and many personal anecdotes, which is a nice addition to the commentary. Eddie Muller provides background on the actors and creative crew, as usual, and discusses Preminger's distinctive camera work, the long takes and mobile camera, the transitions, dialogue, censorship and themes. Subtitles are available for the film in English and Spanish.