Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review – Black Angel

December 24, 2009

Black Angel - U.S., 1946

Perhaps only in a film from the 1940s could a man answer a woman’s remark that she “seems to say all the wrong things” with “Most women do.” Further dating the film as being from an earlier, possibly more chauvinistic time is the women’s tacit agreement with his rather degrading remark. And yet, Mrs. Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) is not your typical 1940’s wife. Sure, there’s no evidence of her having a job or an independent source of income, but just look at the way she barges in on Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) and accuses him of murdering his wife, the incredibly stunning singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). Later in the film, Mrs. Bennett even puts herself in harm’s way after remarking that Martin cannot be the only one to be taking risks. In addition, while Mrs. Bennett is not above letting another person think she loves him if it will help her cause, when it come to her actually loving another man, she is resolute – “There can only be one man – ever.”

Compare that to the sorry state that Martin Blair is in at the beginning of the film. After being told that his wife wants nothing to do with him ever again, Blair wanders around town getting so intoxicated that people start to worry about him starting a ruckus. Apparently, there’s good reason for their concern, as later we see a bolt on the front door of Martin Blair’s hotel room. The bolt is there to prevent him from getting out when he has had way too much to drink. Still, the man knows his way around a piano. Blair and Mrs. Bennett find themselves paired up after Mrs. Bennett’s husband Kirk (John Phillips) is arrested and charged with Mrs. Marlowe’s murder, a crime that Mrs. Bennett refuses to believe her husband committed. Blair is originally uninterested, but when he sees a photo of Kirk, he promptly remarks that Kirk is not the man he saw going up to visit Mrs. Marlowe the night of her murder. After the discovery of a possibly significant clue, they are led to a nightclub owned by the man Blair is convinced knows something about his wife’s murder, the mysterious Mr. Marko (Peter Lorre).

Roy William Neill’s film Black Angel skirts delicately between being riveting and being ludicrous. On the one hand, Martin Blair is indeed the kind of person who would decide to investigate a case on his own and not go to the police with his hunches. Adding credibility to the story is the fact that Martin and Mrs. Bennett are not investigating the case in the way a police detective or private eye would. They are simply looking for a single piece of evidence that they are convinced will save Kirk Bennett from the electric chair. On the other hand, the way that they try to attain this evidence is a bit far-fetched. As luck would have it, Mrs. Bennett has a remarkable singing voice, so she and Blair form a musical act, with him on piano and her singing. Sure, she has the voice for it, but suddenly they become so popular that what was supposed to be a one-week gig turns into one that is “held over for popular demand,” and soon Blair is talking about having found the woman of his dreams when it’s only been three weeks since he met Mrs. Bennett. Meanwhile, Mr. Bennett is quickly running out of time.

Black Angel is helped by it rather short running time. At only 80 minutes long, it doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to melodramatic moments. They occur quickly, and then the film moves on. Most of the film details Mrs. Bennett and Blair’s attempts to prove Kirk’s innocence, and these are the parts of the film that work the best. The film has a surprise ending that is rather affective, a fact that may make the film seem more suspenseful that it really is and may also account for some of the 4-star reviews given to the DVD on To me though, the characters in the film were slightly more interesting than the mystery itself. Duryea, Vincent, Phillips and Dowling each give great performances. Lorre has some good moments as well, even though this performance will probably not be remembered as one of his best. For the most part, Black Angel works. It’s not the strongest example of noir out there, but it’s fun nonetheless. (on DVD)

3 stars

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