Films: Drama/Romance


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

A CANTERBURY TALE. Archer, UK, 1944. Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, John Sweet, Esmond Knight, H.F. Maltry, and Eliot Makeham. Written & directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger.

   I watched this twice, back to back, just to see if I’d missed something. When I was through, I told the leggy red-head next to me on the couch that I still wasn’t sure how A Canterbury Tale felt about itself.

   “Do movies think about themselves?” she asked.

   Well, every movie has an attitude, even if it’s just give-a-damn, and Canterbury’s attitude is mostly one of a cherished England, rich in heritage and humanity. But there’s also a disturbing sub-text that moves the film, like many another Powell/Pressberger work, from the realm of simple propaganda into the rare class of Weird Movies.

   Made in the fifth year of a World War, confused, diffuse, and at times quite powerful, Canterbury concerns itself with conditions on England’s home front, bizarre crime, and the problems of three ordinary people caught up in it all.

   Price and Sweet play Sergeants — British and American, respectively — and Sim is a Land Girl detailed to work for local JP Thomas Colpepper (Eric Portman) in a village just outside Canterbury. But as the sergeants escort her from the train station to the town hall (It’s night and the village is under Blackout orders.) a shadowy figure darts out of the darkness and… and…. and…..

   Pours glue on the lady’s head. Yeah. Well, I told you there was bizarre crime here. Someone’s been making rather a habit of this sort of thing (Wait till you hear the motive!) picking on young ladies out after dark with soldiers, and Ms Sim is only the latest victim.

   But not a passive one. She and the sergeants pursue the miscreant into the Town Hall, where the local police (“The Glue Man’s at it again!”) search the building and, in a moment worthy of Caligari, discover only Colpepper, the all-powerful JP, seated magisterially in his inner sanctum.

   Of course the locals refuse to believe that a man of Colpepper’s stature could possibly be the Glue Man, so it falls to our intrepid trio to uncover evidence of his guilt and take it to the authorities in Canterbury.

   The ensuing story moves far too slowly, with way too many digressions, but the amateur sleuths carry it along by dint of their sheer charm and inefficiency. And they get their act together just in time for a tense and surprising confrontation in a railway carriage compartment on a train bound for Canterbury.

   And then they reach Canterbury, and all my notions about this movie got blown to pieces.

   It’s a powerful and moving finale, and one that left me considerably upset. Perhaps I shouldn’t look at it from a contemporary perspective, but to my mind pouring glue on ladies’ hair and running off into the night are acts of misogyny and cowardice. I’ll just say A Canterbury Tale doesn’t share my point of view, and leave it at that.

   A final note: this was to all intents and purposes the only film appearance of John Sweet, an amateur actor chosen for his total freshness in the part of the American Sergeant. It was a good choice.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

MAN ON THE RUN. Associated British-Pathé, UK, 1949. Stratford Pictures, US, 1951. Derek Farr, Joan Hopkins, Edward Chapman, Laurence Harvey, Howard Marion-Crawford, Kenneth More. Written & directed by Lawrence Huntington.

   Peter Burden (Derek Farr) is an army deserter, one of twenty thousand British men who live in fear of imprisonment even after the war has ended. After having served four years, the authorities denied his request for compassionate leave in order to attend his mother’s deathbed and he absconded in disgust.

   He is now working as a landlord of a country pub and is pulling pints when an old army acquaintance (Kenneth More) walks in and recognizes him. Corporal Newman is newly demobbed and, having found only low-paid work in the area, opportunistically blackmails Burden.

   Terrified, Burden flees again, this time returning to London, where a lack of funds and the late rent on a ragged bedsit force him to try and pawn his old service revolver. At the jeweller’s, however, two armed robbers arrive and promptly kill a copper, with Burdon believed to be part of the gang.

   His attempts to elude the police become more perilous than ever and a desperate escape sees him bounding breathlessly into the house of young widow Jean Adams (Joan Hopkins). Jean takes pity on the ex-soldier and agrees to help. The pair become determined to find the robbers, knowing only that one of them (Edward Underdown) is missing two fingers on his left hand.

   All the while, they must avoid the grimly persistent Chief Inspector Mitchell (Edward Chapman) and Detective Sergeant Lawson (a young Laurence Harvey), who prove to be quite able pursuers…

   Lawrence Huntington directed, produced and wrote this foray into near-noir which was presumably inspired by the many deserters still at large long after V.E. Day. His script carefully positions Burdon as a sympathetic figure (the name is well-chosen). The sad circumstances surrounding his desertion and the fact he had spent most of the war in combat is repeated at least once.

   To steer clear from presenting him as a coward or a chancer was undoubtedly important as everyone in the audience would have known soldiers or might even have been one themselves. Huntington also has his protagonist plea for a more constructive solution to the problem, particularly when so many such people inevitably turn to crime to survive.

   This situation, often forgotten today, makes Man on the Run interesting and slightly more nuanced than other chase thrillers, though it so solidly sides with Burdon that a more minute exploration of similar issues facing other such soldiers – for example, post-traumatic stress or the frustrating futility of war itself – is avoided altogether. There’s a sense that each man would have his own story, though nobody describes what those might be.

   Derek Farr is excellent as Burdon: pained, thoughtful, and reluctant to enlist anyone else’s help. It’s a shame he didn’t have more of a career as he could easily have become a Kenneth More. More himself pops up early on, well before his middle-class every-man persona, like an English James Stewart in tweeds and a pipe, would lead him to become one of Britain’s biggest film stars.

   The police investigation, meanwhile, is headed by the sort of dogged, pipe-smoking detective familiar to pictures of this period, with Chapman’s chief inspector wry and astute enough to elicit tension. It’s this quietly humming, will-they-catch-him? element which carries the film, particularly in the excellent first half, though a thrilling set-piece of the sort included in The 39 Steps (which also had a bad guy deprived of a digit) or North By Northwest is unfortunately even more elusive than Burdon himself.

   Particularly interesting for its glimpses of post-war life (from genuine London locations to a reference to radio’s proto-James Bond Dick Barton), plus some gently amusing moments, Man on the Run makes for an entertaining and compelling thriller which is much recommended.

Rating: ***1/2

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

A GOOD WOMAN. Lions Gate, 2004. Helen Hunt, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Milena Vukotic, Stephen Campbell Moore, and Mark Umbers. Screenplay by Howard Himelstein, loosely based on Lady Windermere’s Fan,   by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Mike Barker.

   Whothehell did they ever think was gonna go see a movie called A Good Woman?

   A pity, that title, because this is an excellent, film: moving, witty and romantic, even as it runs over Wilde’s play with a mulching mower.

   

   For starters, writer Howard Himelstein moves the action from London to Italy, the scenic towns near Naples, a visual treat beautifully exploited by director Mike Barker. Then he turns Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) and the Windermeres (Johansson & Umbers) into Americans, the latter two vacationing in luxury, the former penniless and on the prowl.

   From there, Himelstein touches on the play in fits and starts, tossing in Wildean epigrams of his own composing, opening out the action, and rearranging scenes while flirting with the original story line: Mr. Windemere seems to be having an affair with the predatory Mrs. Erlynne, and when Mrs. Windermere finds out, she flees to the amorous Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore) leading to a tense confrontation on his yacht, where Truth rears its ugly head and promptly ducks back down again when Love shows up.

   All this would be plenty enough for an enjoyable movie, but again, Himelstein gives us more: two wonderfully thought out and affecting scenes (not in the play) that Ms Hunt caries off movingly, just by hiding her emotions, so we can read our own feelings into the thing.

   All of which got fed to the lions. The critics sneered, turned thumbs down, and audiences turned the attention to the cinematic gladiators and chariot races on other screens at the multiplex. Too bad. They missed a fine movie.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE ROARING TWENTIES. Warner Brothers, 1939. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Joe Sawyer, and Abner Biberman. Written by Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, Robert Rossen, Mark Hellinger, Earl Baldwin, Frank Donoghue, and John Wexley. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   Not so much a roar as a whimper. Warners obviously lavished a lot of care on this one (Just look at all those writers.) and the result was a lot of tedium.

   Note that The Roaring Twenties was made in 1939. Everyone who worked on it, and most of the audience, would have remembered the era in a glow of youthful reminiscence, and the film became less a gangster picture than an exercise in nostalgia. So in place of fast-moving action, we get lengthy and rather pedestrian musical productions of the golden oldies of yesteryear.

   The story (WARNING!) starts with three doughboys (Cagney, Bogart & Lynn) who meet in the trenches of The Great War and strike up a tentative friendship. Back at home, Lynn becomes a lawyer, and Cagney a bootlegger who runs an honest racket, while Bogart tends toward the seamier side of law-breaking. Cagney takes a shine to young songstress Priscilla Lane, and invests in a nightclub to showcase her talents, but she falls for Lynn, and when they run off and get married, Jimmy takes to drink.

   Come the Great Depression — seems like everything was “the Great” back then — Cagney loses everything and ends up a lowly cab driver, whenever he’s sober enough to drive. Chantoosie Gladys George has stuck with him through all this, with patience that outlasted mine by at least a half hour of running time, but he still burns his torch for Priscilla.

   If all this seems a bit staid, that’s because it is. And as I say, it’s not helped any at all by musical interpolations that stop the story quite dead in its proverbial tracks. Compare this with Edward G. Robinson’s similar arc in The Hatchet Man, a fast-paced half-hour shorter, and you’ll see what I mean.

   But then there’s the ending.

   If you’ve never seen The Roaring Twenties, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that Lynn and Bogart end up on opposite sides, and when Bogie gets menacing, Ms Lane turns to Cagney for help. The scene where he confronts Bogart is perfectly choreographed and effectively played: seedy cabbie vs big-shot gangster, with Jimmy at first humble, and Bogart dismissive.

   The knowing, defeated look in Cagney’s eyes when Bogart says, “It’s cold out, Eddie. I think I’ll have the boys give you a ride home.” Is almost worth sitting through the preceding ninety minutes. And Bogie’s cowardice when things go bad is just as convincing. The burst of action that follows is beautifully done by Raoul Walsh, a master stylist whose elegance was never fully appreciated.

   I just wish the ending had come a bit earlier in the film. As it is, it makes the movie memorable. Watch it, but keep a finger poised on the Fast Forward button.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO. PRC, 1946. John Loder, Lenore Aubert, Fritz Kortman, Charles Dingle, Eduardo Ciannelli, Martin Kosleck, Fritz Feld, Eva Gabor. Screenplay by Dorcas Cochran, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Franz Rosenwalk (Francis Rosenwald) suggested by the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

   Almost from the start there were sequels to Alexandre Dumas mega selling The Count of Monte Cristo including The Daughter of Monte Cristo and The Treasure of Monte Cristo by Jules Lermina published orginally as by Dumas himself. The Wife of Monte Cristo is not a sequel, but a retelling, adding a dash of Zorro and casting Haydee, Dantes Indian ward who is a key part of his revenge plot, as the wife of the title.

   The time is 1832, the place France where corrupt government is opposed by the mysterious masked man known as the Avenger. The Prefect of the Police, de Villefort (John Loder) has two reasons to stop the Avenger, one he ruined his father, the other because he is the head of the corrupt elements in the governent backed by the wealthy Danglars (Charles Dingle) and Malliard (Fritz Kortman) who are both part of a plot to sell contaminated medicine during an outbreak of fever.

   De Villefort has set a trap for the Avenger, and it very nearly works when his men ambush the Avenger and his hand is wounded. Now de Villefort is sure he has the man he suspects is the Avenger, the mysterious and wealthy Edmund Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo (Martin Kosleck).

   Monte Cristo manages to outwit de Villefort, going out of town to his hunting lodge and leaving his beautiful wife Haydee (Lenore Aubert) in charge and in contact with the Avengers legion of men.

   But de Villefort still suspects Monte Cristo and the only way to keep him off balance is if the Avenger appears while Monte Cristo is gone so Haydee chooses to don the mask and black costume of the masked hero.

   Meanwhile de Villefort, still certain Monte Cristo is the Avenger, romances Haydee enlisting Mme Malliard (Eva Gabor) in his game to set a trap for the count. But for a time Haydee manages to outwit him, even capturing, putting on trial, and executing Malliard under de Villefort’s nose (in the best sequence of the film shot in smoky dark inns, wine cellars, and on Parisian roof tops), which results in Haydee being arrested, and now it is up to Monte Cristo to return from his hunting lodge and free his wife and avenge his honor as de Villefort has discovered from his spy (Fritz Feld) Monte Cristo is Edmund Dantes.

   All this is standard cloak and dagger, and done on a low budget, but in this case done stylishly by director Edgar G. Ulmer who takes a fairly strong script, an interesting and intelligent heroine in Aubert, who is convincing equally in cape and mask and low cut gown, a dashing and despicable villain in Loder, and a surprisingly dashing and adept hero in Kosleck, who is off screen for much of the film, but returns in time to outwit de Villefort and confront him in his own palace in a well staged duel to the death. Considering Kosleck is best remembered for low budget villainy he is quite good as the swashbuckling mystery man.

   A better than usual supporting cast of Kortman, Dingle, Gabor, Ciannelli, Anthony Warde, and Feld add to the fun while Bruce Lester and Robert J. Wilkie are unbilled in small parts.

   Virginia Christine has a nice bit as a woman who hides Monte Cristo from the soldiers.

   Mostly it is Ulmer who makes this worthwhile. While I don’t quite hold with the auteur theory of Ulmer’s genius, he was capable of making the most of a low budget, poor lighting, inexpensive sets, and a feel for German Expressionism. Here the directors eye and ability to make the most of very little combined with a decent cast and the usual mix of desirable women, flashing swords, swirling cloaks, and masked heroes works better than you might expect.

   This is by no means a great film, but it holds its own with better known and better financed sequels to Monte Cristo like the two Louis Hayward outings The Return of Monte Cristo and The Son of Monte Cristo. Considering those two are well respected among fans of swashbucklers that’s saying quite a bit for this film.

   

BARRICADE. 20th Century Fox, 1939. Alice Faye, Warner Baxter, Charles Winninger, Arthur Treacher, Keye Luke, Willie Fung, Philip Ahn. Directed by Gregory Ratoff.

   In the midst of war-torn China, an isolated, almost forgotten American consulate is besieged by Mongolian bandits, Trapped inside, among others, are a beautiful American woman (traveling incognito without a passport as the Russian wife of a dead American) and a reporter who is “temporarily” between jobs, fired for having concocted an interview with a Chinese general who (unbeknownst to him) was dead at the time.

   On the surface this is nothing more than a love story, taking place against a background of history’s making, filled with suspense and brave deeds, but once again the real hero is neither of the two leading stars. As the consul who is all but forgotten by his country, Charles Winninger turns in an outstanding performance as a patriot who has not forgotten his country a fraction of an inch. Seemingly bumbling and naive, Winninger shows that his character knows exactly what is going on, and that trampling on the rights of Americans is not an action that should be taken lightly.

   In other words, an old-fashioned movie that’s as timely as last month’s headlines.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM – The Narrow Corner. William Heinemann Ltd., UK, hardcover, 1932.

THE NARROW CORNER. Warners, 1933. Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Patricia Ellis, Ralph Bellamy, Dudley Digges, Artur Hohl, Reginald Owen, Willie Fung, and Sidney Toler. Screenplay by Robert Presnell. Directed by Alfred E. Green.

ISLE OF FURY. Warners, 1936. Humphrey Bogart, Margaret Lindsay, Donald Woods, E.E. Clive, Paul Graetz, George Regas, Tetsu Komai, Miki Morita, and Frank Lackteen. Screenplay by Robert Hardy Andrews and William Jacobs. Directed by Frank McDonald.

   The Narrow Corner finds Maugham striding confidently through Joseph Conrad territory, with a Marlow-like narrator recalling his encounter with a young wastrel out cruising the south seas to evade a murder rap in Australia. With the ship laid up for repairs on a remote island, the young man meets a family of simple, decent Dutch traders and finds love (or does he?) when it’s too late (or is it?)

   Maugham does a splendid job with the locations, the simple plot and the complex characterizations, but it sometimes seems he’s trying too hard to write a Serious Novel when he could be telling a Good Story. I should also add, in case you’re bothered by it, that this is the homosexiest straight novel I’ve seen in some time: the women are generally predatory or self-absorbed, and Maugham spends a lot of time contrasting the physical beauty and innocence of the young men with the saggy, baggy dissipation of their elders.

   Despite the subtext, The Narrow Corner was snapped up by Warners and filmed just a year after publication. In those heady, pre-code days, Hollywood could still exploit the steamy exoticism of the thing, and director Alfred E. Green and writer Robert Presnell did rather well by it, Presnell excising Maugham’s pretensions, and Green slapping the story on screen with pace and style.

   Corner offers one of the best storm-at-sea scenes ever in the Movies, plus a cast of able thespians (including Doug Fairbanks Jr. as the wastrel, Patricia Ellis as the love-starved island girl, Dudley Digges and Arthur Hohl as dope-addict doctor and crooked captain, and Sidney Toler as a tough “fixer.”) delivering some sharp lines. The film falls down only in the casting of Ralph Bellamy, the mere appearance of whom gives away the ending immediately.

   A few years later, Warners went to the well again, and to their credit, they made an enjoyable “B” picture out of the thing. True, they tossed out most of Maugham’s novel (He got screen credit anyway, which he may or may not have welcomed.) but they filled it up with crackerjack ideas of their own invention: shifty natives planning robbery and fomenting unrest; a larcenous skipper prone to murder; undersea mayhem, and even a hokey octopus!

   Humphrey Bogart, sporting an unflattering mustache, stars as a husband balanced precariously on the edge of cuckoldry when mysterious castaway Donald Woods turns up on his remote tropical island. Wise old Doctor E.E. Clive is quick to intuit the attraction between Woods and Bogey’s bride (lovely Margaret Lindsay, whose star burned steadily in Hollywood but somehow never caught fire) but writers Andrews and Jacobs cut away to the action scenes before things get too syrupy.

   They also do a good job of fleshing out the characters to more than B-movie dimensions. Director McDonald lets his actors expand to fit the parts, as his camera moves gracefully through the studio tropics. As for Bogart, well, this was the point in his career when Warners was still wondering what to do with him, the years he spent playing second-leads, vampires and Mexican bandits. He looks a bit as if at any moment the writers might decide to kill off his character, and the uncertainty works well in this context. It’s not Maugham’s novel, but it’s a dandy bit of entertainment in the Warners style.

   

THE BARBARIAN. MGM, 1933. Ramon Navarro, Myrna Loy, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Edward Arnold, Hedda Hopper.  Screenwriters: Anita Loos & Elmer Harris. Directed by
Sam Wood.

   Myrna Loy is the only reason that anyone would watch this movie today. (And whatever became of Ramon Navarro?) It’s a strange mixture of comedy and strong melodrama, and maybe all the more fascinating (and “keepable”) because of it. (Or maybe not, since I’ve already reused the tape and recorded over it after watching it only once.)

   Here’s the story line. Besides being a guide, Navarro is a romantic gigolo who spends his time watching the Cairo train station for the arrival of rich foreign tourist women – rich, lonesome, and easy prey for men such as this. When Myrna Loy’s train comes in, however, he immediately drops everything (and everyone) else, and from that time on, she is the object of his never-ending attention and affection.

   This causes some problems, mostly amusing, at the beginning. She is already engaged to be married. (Reginald Denny is a stuffed shirt, true, but she loves him.) She also has the unfortunate ability to see through Navarro’s “charms.” She is flattered, but she spurns his advances – and this is a bad mistake. Suddenly the movie isn’t quite so funny any more. In fact, in a wedding scene that comes soon after, the atmosphere is extremely tense indeed.

   From here, this slightly risque, crazy-quilt tale muddles its way through to a conclusion that could only be described as “totally expected,” but through it all, Myrna Loy somehow still manages to hold her own. This maybe the only movie in which she is seen taking (and leaving) a bubble bath, and now that I am thinking about it, maybe I shouldn’t have erased it after all.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991, in slightly revised form.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

WEDDING PRESENT. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, George Bancroft, Conrad Nagel, William Demarest, Gene Lockhart, Edward Brophy. Screenplay: Joseph Anthony, based on a story by Paul Gallico. Directed by Richard Wallace.

BIG BROWN EYES. Paramount Pictures, 1936. Cary Grant, Joan Bennett, Walter Pidgeon, Lloyd Nolan, Alan Baxter, Marjorie Gateson, Isabel Jewel, Douglas Fowley, Henry Brandon, Joe Sawyer. Screenplay by Raoul Walsh, Bert Hanlon, based on the stories “Big Brown Eyes” and “Hahsit Babe” by James Edward Grant. Directed by Raoul Walsh.

   These two early Cary Grant starring vehicles are both bright genre films mixing screwball comedy, crime, and adventure and both co-starring Joan Bennett still a blonde, just before dying her hair dark in Tay Garnett’s Trade Winds would change her career forever.

   Wedding Present is a screwball comedy about Chicago reporters Charlie Mason and Monica “Rusty” Fleming who as the film opens are flirting with marriage, but cold feet on both their parts as well as an addiction to elaborate practical jokes are the bane of their long suffering City Editor George Bancroft, who would fire them if they weren’t such good reporters.

   Which they prove in short order by angling an interview with a visiting Archduke (Gene Lockhart), taking him on a monumental toot where they end up at the lake house of aviator George Meeker. Not only do they get an exclusive interview with the Archduke, they rescue New York gangster Smiley Benson from drowning earning his eternal gratitude, and learning a ship is lost in a storm on the lake hijack Meeker and his plane managing to find the missing ship and get a double headline before the noon edition.

   When Bancroft can no longer put up with either of them he retires and Grant finds himself promoted to City Editor which infuriates Bennett when she comes back from a vacation. She heads off to New York where she meets obnoxiously obvious self-help author Roger Dodacker (Conrad Nagel) and gets engaged to him so Grant quits and heads to New York to win her back with the help of Smiley and a bit of kidnapping, false fire alarms, and a renewed sense of insanity.

   Appropriately the films ends as they are carried away on top of a firetruck headed for Hillview Sanitarium.

   It’s almost, but not quite a prequel to His Girl Friday as you can easily see Charlie and Rusty maturing to become Walter and Hildy.

   
   Crime is central rather than incidental to Big Brown Eyes.

   In this one Bennett is Eve Fallon, a manicurist who becomes a hot shot reporter and teams with her cop boyfriend Danny Barr (Grant) to solve the murder of a child after their bickering gets her fired from her job as a manicurist.

   Walter Pidgeon is Richard Morey a slick lawyer who gets Lloyd Nolan’s gangster Russ Cortig off when a stray shot results in the death of a woman’s baby (Marjorie Gateson). The bickering Eve and Danny reunite when a disgusted Danny quits the force to get Nolan and crooked lawyer Pidgeon and the result is a fast moving, fast talking, surprisingly tough little film in a minor hard-boiled key — the kind of thing George Harmon Coxe, Dwight Babcock, and Richard Sale used to write — with Grant surprisingly good as a tough smart cop operating mostly like a private eye.

   Raoul Walsh was one of the most capable action directors of all time and no mean hand at comedy, so this one moves hardly pausing for a breath as the action gallops by. Maybe it wouldn’t make the pages of Black Mask, but I can imagine it in Dime Detective  or Detective Fiction Weekly.

   The interest here is in seeing two major stars both on the cusp of breaking big in a pair of fast acting genre films and backed with first rate co-stars in the kind of thing the studios used to turn out seemingly effortlessly.

   Wedding Present recently showed up streaming on Classic Reels and Big Brown Eyes can still be found on DVD from its 2014 release. Neither movie is a classic by any means, but both stars are well represented in these films that are fast, funny, and smart full of bright dialogue, wit, and movement.
   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

ANGEL FACE. RKO, 1953. Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Herbert Marshall and Kenneth Tobey. Written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Millard and Frank Erskine. Directed by Otto Preminger.

   One of those movies like Woman on the Beach that puts me at a loss. It’s compelling, dull, forceful, meandering, ordinary and dreamlike all at the same time. I couldn’t call it a really successful film, but once I start watching it I have to finish.

   The plot has Robert Mitchum involved with a potential murderess, as in Out of the Past, but without that film’s lush romanticism. Everyone in Angel Face is worried about conventional things like jobs and living expenses, which mitigates against the interest of the whole thing but adds considerably to the realism. The story moves at a snail’s pace as working-stiff Mitchum tries to figure out whether or not he loves wealthy neurotic Jean Simmons, while she tries to get around to murdering her stepmother.

   So things just sort of drift along until we suddenly realize, about the same time Mitchum does, that he has somehow moved too far away from his workaday life to return to it, and that his old friends don’t want him back anyway. About this time, the story shifts into Heavy Melodrama from which, like its hero, it tries to draw back but never quite gets there.

   The ending, with another working stiff calling to a man who will never answer, somehow sums the whole thing up with a poetic terseness that lingers in the mind…. as I say, not an easy film to like, but one that stays with you.

   

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