Sunday, January 26, 2020

Blu-ray debut for BLACK ANGEL, a neglected noir from 1946 via Neill, Chanslor and Woolrich

TrustMovies had never even heard of BLACK ANGEL prior to receiving a notice of its imminent release via Arrow Video, purveyor of old, sometimes oddball and often overlooked cinema. But how could any move that stars Dan DuryeaPeter Lorre and an excellent supporting cast not be worth at least a try?

Turns out the film is worth a lot more than that. While it is not some undiscovered classic, I think you could rightfully call it a rediscovered gem: a lovely piece of B-movie film noir that holds attention throughout via its fascinating storyline, surprisingly quiet and dark mood, excellent screenplay and dialog, good direction (by B-movie journeyman Roy William Neill, shown at right), and most of all from that cast of excellent actors, each in fine form.

As we learn from one of the terrific Special Features on the disc -- an interview with film historian Neil Sinyard entitled A Fitting End -- no less a critic than James Agee noted in his positive review of Black Angel at the time of its release that all the actors here were working at their best.

The story unfolds piecemeal, making it much more fun, since we must figure things out as they move along. Following a marvelous visual as the camera suddenly climbs a city high-rise, we're in the apartment of a gorgeous but rather nasty dame named Mavis Marlowe, played by luscious Constance Dowling, above. The actress has but a single scene, but, boy, does she make it count!

We're soon entangled in a murder mystery involving the men who were connected with Mavis: one who loves her still (Mr. Duryea, above, right) and who wrote the song she recorded that made her semi-famous, along with others like a night club entrepreneur (Mr. Lorre, below) and a poor schlub named Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), the latter of whose very attractive wife (June Vincent. above, left) spends the remainder of the movie trying to get her hubby off death row.

How these very different characters bounce around and off each other makes for consistently interesting and entertaining viewing. None of these people are single-note clichés; they unfurl to reveal more than we expect. The expertise of director Neill and screenwriter Roy Chanslor (working from a novel by popular novelist Cornell Woolrich) combine to offer something more unusual than do many noirs: There is an overall sadness and sense of loss and unrequited love here that hovers over all the characters, including those that seem to possess some same-sex passion (like Lorre, and Duryea's best friend, played very well by Wallace Ford, below, right).

Mr. Duryea is superb, as always, here playing one of his rare good guy roles; Lorre is his usual magnetic self, and Ms Vincent straddles the film-noir line quite nicely indeed. (In his assessment of the actors, critic Agee was absolutely on the mark.)

You may think you've figured out the who-dunnit aspect, but don't be too sure. And if the resolution seems at first a tad disappointing, on reflection, it plays quite well into the film's overall theme and tone. Black Angel is probably a must for Duryea fans and certainly one for noir completists, and it will please just about any fans of 1940s films looking for a nice surprise they haven't yet seen.

From Arrow Academy (distributed here in the USA via MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group) and running 81 minutes, the movie hits the street on Blu-ray (in a transfer that is spectacularly good) this Tuesday, January 28 -- for purchase and I hope, somewhere, for rental, too. (That's supporting actor Broderick Crawford, at left, above, as the police captain involved.)

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