Sunday, June 23, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Tarnished Angels (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, and Robert Stack star in Douglas Sirk's THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957), available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

THE TARNISHED ANGELS was released as the spring classic film festival season was getting underway in Southern California, so I'm just now catching up with it. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a beautiful widescreen print.

The film was a reunion for the three leads, who had all starred in Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) the previous year. Malone won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for WRITTEN ON THE WIND, while Stack was nominated as Best Supporting Actor.

In THE TARNISHED ANGELS Stack plays Roger Shumann, a WWI flying ace who is now living in "reduced circumstances." He's a barnstorming pilot performing stunts and racing at carnivals and air shows, with his wife LaVerne (Malone) performing parachute stunts. They're accompanied on the road by their little boy Jack (Chris Olsen) and airplane mechanic Jiggs (Jack Carson), who incidentally carries a torch for LaVerne.

Burke Devlin (Hudson), a reporter with a drinking problem, is interested in writing a story on the Shumanns and meets up with them in New Orleans. Over the course of a few days he becomes enmeshed in the Shumanns' complicated relationship, offering them a place to stay and helping them obtain a new plane after Roger survives a crash. Jiggs warns Roger the new plane can't be made airworthy in a short time frame, but Roger insists...

While Sirk's other '50s Hudson films, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1954), ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, and WRITTEN ON THE WIND, were colorful romantic melodramas, THE TARNISHED ANGELS is distinctly different, a somber black-and-white Depression-era drama. (That said, other than the references to WWI a viewer could be forgiven for not realizing it's the Depression, as the wardrobes and hairstyles are completely anachronistic.) I loved the lush romance of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION and especially ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, as the lead characters fall in love while also discovering what's really important in life.

I also very much enjoy WRITTEN ON THE WIND, in which the florid -- yet somehow still moving -- performances and garish Technicolor create an air of unreality which makes watching the problems of the wealthy entertaining in a DALLAS sort of way. The viewer feels for the characters, but at the same time is detached enough not to be brought down by their problems.

In contrast to those films, I wasn't taken with THE TARNISHED ANGELS. There's a certain genre of widely admired late '50s/early '60s widescreen black-and-white "serious dramas" which just don't work for me, and this was one of them. It held my attention but in the end it was simply sad, leaving me wondering "Why?"

There's not much character growth, other than LaVerne finally following her dream, and no romance. Roger and LaVerne seem to love each other deep down yet have a distant relationship, with Roger emotionally abusive at times, including the flashback scene in which he agrees to marry the pregnant LaVerne. He even basically expects her to prostitute herself for a new plane. As he admits in so many words, he's a junkie needing a fix, and he's willing to use his wife to get it. Ick.

I wouldn't class Burke's fleeting relationship with LaVerne as love, either, seeing as how a) he's a drunk and b) he's making moves on a married woman with a small child. Sure, he finds another way to get Roger his plane and save LaVerne from hooking up with Matt Ord (Robert Middleton), but whatever.

There's not a single truly sympathetic character in the film, nor are they especially interesting. I spent much of the movie pondering how completely messed up the Shumanns' son would be by the time he hit adulthood. It's all pretty tawdry and...tarnished. I was relieved when the 91 minutes came to an end, long after it should have.

I will say that I believe mine is a minority opinion on this movie, at least as it's come to be appreciated by many in recent years, and that sometimes films of this type go down better for me the second time around, when I know what to expect -- so I hold the door open to the possibility it's the kind of movie I may appreciate more on a second viewing.

If one sets aside the '50s hairstyles and clothes, the film does have a great look, shot by Irving Glassberg. The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on the William Faulkner novel PYLON.

The supporting cast includes Troy Donahue, William Schallert, Alan Reed, and Alexander Lockwood.

As a footnote, Stack and Malone reunited a couple years later for the disaster film THE LAST VOYAGE (1960).

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has a commentary track by Imogen Sara Smith, along with the trailer and four additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber. Fans of this film should be quite happy with the quality presentation from Kino Lorber.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

Performances are more than nice and Rock Hudson plays a part he was made for. A character actor disguised as a leading man. His drunken soliloquy is second to none for what it is, and he mentions Richard Harding Davis in it course, which gives me personal pleasure as no one any longer knows who this great reporter was, Gable mentions him causally in Somewhere I'll Find You as does Joel McCrea in Foreign Correspondent.Back in the day it was a given.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's interesting that I enjoy all the cast and agree they were fine, yet I just...didn't care. You never know, perhaps my mood on the particular day I watched it played into it, but there are times I just feel impatient watching people doing dumb things (grin). The presence of a child who was having his life ruined made it particularly hard.

Glad you shared your take, would be pleased for others to do the same.

Best wishes,

10:49 PM  

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