Friday, February 21, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Black Angel (1946) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

The very special film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946) has just been released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

I first saw this film in 2011, and in the years since I've been fortunate to see it in 35mm at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood and the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

BLACK ANGEL not only stands up to repeat viewings, it's one of those films which seems to grow richer each time I see it. It was thus a real joy to watch the film again, thanks to Arrow Academy's beautiful new Blu-ray print, which was restored from original film elements.

The screenplay for BLACK ANGEL was written by Roy Chanslor; like so many great noir titles, the script was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is the writer behind such favorite films as PHANTOM LADY (1944) -- which has some thematic similarities to BLACK ANGEL -- NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950), and REAR WINDOW (1954), to name just a few.

The plot concerns the murder of Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling, seen at right), the estranged wife of alcoholic pianist Marty Blair (Dan Duryea).

Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), who found the body, is promptly convicted of Mavis's murder. Kirk's wife Cathy (June Vincent) steadfastly believes in her husband's innocence, and Cathy convinces Marty to work with her to find the real killer.

Marty and Cathy manage to hire on as a pianist-singer act in a nightclub owned by Marko (Peter Lorre), their chief suspect. From there the plot takes a number of turns, with the biggest being an unexpected development just before Kirk is scheduled to be put to death.

I love everything about this film: The lead performances by Duryea and Vincent; the music; the stylish direction by Roy William Neill; Vincent's marvelous wardrobe by Vera West; and the unexpected resolution.

The movie is a two-track story, with one aspect focused on solving the murder and the other track depicting Marty's redemption; he leaves the bottle behind and falls in love with Cathy, then eventually realizes the impossibility of their relationship having a future, as Cathy continues to love her husband.

I've always been struck that in the wrong hands this film could have been either a maudlin tearjerker or completely annoying, but thanks to the script, direction, and especially Duryea's superb, sensitive performance, BLACK ANGEL is a richly rewarding and authentically moving experience. With several viewings under my belt, it strikes me that Duryea deserved an Oscar nomination.

His performance is all the more remarkable when one considers that he learned several piano pieces just for the movie; as just one example, Alan Rode points out in his commentary track that in the nightclub audition scene, Duryea and Vincent are performing "live." (Based on the commentary track info, IMDb's reference to Vincent being dubbed is incorrect.)

Vincent had a long career, beginning in movies in 1943 and continuing with TV guest appearances until 1976. She tended to play minor roles in "A" films, such as Deanna Durbin's CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), with larger parts in "B" films such as MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE (1949).

Vincent is so good here that it's a bit curious to me that she didn't receive more lead roles as a result; I really like her performance in this. She's pitch perfect, evolving from quiet housewife to a determined woman with the confidence to pull off a successful nightclub act.

In addition to a strong performance, Vincent is quite beautiful in this, with lovely hairstyles and a first-rate wardrobe. I also love her hats! Vincent's appearance makes me think a bit of Jean Wallace in another great noir from about a decade later, THE BIG COMBO (1955).

BLACK ANGEL was filmed in black and white by Paul Ivano. It runs a perfectly paced 81 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Broderick Crawford as the detective working on the murder case; the cast also includes Wallace Ford, Mary Field, Freddie Steele, Ben Bard, Hobart Cavanaugh, and Marion Martin.

The plentiful extras on this new Blu-ray edition include an excellent commentary track by Alan K. Rode; a featurette on the film with historian Neil Sinyard; the original trailer; and an image gallery with stills and more.

The final edition of this Blu-ray will include a limited edition booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp. The booklet and reversible case cover art were not included in the advance promotional copy of the set which I reviewed.

A few more stills from this favorite film:

A highly recommended film and Blu-ray release.

Thanks to Arrow Academy for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I read Woolrich's novel before seeing the movie. I wasn't even aware of the movie until I saw the newly-minted VHS tape while shopping back in the 1990s. It came so very, very close to the feeling I got from the book (just like the movie version of I Married a Dead Man).

Roy William Neill seemed to have a total understanding of the material, the actors are perfect and the cinematography makes me ache (in a good way). I must admit to some jealousy of your big screen experience.

So, you think I should update from my old tape, eh?

5:38 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Love this one too. Duryea is certainly an actor who never got his due.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I never read the Woolrich novel, Caftan Woman -- how interesting you then discovered the movie via the tape. Love hearing how much it matched your feeling when reading the book. If you love the movie I highly recommend the Blu-ray, not just for the movie itself but I think you'll also enjoy the commentary.

Duryea was really a special talent, wasn't he, Margot? And this was surely one of his finest performances.

Best wishes,

11:58 PM  

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