Saturday, December 26, 2009

Target #66: Fallen Angel (1945, Otto Preminger)

Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Marty Holland (novel), Harry Kleiner (writing)
Starring: Dana Andrews, Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, John Carradine

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

With Laura (1944) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), director Otto Preminger and actor Dana Andrews collaborated to produce two of the great American film noirs. Fallen Angel (1945) also features this winning combination, but unfortunately lacks something more crucial: conviction. Eric Stanton (Andrews) is the perfect noir anti-hero, an unabashed shyster with a knack for opportunism. After stranding himself in a small American town with a dollar in his pocket, Stanton falls for Stella (Linda Darnell), a vivacious young waitress who'll "befriend" any man who can offer her financial security. Stanton claims that he wants to marry Stella, but he's obviously driven by lust, and his hunger leads him to seek money through dubious means – in this case, by wooing and marrying the spinsterish June (Alice Faye). Where Preminger fumbles is in his unwillingness to punish Stanton. Instead, the irresponsibly- flirtatious Stella is murdered, and our hero's innocence – never really doubted by the audience – distracts from the character's own moral crimes.

The film, at least, is thick with atmosphere. The small-town setting creates a distinct sense of claustrophobia, as though one can't run far enough to escape the watchful eyes of the local residents. Dana Andrews, as always, is excellent in the lead role. Linda Darnell exudes a trashy but undeniably voluptuous sensuality; she's a more openly sexual character than Gene Tierney's Laura, and perhaps more along the lines of Tierney in The Shanghai Gesture (1941) or Jean Peters in Pickup on South Street (1953). The characters played by Alice Faye and Anne Revere are underdeveloped and mostly uninteresting; their innocent, righteous personalities feel as though they should have no place in the film noir style. Charles Bickford, however, is very entertaining as a cocky and sadistic retired detective charged with solving Stella's murder. For the sizzling chemistry of Andrews and Darnell, Fallen Angel is a worthy enough noir thriller, but the director and star have done better, both together and with others.

Currently my #10 film of 1945:
1) The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder) *
2) Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock) *
3) Brief Encounter (David Lean)
4) 'I Know Where I'm Going!' (Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
5) Perfect Strangers (Alexander Korda)
6) Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl) *
7) Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang) *
8) And Then There Were None (René Clair)
9) Roma, città aperta {Rome, Open City} (Roberto Rossellini)
10) Fallen Angel (Otto Preminger) *


Friday, December 4, 2009

British Noir: Brighton Rock (1947, John Boulting)

Directed by: John Boulting

Written by: Graham Greene (novel & screenplay), Terrence Ratigan (writer)

In John Boulting's adaptation of a Graham Greene novel, Richard Attenborough plays small-time gang-leader Pinkie Brown, a young man with a rough temper and a paranoid mean-streak. After he murders a police informer, Pinkie happens upon a young waitress (Carol Marsh) who could shatter his alibi if she wanted to. Unable to silence her without risking arrest, Pinkie instead tries to seduce the girl, who naively falls head over heels for the man who'd like to put a bullet in her.

Greene's trademark wryness is present in a tense opening act that sees a desperate newspaper employee (hired as Kolley Kibber, a variation of the Lobby Lud character) pursued through the streets of Brighton. Rarely have bustling crowds of people felt so ominous: how can this man hope to escape detection if, in a sardonic twist, an entire readership is looking out for him? Pinkie eventually murders the man during a carnival horror ride, escaping into the throngs of oblivious day-trippers. The man in which such a heinous crime is swallowed by the clamour of everyday life recalls Dassins The Naked City (1948) and that wonderful reverse dolly shot in Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972).

This sequence is one of several – including the climax upon a foggy ocean pier – whose sheer atmosphere is intense enough to rival the very best noir efforts of Jules Dassin {Night and the City (1950)} and Carol Reed {Odd Man Out (1947); The Third Man (1949)}. Unfortunately, unlike these better films, Brighton Rock (1947) lacks a consistent tone. Director Robert Boulton is skillful at building a strong atmosphere, but intermittent interruptions from Hermione Baddeley's brassy amateur sleuth (accompanied by her own jaunty theme tune) shift the mood from that of a grim British noir to a frivolous Miss Marple outing.

Though Richard Attenborough is a small, unintimidating actor, he somehow uses his slight stature to his advantage. Like a wily mutt, his Pinkie Brown has a ferocious bark, and a bite to match. In stories of this sort, it is typical for the villain to be softened, if only slightly, by the affections of a pretty lady. Nothing of the sort happens here. Pinkie, whose sexual urges are seemingly exhausted in his lust for power, woos and weds waitress Rose purely as an exercise in self-preservation. The young woman's devotion to such a cold-blooded crook is pathetic and heartbreaking, a tragic metaphor for thousands of women trapped in loveless and abusive marital unions.

Currently my #10 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) *
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) *
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves) *
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles) *
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel) *
8) The Web (Michael Gordon) *
9) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
10) Brighton Rock (John Boulting) *