Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2020)
A thriller from the golden age of film noir, we head to 1946’s Black Angel. Taken from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, the movie introduces us to Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling), a beautiful vocalist.
Alas, the film spends little time with Mavis, as she soon ends up murdered in her elegant apartment. Obviously, this leads to an investigation, and the prime suspect becomes Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), a married man who conducted an affair with Mavis.
Kirk winds up convicted for the crime. However, his wife Catherine (June Vincent) believes he didn’t kill Mavis.
Despite the disgraceful way Kirk treated her, Catherine attempts to prove her husband’s innocence. This leads her to an improbable ally: Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), an alcoholic musician who also happens to be the husband Mavis dumped.
That kind of tale related to the unjustly-accused pervades many film noir efforts, but I don’t view that as a negative. Plenty of movies work wonders with seemingly trite themes, so I figured Angel came with ample room to entertain.
Alas, the movie doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped. More of a mopey melodrama than a taut thriller, Angel lacks much excitement.
When I went into Angel, I thought the plot offered more than minor reminders of 1944’s Phantom Lady. This seems less coincidental when one considers that Woolrich wrote the source novel for both.
Like Angel, Lady focused on a female who pioneered a crusade to clear an innocent man. Some differences occur, of course, but the similarities seem undeniable.
I really liked Lady, and that positive experience likely took me into Angel with raised expectations. The presence of solid veterans like Peter Lorre and Broderick Crawford in the cast added to these hopes.
At no point does Angel become a bad movie, as the investigation brings just enough intrigue to keep us with it. However, the film seems more concerned with potential romance between Catherine and Martin than it does the main plot.
This leads us down semi-useless tangents too much of the time. On occasion, the attempts to rescue Kirk from death row seem forgotten, and that makes Angel less tight and provocative than I’d like.
Of course, as the third act cranks along, Angel comes up with some intriguing twists, but these fall into the “too little, too late” category. The movie’s general lack of focus means that it never becomes the effective thriller fans want.