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In Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum meets a dangerously demented femme fatale
bmacv29 June 2003
Warning: Spoilers
In Otto Preminger's Angel Face, Robert Mitchum lays out his credo: `Never be the innocent bystander. That's the guy who always gets hurt.' He's being disingenuous; he's not quite so innocent as he pretends – but he still ends up getting hurt.

An emergency medical technician, Mitchum responds to a call at a mansion high up a hill. There a wealthy woman (Barbara O'Neil) has almost asphyxiated from the gas in her unlit bedroom fireplace. Was it a suicide bid, or something more sinister? Her husband (Herbert Marshall), a burnt-out novelist she supports, can't explain it. Neither can his daughter by a previous marriage (Jean Simmons).

Mitchum finds Simmons quite the dish, but she finds in him something more than a passing fancy. She jumps into her sleek sports car, follows the ambulance back down to the hospital and waylays Mitchum in a diner. Generous with his affections, Mitchum breaks a date with his steady girlfriend (Mona Freeman) in order to spend a perfectly `innocent' evening of dining and dancing with Simmons.

But his experience with fractures and coronaries hasn't equipped him to deal with a dangerously scrambled psyche. Simmons first invites Freeman to lunch so she can humiliate her by spilling all the details, cunningly tweaked up, of her `innocent' rendezvous with Mitchum. Then she arranges for him to take on the job of family chauffeur, installing him in a garage apartment (just like Joe Gillis in Sunset Blvd.). And she hits up her stepmother to lend Mitchum the money to start up his own business as a car mechanic. Telling himself that he's just looking out for Number One, Mitchum blithely lets her erase any boundaries between them.

Klaxons start bleating, however, when she pounds on his bedroom door in the middle of the night with a cockamamie story about O'Neil hovering over her bed and playing with gas again; the earlier incident, she claims, was just a smokescreen. She tells him, too, that the stepmother reneged on his loan – in order to get back at her. Mitchum's wariness enrages Simmons and redoubles her delusional obstinacy.

When her father and stepmother perish in a spectacular freak accident (their car plummeted in reverse down the steep ravine abutting the driveway), the heiress Simmons finds herself charged with murder. As does Mitchum – he had the expertise to sabotage the vehicle. Wily attorney Leon Ames (in a small but succulent part) sees the defendants' marriage as the path to acquittal. Which leaves Mitchum with a Hobson's choice – risking either the gas chamber or the psychotic wrath of a woman he never loved....

Though Preminger can deploy twists of plot with the best of them, he had a subtler knack of keeping his audience off-balance, never quite sure in which direction the story might develop. So for a while we share the perplexity of Mitchum, so laid back that he doesn't grasp that he's playing with a five-alarm blaze until it's too late; opportunistic but lazy, he's the perfect stooge.

Simmons may have been working within her limitations in her low-voltage, passive-aggressive performance, but she fits the character, who operates in a world inhabited only by herself. She's not a duplicitous vixen scheming to get what she wants; what she wants is the only reality she knows. Preminger recognizes this, and gives her one of the movie's quietest, most freighted scenes: During one of Mitchum's flights from her, she snoops as if sleepwalking through his rooms, finally curling up in his easy chair, his sport coat draped around her shoulders against the dawn chill. It's an eerie calm before the final storm.
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A haunting theme ... and unforgettable sequences.
Hup234!4 February 2000
"Angel Face", according to one film journal, has become a cult film with a strong repeat-viewer base ... a bit like the children at a scary movie who cover their eyes but continue to peek through fingers just the same. I'm an "AF" fan, too. One of the film's most powerful aspects is the utterly chilling soundtrack score with its turbulent minor-key piano. To my mind, Dimitri Tiomkin never composed a more appropriate theme than this. And during the lonely nighttime scene when Jean Simmons' character revisits the windswept driveway where her parents had met their horrific death, when the wordless chorus swells into Tiomkin's theme, see if you don't agree that this is one of cinema's most memorable moments. Highly recommended to all except young children and sensitive adults for its surprising and shocking imagery.
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fast your seat belts
TheFerryman28 May 2004
Otto Preminger takes the noir/ femme fatale genre a step beyond in his usual pessimism. This world of shady mansions, sad piano-playing and lonely boulevards perpetually driven, suits well Jean Simmons's calm insanity and Mitchum's stoic acceptance of his tragic destiny. Mitchum uses the same discontent tone to order a beer and to refuse to be part of a murder. He smokes, empty-minded, staring out of the window, too tired to get his way out of the schemes of his employers. He may take the most important decision of his life, but after the cigarette's over he'll be doing the total opposite. On the other hand one has the feeling that the film wouldn't worked as well with one more conventional noir leading lady, like Lana Turner. Simmons' charming and weak aspect makes her character irresistible. To top it all there's a masterful score by Dimitri Tiomkin and the most surprising of endings.
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shock registers after initially lulling pace
limsgirl18 August 2001
Angel Face was a recommended film according to several noir chronicles, so I figured when it rolled around on TMC I could tape it and erase if it failed to satisfy. Despite initial difficulty getting involved in the plot, before I knew it I was absorbed by Jean Simmon's keynote performance. The myriad small moments of suspense along the way in no way prepare the viewer for the shocking moment which closed this cautionary tale. Definitely recommended viewing.
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The essence of melancholy
hildacrane31 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A sense of unavoidable doom hangs over this film from the start, when an ambulance, its siren blaring, races to a mansion whose owner has almost been asphyxiated by gas--whether by accident or design is not clear.

Jean Simmons is mesmerizing as the haunted and haunting Diane, who lives luxuriously in postwar L.A. , but whose wartime-London childhood has irreparably scarred her. (Robert Mitchum' s hapless Frank would have done well to remember that in Roman mythology Diana was the huntress.) This film has one of the most melancholy scenes of any film near its end when Diane wanders disconsolately through a deserted mansion. She enters and leaves rooms where she had once been happy, and Dimitri Tiomkin's music painfully underscores the character's desolation. That loneliness is later echoed in the final image: a cab driver drives up to the empty house and honks his horn in vain for passengers who will never appear.
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For Robert Mitchum fans, it is a must see film!
gitrich4 December 1998
Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons give great performances in this deliberate but interesting drama about a beautiful woman who is not what she seems. The ending will surprise and shock you. I saw this film in 1953 as a young boy and can remember it like it was yesterday. It has a way of sticking with you. Leon Ames,Herbert Marshall, Barbara O'Neil, and Jim Backus (voice of Mr. Magoo) round out a nice cast.
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excellent Preminger
blanche-214 September 2005
Jean Simmons meets the man of her dreams just as he walks into a nightmare in "Angel Face," an Otto Preminger film released in 1952. Simmons is excellent as a beautiful young woman who hates her wealthy stepmother, adores her father, and is obsessed with an ambulance driver, played by Robert Mitchum, who comes to the family home when it appears Diane's stepmother tried to kill herself. Although the victim claims that someone tried to kill her...

Mitchum brings a perfect touch of ne'er do well and untrustworthiness to the role. He has ambition, he has a job, but he's a jerk to his girlfriend (Mona Freeman) and seems more than happy to take up with Diane when she pursues him.

Simmons, though not as striking as Vivien Leigh, has a similar look - she's petite, with a beautiful figure and facial structure, and gorgeous eyes. Her performance as Diane is right on - even the cynical Mitchum character can't quite figure her out, even when he thinks he has. She keeps her stepmother off-balance, too. There are some wonderful touches - when she walks into her father's house toward the end of the film, without any dialogue, one knows she can no longer live there.

The ending is breathtaking. This Preminger film has the pace lacking in "Fallen Angel," which is another character study of a sort.
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What a subtle and yet outrageous movie, great plot and direction and acting
secondtake11 February 2011
Angel Face (1952)

An extraordinary film in many ways, including simply avoiding clichés. It starts with a slap, and ends with a real shock. Between it beguiles, it plays with your sympathies, it seems to toy with an obvious turn of events then subverts it.

Robert Mitchum is the obvious centerpiece for most viewers, and if you know him you know he's consistent in all his roles, including in this one where he plays a mechanic doing odd jobs. More impressive, for me, is the femme fatale, the leading woman, Jean Simmons, who not only has an angel face, but an expressive one, moving from lively and untarnished to devious, pained, or stubborn. The two of them do not have the on screen chemistry of some of the great romances in film--blame Mitchum, maybe, for his coolness, attractive as it is to the viewer, or blame the director, Otto Preminger.

Preminger, for all his genius and willingness to flaunt the censors, is a director's director, a little like Welles without the burden of virtuosity. His best films ("Man with the Golden Arm" and "Laura" and possibly "Anatomy of a Murder") present a romantic situation as if it is a given. It doesn't really develop into something steamy or passionate or emotionally necessary. That is, he's no Nicholas Ray in this sense. And so in "Angel Face" there is a romantic involvement that is believable but never quite compelling.

And usually this is perfect, because Mitchum and Simmons in their parts are wary of each other, or are not quite involved for the sake of love. Or for love alone. That's partly why the movie works, as a movie, in a slightly different way than we expect from this kind of romance. And it's not just a romance, of course, with the hint of murder in the fringes. And then a real murder, with a huge and awful twist.

There's no question this is a beautiful movie, and a compact one, moving through several phases of the plot with fluidity. The secondary actors are good, mainly the inimitable Herbert Marshall as the father. And the writing is particularly good, I think. This is a special movie the way Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past," which also stars Mitchum. It's has film noir strains, but it is something else completely, too. Special stuff.
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Reverse Obsession for Preminger
krorie27 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Otto Preminger's "Laura" and "Fallen Angel" concerned themselves with men obsessed with beautiful but dangerous women. Preminger's "Angel Face" reverses this and is about a woman (Jean Simmons) obsessed with a man (Robert Mitchum)to the point of wanting him dead if she cannot have him for herself. There is a second woman who is nearly obsessed with Mitchum, Mona Freeman, but her obsession is much less lethal and she learns how to wean herself away from him. Another famous director, Alfred Hitchcock, would take the theme of obsession to the heights of its glory in the movie classic "Vertigo." Most men and women have found certain dangerous others to their liking and it's easy to see how such liking can become perverted into obsession. Stalking, which is so much in the news today, can become a lethal form of obsession. I have often wondered why such a gifted and talented actress as Jean Simmons never received her just desserts in Hollywood or with the general public. After seeing this movie, I partly understand why. She reminded me so much of a young Elizabeth Taylor that at first glance I thought that was the actress I was seeing. The title is apt for Jean Simmons. She certainly does have an angel face, but what is in her heart? Watch the film and find out. Some critics have downplayed the ending as not very shocking, but the viewer must realize that this film was made in 1952, long before such movies as Thelma and Louise et al. Even today the ending packs a punch. Though not on the same level as the classic "Laura," this is still top notch film noir.
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Crazy Heart
lucaajmone-it23 March 2010
Jean Simmons is sensational as the deeply disturbed beautiful girl. She creates a characters that is both, alluring and terrifying at the same time. She looks at Mitchum asking him "Do you love me?" and we know she's trouble, real trouble but just like Mitchum we're ready to fall into her trap without really knowing or caring what kind of trap we're falling into. Otto Preminger at the helm is not George Cukor. Oh how I wish George Cukor had directed this film. He did wonders with Simmons in "The Actress" and he understood the female heart even one as dangerous as this one. Preminger seems interested in showing us and telling us rather than allowing us to participate in a more organic way. The script is uncertain at best but Jean Simmons makes the film, compelling viewing.
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Better and more Poetic film than Preminger's classic 'Laura'
Aw-komon5 July 2000
This very poetic film is really, in essence, a study of two characters: 'Robert Mitchum' and 'Jean Simmons.' It's very style affords them ample opportunities for revealing aspects of their fascinatingly complex personalities that would have never been unveiled in more standard Hollywood fare. Although it doesn't have the ingenious plot of 'Laura,' as soon as you look beyond plot, you realize how much more poetic and ultimately satisfying it is. For some reason, 'Angel Face' isn't out on video, but Turner Classic Movies plays it every other month; so catch it there and make sure you have your VCR running.
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Car trouble
Lejink5 July 2015
Apparently shot in 18 days to ensure Jean Simmons filmed her part while still under contract to producer Howard Hughes, this is a fine film noir with a particularly memorable ending.

I wasn't sure I could believe Robert Mitchum, the king of world-weary sardonic-ism, falling so readily for the youthful charms of evil step-daughter Simmons, especially with a smart, pretty and loving girl of his own, but once I surrendered this point, it was easy, rather like Mitchum's ambulance-driver, to be persuaded to follow the plot here through to the bitter end.

I actually considered both leads to be somewhat miscast in the film, Simmons effect dulled somewhat by a rather ugly helmet of a wig and the dialogue lacks the snap of a Hammett, Chandler or even a Spillane, but the narrative is intriguing and the ambivalent natures of both the main parts strangely compelling, plus, like I said there's a surprise, no make that shock ending, to finish things off with a knockout punch.

Director Preminger mixes up some staple noir elements of a femme fatale, her stooge of a male admirer, sex, murder and mystery, employing big-close-ups, atmospheric lighting and crisply shot monochromatic sets, perhaps only faltering over a slightly dull, over-technical courtroom scene, and the miscasting already mentioned.

Nevertheless, the story crackles along and I doubt many will anticipate the climax, which certainly caught me off-guard and yet in retrospect, delivers a finish true to the genre's often nihilistic traits.

Mitchum of course is naturally very good as the ensnared Frank, the piano-playing Simmons, dressed throughout in black and white outfits, perhaps stressing the duality of her nature, a little less so.
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A Perfect Female Fatale
claudio_carvalho4 June 2013
In California, the ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) and his partner head to a mansion in Beverly Hills to assist the millionaire Mrs. Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil) that was poisoned with gas, but her doctor had already medicated her. When Frank is leaving the house, he meets Catherine's twenty year-old stepdaughter Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) that follows him in her Jaguar. After-hours, they go to a restaurant and Frank finds an excuse to his girlfriend Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman) to not visit her and he dates Diane and they go to a night-club. Diane has a crush on Frank and on the next morning, she meets Mary and tells to her what Frank and she did.

Frank and Mary are saving money to open a garage since he is an efficient mechanic. Diane convinces Frank to be better paid working as a chauffeur for her family. Soon Frank learns that Diane hates her stepmother and he decides to quit his job. But Diane seduces him and he stay with the Tremayne family. When Mr. and Mrs. Tremayne have a fatal car accident, Diane and Frank become the prime suspect of the police and they go to court charged of murder. Now their only chance is the strategy of the efficient defense attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames).

"Angel Face" is among the best film-noir I have seen, with a perfect female fatale, amoral story and dark conclusion. Jean Simmons is impressive, with Oedipus complex and her angel face that manipulates Frank and even her stepmother. The melancholic music score completes this great movie. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Alma em Pânico" ("Soul in Panic")
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Drama, Death & Distortions of Love
seymourblack-128 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Otto Preminger's "Angel Face" combines great drama, excellent set pieces and some fine performances to tell the story of how the meeting of its two main protagonists leads to murder and the destruction of their closest relationships.

Frank Jessop (Robert Mitchum) is an ex-professional racer who has ambitions to run his own business specialising in the sale of parts for racing cars and Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) is a spoilt rich girl who has an obvious obsessive affection for her father Charles (Herbert Marshall). The couple meet when Frank is working as an ambulance man and is called to the family house when Diane's stepmother Catherine is taken ill as a result of a serious gas leak in her bedroom. She claims that someone tried to kill her but the evidence at the scene suggests that it was a suicide attempt. Catherine recovers sufficiently to avoid the need for her to be admitted to hospital.

As soon as Frank and Diane's friendship begins, Diane arranges to meet Frank's girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman) and successfully destroys any trust she had in Frank. Then, after convincing her parents of their need to employ a chauffeur, Frank is persuaded to take the job. Things look good for Frank as he is provided with his own apartment, the promise of one of the Tremayne cars to use in a road race which could provide valuable publicity for his future business and also the realistic prospect of Catherine making a significant investment in his venture. However, when he starts to recognise the level of hatred that Diane has for Catherine and she tells him a couple of obviously invented stories, he becomes concerned about his predicament and says he is going to leave. Diane pleads with him to take her with him and points out that she already has her packed case with her. He completely rejects her plea.

Charles and Catherine get killed in a car crash and Diane has a breakdown and gets hospitalised. Frank and Diane are charged with murder and their defence lawyer Fred Barrett (Leon Ames) arranges for them to get married before the trial to put a good complexion on the fact that Diane's case was found in Frank's apartment. Their lawyer successfully discredits the prosecution's case and the couple are found not guilty. Following this, Frank tells Diane that he wants a divorce and tries to reconcile with Mary. She rejects the idea and tells him that she's started a relationship with his ex-colleague Bill (Kenneth Tobey). Mary explains that Bill would be reliable in a relationship whereas she would never be able to trust Frank again.

Diane is racked with guilt and goes to Barrett's office to make a written confession that she was solely responsible for the murder of her parents. He explains the futility of doing this because of the double jeopardy rule and the likelihood that if she pursues her desired course of action, she would probably get committed to an insane asylum. She returns home, finds Frank packing to leave and offers him a lift to the bus station before their relationship reaches its spectacular conclusion.

"Angel Face" contains two unique set pieces that are both shocking and brilliantly executed and it's also interesting to note the distorted nature of some of the protagonists' relationships. The interactions between Frank, Mary and Bill seem casual, pragmatic and totally devoid of passion, strong feelings or genuine emotional commitment. Diane's relationships by contrast, are powerful. obsessive and completely destructive. Jean Simmons' portrayal of the devious, deadly and seriously unbalanced Diane is measured and convincing, Leon Ames is brilliant as the unctuous Barrett and Robert Mitchum is superbly nonchalant as fatalistic Frank.
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Mid-20th Century Obsession
mackwoodward15 November 2001
Just saw this movie for the first time today and don't know why I've not seen it before; we taped it off TCM some time ago. It is haunting, as others have commented. I'm surprised that no one compares it to the admittedly somewhat overblown "Leave Her to Heaven" from 1945: the obsession with possession of those she loves by both Ellen and Diane is remarkable. I wonder if any scholars of women's film history have ventured here.
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What a bleak film...and I loved it!
AlsExGal16 September 2018
The film starts with a call for an ambulance. A woman at a large estate has almost been asphyxiated by the gas heater in her room. The key has been removed from the radiator, so it seems deliberate. Did somebody try to kill her or did she try to kill herself or was it just some kind of odd freak accident?

While the commotion is going on upstairs, ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) wanders downstairs and finds the stepdaughter ( her dad is married to the wealthy woman), Diane (Jean Simmons) playing the piano. And that's where the attraction begins on the part of Frank. It's where the obsession begins on the part of Diane. It's where Diane mutters her first double entendre. She asks how her stepmother is, and says "It's so hard, just waiting...". Waiting for her to live, or for her to die?

The film is ultimately a wicked study in obsession - the kind of obsession that has no boundaries - the kind of obsession between a man and a woman - the kind of obsession that is so self-serving. And, interestingly, it is largely one-sided - since Frank may enjoy the delights of Diane, but also knows deep down that she should be put back on the shelf. Diane's obsession is so real that you do basically know that Mitchum's Frank Jessup doesn't really stand a chance.

But Frank wasn't just wandering through life alone when Diane met him. The other woman in Frank's life, played by Mona Freeman, is blonde and desirable. She may be an excellent cook and not ask questions, as Frank says, but there is some stark language for the production code era. He mentions she sleeps in pajamas. He mentions how much she weighs - "stripped". The implication is that Frank may be the free agent that he claims to be, but he has been sleeping with the lady. But she's a lady with a level head, and she is not just going to wait around for Frank to come to his senses - or not. Instead she explores another more dependable romantic possibility.

Let me just say Jean Simmons was a revelation here. She's a good actress but she has always come across as a virginal school marm type in all of the roles I saw her in until this one. I would have never believed she could have played opposite Mitchum's cool, relaxed persona and have made it work, but she did.

This film is dark to the extreme and is as fresh, as vital, and as pertinent as though it were made just yesterday.
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Fascinating Noir With A Disturbing, Alluring Simmons And A Laconic Mitchum...
jem13210 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of film noir can see at least two previous titles echoed in this film- Out Of The Past and The Postman Always Twice. However, despite certain plot similarities to these two other noir gems, Angel Face becomes something different entirely, due in large part to the fascinating performance of Jean Simmons as the beautiful, alluring yet dangerous and possibly psychotic rich-girl femme fatale Diane Tremayne.

I loved the opening scene in the luxurious Tremayne mansion. Working-class guy Frank Jessup (Mitchum, effortlessly laconic and endlessly watchable as usual), an ambulance worker, has been called to the residence because of a near-fatal case of gas poisoning. Mitchum, and the audience, soon become embroiled in the fascinating yet troubled world of Simmons, who Mitchum slaps upon first meeting. And Simmons slaps back.

From this fatalistic encounter, we know we are headed down the doom-laden path of film noir, where Frank is inevitably going to be lured (he puts up very little resistance to Diane's machinations- hey, the girl is rich and gorgeous, so what's the poor guy to do?) away from his average, yet decent sweetheart Mary, and become a part of Diane's schemes.

As I said previously, Simmon's character is the most intriguing element of this noir concoction from Otto Preminger, who had dealt with male obsession eight years earlier in the classic Laura. Is Diane a completely amoral, spoiled girl, or is she verging on insane? Her character reminds me a lot of Gene Tierney's Ellen in Leave Her To Heaven. Both wealthy and beautiful women are so consumed by jealousy that they will stop at nothing to get what they want, and they pointedly drive their obsessions towards men who seem unworthy of their beauty and social position (Richard is good-natured yet hardly exciting in Leave Her To Heaven, Frank is from the working class). They also seem to be suffering from a bit of an Electra complex.

When Diane sits and plays the haunting, recurring piano piece as her hated stepmother and beloved father reverse straight over the cliff in the car which she has rigged, her face is rigid, set, almost devoid of any outward emotion. This scene reminds me of an awful lot of Ellen coldly watching Danny drown in Leave Her To Heaven. While Ellen's killing is done in unnerving silence and Diane plays a music accompaniment to her sins, the effect (and result) is much the same.

Mitchum plays a role quite similar to his P.I in Out Of The Past, yet he seems a lot less charismatic or intelligent here. One thing that intrigues me- why would Mitchum, having known Simmons was capable of murder-by-car earlier, agree to be driven to the bus station by her? Is this an unconscious acceptance of his inability to rid himself of Simmons or is he just too short-sighted to see what she is capable of? And does Simmons even know what she is capable of, and when? The film possesses a good script, with some nice snappy noir lines. While Angel Face is not as strikingly visual in it's use of black-and-white (most of the scenes take place in well-lit interiors), it is the themes of sexual obsession, fatalism, corruption (the shyster lawyer Simmons hires gets her off a murder charge), wealth and moral decay that make it a great noir.
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Fun to watch, but filled with ridiculous improbabilities
MartinHafer14 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is a fun film to watch and it's really interesting to see the usually sweet Jean Simmons (the actress, not the rocker) play a femme fatale. And there are also many interesting story points--particularly her desire to murder her step-mother. However, time and again the film seems to chose the path of improbability and when you put together all these difficult to believe moments, the overall effect is rather muted. The best example of this was the end of the movie. Sure, it's a lot of fun to watch but who would believe that Mitchum would get in a car Simmons is driving after he's positive she murdered her dad and step-mom by fiddling with the car! Plus, the usually street-wise and cool Mitchum plays a real chump who is practically led around by the nose by a woman--something that you just can't believe about the Mitchum persona. A few other hard to believe moments would include Mitchum agreeing to be tried along with Simmons for murder when he's sure she did it, agreeing to marry her and sticking around in the first place soon after the film began--it was obviously a set-up. Interesting but quite flawed like MANY of the films of Howard Hughes (who, behind the scenes was VERY involved with the film).
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Never be the innocent bystander, that's the guy that always gets hurt.
Spikeopath7 November 2011
Angel Face is directed by Otto Preminger and adapted to screenplay by Ben Hecht, Oscar Millard and Frank S. Nugent from a story written by Chester Erskine. It stars Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman and Herbert Marshall. Music is scored by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography is by Harry Stradling.

The Tremayne residence, home to beguiling beauty Diane Tremayne (Simmons). When ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Mitchum) meets her for the first time, little did he know that he would soon be engulfed in a world of sexual desires and possible murder.

Well if it ain't the dead body jockey.

In film noir circles it's certainly well known enough, and it can count a number of big names in the movie world as its supporters, yet Angel Face still appears to be something of a forgotten treasure. It's a wickedly dark Freudian picture that pulses with impending doom, luring the viewer into its web that's been threaded together by deceit, seduction, greed and madness. The viewer is never quite sure what will out as the Diane/Frank relationship starts to form, we have a good idea that Frank is in it up to his neck, and you sense he knows it as well, but the twists and turns in the narrative keep things suspenseful; right up to the bold and black hearted finale.

The themes at work in the story are beautifully aided by two compelling central performances from Mitchum (Out of the Past) and Simmons (Elmer Gantry), the former is very restrained, muscular and on iconic cigarette smoking form, the latter is suspiciously sexy, angelic yet dangerous and exuding a poker face charm. In support Mona Freeman (The Heiress) makes good out of a too small a role as the polar opposite "other" girl. Herself gorgeous, Freeman has "safe and homely" down pat, but is that enough for our rugged Frankie Jessup? Preminger (Laura/Whirlpool) directs with professional assuredness whilst getting in tight to the actors with his camera.

Stradling's (Suspicion/A Streetcar Named Desire) black and white photography is effective in capturing the Beverly Hills locale, however, it's rarely in sync with the murky themes unfolding in the plot. Too often it's too bright, too expansive, the minimal amount of shadow play is sorely felt, particularly when the action switches to the foreboding setting of the Tremayne cliff top house. It's an itch that is inflamed still further by Tiomkin's in tune score, full of melodramatic swirls and supernatural down beats, it's a score very at one with the characters and begs for some shady photography. Still, that's me being greedy and wanting chiaroscuro in full effect, Stradling was a fine photographer and surely acted on Preminger's requests for this particular movie.

Angel Face, a moody gem of a story that's punctured by moments of violence, and featuring a cast and director on song. 8/10
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Behind the Mask
dougdoepke5 July 2009
Note the Howard Hughes moniker above the title. Word was the skirt-chasing millionaire and owner of RKO was enamored of the busty Simmons at the time. So he trapped her into an exclusive contract and wooed her at a time when she was still married to fellow actor Stewart Granger. I mention this bit of gossip as background to a movie whose camera dotes on close-ups of the lovely Simmons visage. In fact, Angel Face is a perfect description, but an odd introduction of the British actress to American audiences. Of course, it helps that Hughes paired her with RKO's most popular leading man, Robert Mitchum, and imported the canny Otto Preminger to direct. Ten years earlier, Preminger's doting close-ups of a young Gene Tierney made her a star: Laura, (1944). Looks to me like this was to be a similar star-making vehicle for Simmons.

If so, it's an odd choice of roles since Diane (Simmons) is pretty much into weirder forms of derangement. She's clearly got an unnatural fixation on Dad (Marshall), schemes murderously against her stepmother, and spins a web around Frank (Mitchum) who abruptly wins her affection by slapping her. No, this is not the kind of role likely to endear a newcomer to American audiences. Then too, note that Simmons really doesn't have to do much acting. She wears the same impenetrable mask for every occasion, which is as it should be. That way, we never know what's going on behind that angelic face. On the other hand, Frank is pretty much the careless opportunist, neglecting good girl Mary (Freeman) for the attractive financial and bedroom package Diane offers. Yup, Frank just can't resist a fast woman and a fast car, and not necessarily in that order. However, we more or less have to take the screenplay's word for their mutual affection since neither performer exactly emotes his or her feelings. In my book, the best performance goes to the often overlooked Leon Ames as the cagey attorney.

At the same time, the screenplay looks like an echo of the earlier noir classic The Postman Always Rings Twice (1945). However, this edition introduces a number of interesting wrinkles. In Postman, John Garfield's hapless character is clearly guilty of colluding with spider woman Lana Turner in the death of her husband. But what exactly is Frank guilty of here, other than being a garden-variety opportunist. We understand the poetic justice brought to bear on Diane, but what about Frank. Seems to me, he gets his just desserts when Mary refuses to take him back. Keep in mind, this was Production Code time when the moral scales were supposed to balance by movie's end. As a result, I'm still not clear on what exactly Frank's crime is.

Anyway, we get a couple of spectacular car crashes, along with several long, languid mood scenes, a trademark of Preminger's. The movie definitely qualifies as film noir, but without the expressionist lighting, while Diane goes down as one of noir's more obsessive spider women. My only reservation is having the glamour girl find something of a conscience near film's end. I guess this concession makes the ending more tragic than if she remained inside her heartless bubble. However, as the climax shows, she may not be completely heartless, but she is completely selfish. And it's the ambitious Frank who pays the price for preferring this sporty model to the reliable family one. All of which proves, I guess, that the family models may not travel as fast, but in the end, they will take you farther and, more importantly, in one piece.
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A fine, little known noir with excellent performances by Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum
Terrell-415 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) should be everything Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) could ever want. She's young, beautiful and rich. The trouble is, she arranges "accidents." She worships her father and hates her stepmother. She's the kind of young woman who can make herself believe, for as long as she needs, what she must believe. We know there is going to be an inevitable, deadly conclusion to Diane's and Frank's story as soon as we hear the music over the opening credits and, a few minutes later, see Diane's beautiful, expressionless face crumple into tears when she learns her stepmother survived a leaking gas jet.

Angel Face is a taut, well-told noir with a superb performance by Jean Simmons and an equally good one by Mitchum. Who knows what triggered Mitchum to get involved enough in a movie of his to put forth the effort for a complex performance. Whatever it was, he delivers the goods as Frank Jessup. Frank is an ambulance driver, ambitious enough to be saving his money to start his own garage. He has a girl friend he more than just likes. But when he arrives at the Tremayne mansion on an emergency call one night he finds himself caught up in a number of temptations. He may be a reasonably honorable guy, but deep behind his eyes he can see the possibilities when Diane Tremayne begins to pursue him. It's not long before he has agreed to become the chauffeur for the Tremaynes, to place on hold his relationship with his girl, to allow himself to relax with Diane's attentions, to let himself think of that garage he wants financed by Tremayne money. And he begins to recognize Diane's obsessiveness...her hatred of her step-mother...the likelihood she had something to do with that gas leak...her way of innocently manipulating things. "You hate that woman," he tells Diane, "and someday you'll hate her enough to kill her." Frank is no fool. "Diane, look. I don't pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours and I don't want to. But I learned one thing early. Never be the innocent by-stander...that's the guy who always gets hurt." Too late, Frank.

What Frank has to deal with is Diane Tremayne, and that means Jean Simmons. She was a marvelous British actress who became a Hollywood star. This was one of her first movies after she came to America. Her innocent, vulnerable beauty too often disguised an immense range as an actress. At 17 she played young Estella in Great Expectations. Her imperious ways of making young Pip's life difficult is fascinating. At 18 as Kanchi, the native girl in Black Narcissus, she was sexy, spoiled and believably knowing. At 19 she proved she could hold her own against Olivier when she played Ophelia in Hamlet. At 22 she was almost unbelievably fragile and vulnerable as Sophie Malraux in The Clouded Yellow. In Hollywood, she became a star, but all too often the films she was in were big fat productions which are scarcely thought of now. With Angel Face, Simmons gives a portrait of obsession that keeps us off balance. She looks at us and we want to believe the best...but we know better than to do so. There's always that slight edge of unnatural wheel-turning that, thanks to Simmons' skill, we only catch at the corner of our eyes. The story of Angel Face may be strictly linear, but Simmon's Diane Tremayne gives the movie a lot of uneasy depth. Combine that with Mitchum's first-rate performance and we're looking at a very good movie. The ending, while perfectly set up, is memorable and startling.

Along the way we can enjoy the subtle, charming job Herbert Marshall does as Diane's aging author who has given in to the luxuries and security of a very rich wife, and the smooth performance of Leon Ames as Fred Barrett, the lawyer who defends Diane and Frank against murder charges. Barrett is not sleazy, simply an excellent and realistic legal strategist. Angel Face is a fine movie; anyone who likes noirs, or just good drama, should welcome this to his or her collection.
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A perfect companion to "Bonjour Tristesse"
MOscarbradley10 May 2009
"Angel Face" may be one of Preminger's lesser movies but it is still a superb example of its kind, (late film noir), with an even greater emphasis on the warped psychology of its characters than is usual in the genre. Once again Robert Mitchum is the sap, even if he seems a lot more clued up in this movie than he has done elsewhere. Still, being clued up is unlikely to do him much good when faced with a psychotic little minx like Jean Simmons, (superb). She is Diane Tremayne, an heiress by default, (her father, a slouching Herbert Marshall, has married money). Mitchum is the ambulance driver she seduces then hires as a chauffeur. And naturally she hates her step-mother.

Thrill-wise, this is a slow ride since Preminger seems more interested in the dark forces that drive his characters rather than simply in the machinations of a murderous plot. In this he is greatly helped by Simmons who does some of her best work here. (Did Preminger think another Jean would later prove as fruitful a muse as Simmons does here or did he simply fancy Seberg?). Actually, "Angel Face" would make a great double-bill with "Bonjour Tristesse" since both films are about duplicitous little bitches in love with their fathers, both of whom are feckless.

In film noir, if the men are fundamentally weak the women are always strong and, despite her apparent frailty, Barbara O'Neil's step-mother is a considerably tough cookie and I wished I could have seen more of her. (O'Neil was a really fine actress who never got her dues). Unfortunately there is no real battle of wills between Simmons and O'Neil that might have made the development of the plot more interesting still and it's left to Simmons and her silent derangement to carry the movie. This she does with considerable aplomb, showing a much steelier edge to her character than her later films were prepared to explore.
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A Sly Homicidal Minx
bkoganbing28 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Angel Face has always for me been a kind of cut rate version of Sunset Boulevard without all the glitz and glamor of a Hollywood setting. Jean Simmons is not an older woman here, but she most certainly is as much of a femme fatale as Gloria Swanson playing Norma Desmond.

Robert Mitchum plays an ambulance driver who responds to the home that Simmons lives in with father Herbert Marshall and stepmother Barbara O'Neil. For no discernible reason Simmons hates O'Neil feeling she should be number one in her father's life. She hatches a scheme and draws the hapless Mitchum in.

The main problem with Angel Face is Robert Mitchum is much too strong a screen presence to play what is essentially a weak character. I never quite was able to believe him in the part.

On the other hands Simmons does very well cast against type. She's usually good people on the screen, sexy, but good. She is one cunning minx in this film.

Otto Preminger directed Angel Face and he was his usual tyrannical self on the set. So much so that according to Lee Server's fine biography of Mitchum, he got overenthusiastic trying to demonstrate a proper reaction to Jean Simmons on how to take a slap. Mitchum felt so bad for her that he intervened, asking Preminger in no uncertain terms to see what his reaction would be if Preminger slapped him.

Angel Face is an interesting noir melodrama that could have used a few improvements.
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Great Stars & Supporting Cast
keylight-420 January 2008
This is one of my favorite movies. In addition to the two great-looking stars, Robert Mitchum & Jean Simmons, the supporting cast is terrific: Herbert Marshall, Barbara O'Neil, Leon Ames, Kenneth Tobey, et al. The haunting music score and the beautiful black & white photography create a moody, brooding atmosphere.

Mitchum's character, Frank Jessup, drifts into a relationship with the scheming Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), even though he has a more or less "regular" girlfriend, Mary, whom he takes for granted, played by Mona Freeman. Frank is a man who has apparently followed the path of least resistance for most of his life, and this time that easy path leads to big trouble, and ultimately, murder.

One thing I found interesting about this movie was the strongly implied sexual nature of the relationship between Frank and Mary. When Frank is responding to Diane's probing questions about Mary, he says that she "weighs 105 pounds, stripped...". Then when Frank drops in unexpectedly on Mary while she's dressing to go to work, she answers the door in her robe, but then takes it off and stands at the door of the bedroom talking to Frank, wearing only a slip. This was rather daring for 1952, because Mary was portrayed not as a tragic heroine overcome by passion and desire, or as a hard-bitten tramp with a sordid past, but as a "nice girl", a decent young woman who cared about Frank and wanted to marry him. I'm surprised that this scene got past the censors.

This is a very watchable movie, well worth adding to your film library.
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"Never be the innocent bystander. That's the guy that always gets hurt."
classicsoncall20 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Mitchum's character obviously didn't take his own advice noted in my summary line above. You can read that two different ways - he decided to be an involved bystander once Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) worked her seedy tentacles into his psyche. But on the flip side, even if he had remained the innocent bystander, he would have wound up getting entangled in Tremayne's demented scheme anyway.

The thing that really puzzled this viewer was Frank Jessup (Mitchum) agreeing to marry Tremayne in her hospital bed on the advice of attorney Barrett (Leon Ames). The way Barrett framed it had to do with a sympathy angle the press would have taken to treat the murder of Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil) and her husband. Even for the early Fifties, I don't know if that ploy would have worked; today the National Enquirer would make mincemeat of the argument. Can you just imagine the headline?

While watching, I was questioning whether or not it would be possible to rig a car to go in the opposite direction intended but the courtroom scene did a pretty good job of explaining things. Still, one has to envision Miss Tremayne crawling around under the vehicle to rig the throttle reactor spring and remove the cotter pin from the gear shaft assembly. That mental picture doesn't jive with Tremayne's demeanor for most of the story, so I guess one has to accept it on faith. Another element of that trial scene managed to bug me too - was there ever a time a juror could stand up during proceedings and begin asking questions?

What this all boils down to, and I didn't see any other reviewer for the picture mention it, but to me, Diane Tremayne was as insane as her attorney intimated when she showed up to write out her confession following the acquittal. She took a perverse pleasure out of making the lives of others miserable while cooking up her own twisted form of revenge on Catherine because of the way the older woman treated Diane's father. Though the movie certainly qualifies for it's classification as film noir, it turns out that the femme fatale of the piece was actually a lunatic.
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