Black Angel

Premiered August 2, 1946: BLACK ANGEL, starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, and Peter Lorre.  Directed by Roy William Neill (Eyes of the Underworld, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Woman in Green).  John Phillips is wrongly convicted of the murder of a nightclub singer (Constance Dowling).  blackangelIn a desperate attempt to save him from the electric chair, Phillips’ wife (June Vincent) embarks on a quest to prove his innocence before the execution date.  Her investigation leads to Dowling’s estranged husband (Dan Duryea) who becomes interested when he learns the killer took a brooch he had given to Dowling.  Together, Vincent and Duryea zero in on a shady nightclub owner (Peter Lorre), who was seen visiting Dowling the night she was killed, and come up with a plan to expose him.  For the most part, this film feels like a run-of-the-mill whodunit, albeit with darker overtones.  The first two-thirds plod along slowly with minimal story progression, as we spend a significant amount of time watching Vincent and Duryea get to know each other before they eventually attempt to uncover proof of Lorre’s guilt.  Unfortunately, the lukewarm on-screen chemistry between Duryea and Vincent and the lack of any real suspense makes for a rather ho-hum affair.  But thankfully, the story gets a revitalizing shot in the arm during the last third, when, just as we’re lulled into thinking we have it all figured out, events take an unexpected turn and previous assumptions about the murder are called into question.  The mystery ultimately resolves itself a little too neatly, but at least we were treated to a much needed foray into creative storytelling in the home stretch.  Dan Duryea was a staple of classic film noir and is always a joy to watch on screen.  In Black Angel, he steps out of his typical oily roles to play a nice guy, which is commendable, but not exactly an ideal fit.  His natural ingratiating manner, that serves him so well in sleazier parts, gives him an aura of inappropriate insincerity in this film, especially during the more intimate scenes with Vincent.  For her part, Vincent doesn’t offer up much screen magic.  Mired in the lumbering plot, her range of emotions are limited to sadness or despair, with only a brief respite during a couple of musical numbers.  Although Black Angel is largely unspectacular, it does deliver a competent murder mystery, benefitted by a gratifying plot boost in the final stages.  There are many better noirs worth watching before you sit down with this one, but eventually, it’s worth a look.  We give Black Angel 2.5 out of 5 fedoras.

2.5 Fedoras


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