Fallen Angel (1945)
Release Date: December 5th, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Otto Preminger Actors: Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, Bruce Cabot, John Carradine, Percy Kilbride
-year-old Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) is headed to San Francisco, but is kicked out at Walton for not having enough bus fare to complete the journey. He sees a flier for charlatan psychic Professor Madley (John Carradine), who claims to orchestrate séances for troubled spirits, and recognizes an opportunity to aid in the scam (completed with the help of assistant fraudster Joe Ellis, played by Olin Howland). Using his charm, he convinces the influential Clara Mills (Anne Revere) and her younger sister June (Alice Faye) to attend, which resultantly sells out the communion of the dead that evening. Stanton similarly seduces waitress Stella (Linda Darnell) – a sexpot who expectedly returns after having disappeared for three days with another wrong kind of guy – and brings her to the show.
The following morning, Madley and Ellis move on, but Eric stays in Walton, hoping to convince Stella to go with him to San Francisco. Her constant rebuffs only draw him in further, but his smooth talking, the promise of a ring on her finger, and $12,500 for a house keeps her curiosity piqued. With deception always in his mind, Stanton proceeds to lure June into marriage for her considerable inheritance, all while professing his love to Stella – a woman with plenty of other options regularly being explored.
As a particularly dark film noir, “Fallen Angel” features a cast of dislikable characters, exhibiting the unappealing traits of naiveté, distrustfulness, cruelty, deceit, and blind faith. Obscurantism and trickery are keys to the game, though they’re never smartly concealed. Even the cop in charge of the investigation, Judd (Charles Bickford), prefers to beat confessions out of his witnesses rather than to conduct real sleuthing. Eric’s fakeness is entirely too apparent and his act is completely phony, while June’s refusal to acknowledge the dishonesty is just as contemptible. On his wedding night, Eric runs out on the bride to rendezvous with Stella, and later flees from the authorities as if fearful of framing – both criminalistic maneuvers that are too obvious of schemes even for the pacing and design of this film.
The setup carefully defines the players, but takes an abnormally long time to get to the chase. It’s approximately an hour into the production before the central murder mystery is presented; even with only 20 minutes left to go, Eric rattles off his life story, creating more character development and a flimsy argument for potential redemption. A proficient libertine meets a more adept seductress, both intent on getting the better of one another, but are overtaken by tragic yet fitting circumstances – all while taking down the innocents around them. No one wins, and yet no one really deserves to. Perhaps the most amusing aspect of “Fallen Angel” is that everyone could be responsible for the lead pipe murder at the story’s heart – including the police. There are enough motives for every role to be involved and no possibility would be altogether disappointing, though the level of compassion is incredibly low. Nonetheless, it’s all quite unique.
– Mike Massie