Fallen Angel (1945)
Fallen Angel (1945)

Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

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

 


 

30

-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

  • 7/10

 

 

 

Revised review from 2020:

 

A

fter his bus ticket money fails to get him all the way to San Francisco (about 150 miles short), Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) is kicked out into the tiny coastal town of Walton. At the diner, the police and the owner (Percy Kilbride) discuss the suspicious disappearance of waitress Stella (Linda Darnell), whom many fear may have committed suicide. But mere seconds after the lone cop departs, Stella appears, looking unharmed and rather luscious.

Since Stanton is broke, he teams up with a fellow unsuccessful grifter, Ellis (Olin Howland), to make a few bucks. Eric sets about to promote Ellis’ pal and charlatan Professor Madley (John Carradine), who travels around putting on shows in which he claims to speak to the dead (a typical psychic). But town matriarch Clara Mills (Anne Revere) interferes, insisting that cheap gimmicks aren’t welcome in their wholesome community. Nevertheless, Eric’s “spook promotion” of the evening seance packs the hotel venue, unexpectedly bringing Clara and her sister June (Alice Faye), as well as Stella, who seems drawn to Stanton’s smooth-talking schemes.

Darnell oozes sensuality as the script immerses itself in risqué unions, forceful flirtations, and unscrupulous scammers. In this wry film noir, there are no good guys; only manipulative characters competing to use one another for momentary relief from their unglamorous existences – or victims too naive to understand their deleterious entanglements – occupy this shadowy arena. And when Stanton aims to lure Stella into his arms with the promise of a ring and a house, his machinations grow more artful, spilling over into seducing June for undoubtedly iniquitous reasons. “I did it for you.”

“I just happen not to like his face.” The setting, the tone, the romances (all of the whirlwind kind), the characters, and the dialogue work to establish looming, inevitable tragedy; it’s classic noir, balancing minimal innocence with considerable darkness and wickedness and murder. Andrews is shady and crooked from the start, marking “Fallen Angel” as one of those rarer crime dramas in which a major male protagonist is notably absent. And despite his effective way with words, he’s never even remotely convincing as a potentially honest man, nor is he clever when it comes to sneaking around. Plus, Faye is unrealistically quiet and withdrawn, as if perpetually unconcerned with anything taking place in the picture.

There’s a mystery afoot, too, but it isn’t the type that concerns itself with “wrong men” or frame-jobs or labyrinthine conspiracies. It’s simpler than all that, which makes the pacing feel slow at times, even when stern, sour-faced, corrupt special investigator Judd (Charles Bickford) starts beating confessions out of background roles (“You don’t seem to appreciate my methods”). For the most part, the personas are disagreeable enough that their successes and failures amount to very little – shots at redemption therefore aren’t meaningful to the point of altering the course of general dissatisfaction. Still, the parting shots are brilliantly cynical yet hopeful.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10