Fallen Angel (1945) Otto Preminger
Fox Film Noir DVD
Our introduction to Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews, above) finds him being thrown off a bus for not having enough fare to make it to San Francisco. The little town of Walton will have to do for this drifter/con man. Eric’s first stop is Pop’s Eats, a hole-in-the-wall diner where the proprietor – appropriately named Pop (Percy Kilbride) – is all in a tizzy: Pop’s best (and maybe only) waitress Stella has been gone for days. When she finally shows up, we immediately see why business tanks when she’s not around.
Stella (Linda Darnell, above) is a knockout and even that word doesn’t do her justice. (In the DVD commentary, Eddie Muller calls Darnell one of the sultriest women in Hollywood at the time, almost a brunette version of Marilyn Monroe.) Of course Stanton is instantly smitten with Stella, but she’s got nothing for him or for anyone else, for that matter. She’s rude, insulting and self-serving. The only thing she wants is to get out of Walton and have a nice life. Stanton tells her he’s the man to make that happen, but she’s not buying.
Hoping to grab a few quick bucks, Stanton puts in with traveling medium Professor Madley (John Carradine, above), hoping to bring in a horde of local suckers to hear the professor tap into voices from the great beyond. The locals tell Stanton that no one’s going to come to Professor Madley’s show: Clara Mills (Anne Revere) controls the town’s leading women’s club and nothing happens in Walton without her approval.
Stanton visits Clara with the intent of working his charm, but becomes more interested in Clara’s sister June (Alice Faye, above left). He quickly concocts a scheme which involves marrying June, taking her money, and skipping town with Stella. But of course this is noir, where nothing goes as planned, especially when shenanigans are involved.
Fallen Angel asks audiences to suspend their disbelief to a pretty high degree, and if you can do this, you’ll find the film to be a great noir ride. Preminger’s camera shots, angles and framing are extraordinary as is Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography, but the aspect I enjoyed most about the film is its handling of the unexpected. I absolutely could not predict what was going to happen next. I also never knew the simple act of a man putting on a glove could carry so much suspense and terror. Watch the film: you’ll see what I mean.
I haven’t listened to the entire Eddie Muller commentary, but I’ve read a bit online about the behind-the-scenes aspect of Fallen Angel. Apparently top-billed Alice Faye – an enormously popular singer/actress at the time – saw that Darryl F. Zanuck, head of production at 20th Century Fox, had cut many of her scenes, giving Linda Darnell far more screen time than Faye expected. Infuriated, Faye left and didn’t come back. Letters of protest flooded Zanuck’s office and the studio while Zanuck brought breach of contract charges against Faye, who legally had two more movies to fulfill for Fox. But the damage was done. Faye didn’t return to films until 1962 when she appeared in State Fair.
All of the performances in the film are wonderful and even though its ending proves almost as weak and unsatisfying as that of The Blue Dahlia (1946), Fallen Angel is a must-watch film noir.