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Angel Face

Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection

Warner's "Robert Mitchum Signature Collection" not only provides fans of the actor with previously hard-to-find titles, but it also adds entries for buffs trying to flesh out their auteur collections. In the case of Angel Face (1952), the set offers up another film by Otto Preminger, one of the most interesting and controversial of all Hollywood directors. That it is one of his lesser works shouldn't prevent viewers from adding it to their shelf or at least watching it. One of the "problems" with Angel Face is that it's frequently categorized as a noir when it is clearly not, which may create inappropriate audience expectations. And one is likely to think of Mitchum as the lead character, but he really isn't. As per the conventions of the "women's picture" the main character technically should be Mary (Mona Freeman), Mitchum's ostensible girlfriend at the film's start. Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, a racecar driver whose career was interrupted by World War II, and who now drives an ambulance. One night he is summoned to the Tremayne estate, where he saves the life of Mrs. Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O'Neil, her character's name obviously borrowed later for Basic Instinct). Jessup's rescue effort does much to distress her stepdaughter Diane (a slightly miscast Jean Simmons). Diane pursues Jessup, who ends up as the family chauffeur while also trying to impress Mrs. Tremayne with his business smarts so that she'll invest in his auto repair shop idea. One suspects that the real love of Diane's life is her father, Charles (Herbert Marshall), but as part of her stepmother-elimination scheme she accidentally takes out her dad as well. Both Diane and Jessup end up on trial for murder, with unpredictable results, and Jessup's girlfriend Mary can only watch from the sidelines, as she must do throughout this slightly skewed script (credited to Oscar Millard and Frank Nugent but with additional work by Ben Hecht). Angel Face is a cold, hard film with unpleasant characters and none of the visual signatures we associate with noir. Released in Mitchum's mid-career, the picture captures the sensual actor at his rugged best, a kind of prototype Elvis with a southern tint to his voice, but he is a callous character who really anticipates his Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962). Preminger obviously had ambitions for the film, with its echoes of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and the previous year's A Place in the Sun (1951) with its love story that crosses class barriers. But the film came out of Howard Hughes's RKO, with all that such implies about budgetary skimpiness and executive interference. And the movie has some unintentionally funny elements, such as Dimitri Tiomkin's typically over-lush score and two highly comical (because they are so extreme) car crashes. Angel Face arrives on DVD for the first time in a wonderful black-and-white full-frame transfer (the credits are window boxed). The monaural Dolby Digital track is adequate, and there are English subtitles. Extras consist solely of Eddie Muller's enthusiastic audio commentary track. Among many other things, Muller points out Mitchum's curious passivity, which compels Preminger to emphasize the actor's physical size by way of compensation. Keep-case, or slimcase in the box-set.
—D.K. Holm

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