Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum in Angel Face (dir. Otto Preminger, 1952).
"You can be so nice sometimes": Jean Simmons and Barbara O'Neil.
But not this time: Jean Simmons.
Otto Preminger shot Angel Face in eighteen days on a shoestring budget at Howard Hughes' behest, aided by cameraman Harry Stradling, writer Frank Nugent (best known for scripting John Ford westerns like Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Searchers), and composer Dmitri Tiomkin. Typically for Hughes' productions, it was fraught with tensions and antipathies. Star Jean Simmons (Ophelia in Olivier's Hamlet) did the film to satisfy a long, bitter contract entanglement with Hughes, and found herself terrorized for whatever reason by Preminger. Mitchum gallantly smacked Preminger in the face, Preminger tried to have him fired to no avail, Simmons cut her hair off and had to do the whole film in a wig, etc. etc. Preminger enlisted several writers in the task of salvaging the lame story supplied by Chester Erskine before entrusting the final repair work to Nugent (Ben Hecht was involved somewhere along the line). Out of all this comes a not-so-minor noir triumph. On the surface, it's a tired retread of a James Cain type of story about lovers enmeshed in murder, but several elements combine to lend it special distinction. Tiompkin's moody piano score is one. Preminger's and Stradling's achievement of visual sweep and scale by economical means is another. Mitchum's bored stare, par for the course in his Hughes pictures, here works nicely to play up the way in which he is defenselessly caught up in Simmons' psychosis, most of the time thinking he is in complete control. Most of all, however, Simmons radiates an intense, fatalistic gloominess, and invests her femme fatale character with an oversized sense of morality that is all the more poignant for being an inadequate and temporary development.
See also Paul M.'s post at Noir of the Week.
Labels: Otto Preminger