Fallen Angel is a 1945 black-and-white film noir directed by Otto Preminger, with cinematography by Joseph LaShelle, who had also worked with Preminger on Laura a year before. The film features Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Charles Bickford. It was the last film Faye made as a major Hollywood star, and she did not make another film until State Fair (1962).
Bosley Crowther, film critic at The New York Times, liked the acting in the film but was disappointed by the story. He wrote, “As the frustrated adventurer, Dana Andrews adds another excellent tight-lipped portrait of a growing gallery. Linda Darnell is beautiful and perfectly cast as the sultry and single-minded siren, while Miss Faye, whose lines often border on the banal, shoulders her first straight, dramatic burden, gracefully. Charles Bickford, as a dishonorably discharged cop, Anne Revere, as Miss Faye’s spinster sister, and Percy Kilbride, as the lovesick proprietor of the diner in which Miss Darnell works, are outstanding among the supporting players. But for all of its acting wealth, Fallen Angel falls short of being a top flight whodunit.”
Critic Tim Knight, at Reel.com, notes that if the viewers can forget the “headlong dive into preposterousness, it’s still a lot of fun”. His review adds, “… the movie does have much to recommend, from Joseph La Shelle’s atmospheric, black-and-white cinematography to Preminger’s taut direction to the juicy, hard-boiled dialogue. Veteran character actors Charles Bickford, John Carradine and Percy Kilbride (of Ma and Pa Kettle fame) lend strong support to the sizzling twosome of Andrews and Darnell, who would make only one more film together, when they were both past their prime: 1957’s Zero Hour!, a forgotten grade-Z thriller.”
Critic Fernando F. Croce wrote of the film, “Fallen Angel, the director’s follow-up to his 1944 classic, is often predictably looked down as a lesser genre venture, yet its subtle analysis of shadowy tropes proves both a continuation and a deepening of Preminger’s use of moral ambiguity as a tool of human insight…Preminger’s refusal to draw easy conclusions—his pragmatic curiosity for people—is reflected in his remarkable visual fluidity, the surveying camera constantly moving, shifting dueling points-of-view in order to give them equal weight. Fallen Angel may not satisfy genre fans who like their noir with fewer gray zones, but the director’s take on obsession remains no less fascinating for trading suspense for multilayered lucidity.”
All The Elements Are There But It Doesn’t Really Work
The star player is Alice Faye. She gives a superb, if slightly overstated, performance. This is the only movie of hers I’ve seen, as musicals are generally not my thing. Here she is vulnerable but strong and exceptionally appealing.
The rest of the cast is good to excellent also. Charles Bickford is superb in a somewhat formulaic role. Dana Andrews gives a performance he gave often but that is good. Ann Revere is properly menacing as Faye’s older sister who doesn’t approve of what she’s doing.
Linda Darnell is good but something isn’t right about her. Maybe I prefer seeing her in a more favorable light. She was such a charming, beautiful actress, it’s hard to think of her as a bad girl. And, essentially, that’s what she plays here. Who wants to think of her as calculating and cold-blooded? The real star of “Fallen Angel” is its atmosphere. We have the usual drifter, a somewhat incongruous big-city cop, and the usual smalltime denizens in the small town where it takes place. A mood of doom hangs over this town and we sense that from the very beginning.
The cinematography is first-rate. The script is a little predictable but very literate.
It’s not “Laura” and, though the public at the time may have expected it to be, I don’t. But it falls short of the top rung of noir. And yet — It will haunt anyone who sees it. It’s not easy to shake off.
Better and more haunting than Preminger’s “Laura”
This neglected film noir gem by the great Otto Preminger is better and more poetic than Preminger’s previous classic “Laura”. For one thing, Preminger’s fluid camera work and long takes here reach perfection, pointing them toward his mature long takes and objectivity in 1950s with such dazzling masterworks as “Where the Sidewalk Ends”, “Angel Face”, “Anatomy of a Murder”. Each scene is shot and elaborated with precision, with minimum amount of edits to elucidate the emotions of the characters.
Also, Dana Andrews, with all his unique ambiguity and minimalism, turns in one of his finest performances ever; just a hint of his outstanding performance (and probably his best) in “Where the Sidewalk Ends”. Andrews’ co-stars Alice Faye and a sluttish Linda Darnell are great as well. The magnificent chiaroscuro photography by Joseph LaShelle has certain crispness and lucidity that is similar to Anthony Mann’s “T-Men”.
Some may find the second half of the film quaintly melodramatic and David Raksin’s romantic score is admittedly less memorable than “Laura” but “Fallen Angel” deserves to be seen and viewed within its credentials.
The effect is haunting and breathtaking.
This should be a hotly pursued video
Author: yardbirdsraveup from Connecticut
3 June 2004
There is so much to say about the way Otto Preminger directs a movie. His previous success, “Laura” (1944), was a blockbuster, but lacked the murky influence of film noir that was so popular during this time. Sure there was some film noir technique employed in “Laura”, but not enough. However, “Laura” still holds it’s own even by today’s standards and the media, along with the marketing people, have done us all a favor (this time!!!) in keeping this classic alive and popular.
Needless to say, “Fallen Angel” redeems Preminger’s ability to present a film in the classic noir of it’s time and because of this is competitive with Billy Wilder’s “Lost Weekend” (1945) and “Double Indemnity” (1944), both huge successes with audiences. But what about “Fallen Angel”?
Despite the cinematography and the super cast, “Fallen Angel” went to the chopping block via the critics. The critics rated this film as mediocre and audiences stayed away. Alice Faye, in her only dramatic role, left the movies in disgust partly because of what the critics did to this film. Why?
From beginning to end, the viewer is treated to some of the best cinematography that this art form had to offer. The way sluttish Linda Darnell is depicted before the camera is a treat for the eye and enhances her sexuality. The way Percy Kilbride is smitten with Darnell throughout the movie, up to the climax is an essential link to the continuity of the movie as well as with the novel by Marty Holland. The way Charles Bickford sits behind the lunch counter, slowly sipping his coffee sending a message to the viewer that something deep inside him is simmering, ready to explode. We all know that Bickford, along with Kilbride, Dana Andrews and Bruce Cabot all are victims to the whims of the dark Darnell.
And the way the blonde, good and virtuous Faye is contrasted with the dark, bad and selfish Darnell is more proof that this film should be marketed for the masses. The plot is strong, the camera work of Joseph LaShelle and, especially the film direction by Preminger rates this movie as one of the best of it’s time.
Yes, this film rates up there with “Laura”, “Double Indemnity” and “The Lost Weekend”; all three super classics from this era and available on VHS and DVD. Why not “Fallen Angel”?