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Angel Face Macbeth

A few movie notes before I get going with the real work of the day.

  1. I started watching The Tender Bar and turned it off after fifteen minutes. Sorry if you loved it. It struck me as broad and cliched.
  2. So it was time to head to the Criterion Channel and check out Angel Face, a 1953 noir noted in a recent New Yorker.

Here’s the thing I appreciate this genre and this era: the movies are short. As in usually 90 minutes or less. They don’t demand much of your time, they don’t drag, there’s usually a jaw-dropping moment or two, and then you’re done.

So even if Angel Face wasn’t a masterpiece, it wasn’t following a completely predictable trajectory and had enough odd or unexpected moments to make it worth my time.


Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is a regular guy with a steady girl and a dream of owning his own garage when he crosses paths with Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons, in one her most unforgettable roles). She wants him. Or does she want a fall guy to blame when Diane’s stepmother plunges off a high cliff and leaves her fortune to Diane? Alibis, betrayals, courtroom thrills, and the fire of a femme fatale too dangerous to trust and too alluring to resist make ANGEL FACE a stone-cold noir classic.

I mean, I wouldn’t call it a classic, but there you go.

So yes, Simmons is sly as her psychopathic nature is slowly revealed. Mitchum is cool – too cool for my taste, and there’s really no chemistry between him and Simmons, honestly. Herbert Marshall is his usual likeable self as Diane’s father. Most likeable and natural of all are Mona Freeman as Frank’s girlfriend, Mary, and Kenneth Tobey as Frank’s co-worker and eventual romantic rival, Bill.

The movie moves a bit too quickly, though. Perhaps all it needed was a bit of cutting in the first third so the middle – arrest and courtroom scenes – didn’t seem quite so rushed.

Anyway, here’s the notable scenes and aspects:

First off, there are two car crashes that are, frankly shocking. They’re both somewhat surprising as they happen, but more than that, the brutality is heart-stopping, even if you know the figures flailing away in the tumbling cars are dummies.

The scene I’ll remember just as much, though, is quite different. It’s a wedding. Not a wedding of love at all, but of legal contrivance. It takes place in a medical facility in a woman’s jail, and after the quick vows, the nurses and patients start to warble O Promise Me – it’s an ironic and oddly moving little scene.

Speaking of music, that plays a large role in this film, not just for the soundtrack, but for the fact that Simmons’ character plays the piano. As we move through the film, she plays the same minor-inflected, melancholy tune throughout – mostly as she’s plotting – and it’s woven into the soundtrack. I do think this musical aspect adds an evocative layer to the film.

There’s some psychological subtlety in Angel Face. We’ve got Simmons’ relationship with her father, which is very close and affectionate (her mother died in an air-raid during the war in London). Then we’ve got her own reaction after her actions begin to bear fruit – with unexpected consequences. If you want a good spoiler-full discussion, go here.

An irritating thing, though – the digital transfer on the Criterion Channel was terrible – heavily pixilated or whatever. To make sure it wasn’t a general problem, I started 8 1/2 and watched it for a few minutes – crystal clear. So that’s unfortunate.

And then, The Tragedy of Macbeth. It’s playing, thank goodness at our local independent film venue (because it will be streaming on Apple TV, and we don’t have that). We managed to see it before College Guy headed back. It’s very good. I don’t have an argument with any individual bit of it – casting, staging, editing choices. Most notable, I think, is Kathryn Hunter as the Witches – who ends up stealing the movie. She’s just remarkable.

Again: I thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth, but at the same time it made me want to see a more naturalistic take on the play, one in which we could see a bit more struggle. Of course it’s all there in the words, but I’m not just reading it. I’m watching it. As good as this Macbeth is, it has a very predetermined air about it, perhaps because of the artificiality of the environment, as striking as it is.

So I went looking – of course, I’ve seen and enjoyed the Patrick Stewart version. But even that is highly affected in setting.

It was late (last night), so Orson Welles’ 1948 version was as far as I got and….wow. I liked it. Yes, there’s artificiality about it as well. The sets are a bit more natural-looking, but it’s still obviously a set. And I don’t think I’m a fan of using the Scottish brogue. But in Welles’ and Jeanette Nolan’s performances, there’s a slow burn of decision-making and tension that I just didn’t get from the Coen version. I only watched the first fifteen minutes, but we’ll watch more. The editing and re-arranging of scenes was also quite interesting and, I think, didn’t hurt the play at all.

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