Angel Face - Warner Archive CollectionOverview -
One of Hollywood’s most shocking and hypnotic film noirs, Angel Face combines a fascinating story with expert direction from Otto Preminger, top-notch performances from Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum, and a humdinger of an ending that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless. Warner Archive’s brand new 4K scan of the best preservation elements is a knockout and the remastered audio and terrific commentary by noir expert Eddie Muller add to the appeal of this essential release. Highly Recommended.
Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons star in this film noir thriller about a man trapped in the web of an alluring, deadly, remorseless woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants and who conceals the evil within behind her beautiful Angel Face. Heiress Diane Tremayne (Simmons) arranges for an ambulance driver to whom she's attracted, Frank Jessup (Mitchum), to be hired as her family's chauffeur. And Diane lures Frank away from his girlfriend even as she becomes increasingly jealous of her stepmother. When Diane's parents die in an automobile accident--and the police find evidence of tampering to the car--Diane and Frank are arrested as prime suspects. After Diane convinces Frank to marry her in jail, the two are both acquitted of murder. Now, as Diane realizes that she may have been able to seduce Frank but cannot make him truly love her, she decides she would rather kill again than lose him...
Special Features and Technical Specs:
- NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE BEST PRESERVATION ELEMENTS (2023)
- Audio Commentary by Eddie Muller
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
In the cluttered film noir landscape, some excellent movies get lost in the mix. One of them is Angel Face. While the noir cognoscenti are well aware of - and heap copious amounts of praise upon - this slow-burn tale of jealousy, murder, and retribution, the average viewer has probably never heard of producer-director Otto Preminger's riveting film. That's because Angel Face has been wrongfully overshadowed for decades by such iconic noirs as Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Murder, My Sweet, and The Big Sleep, to name but a few. Angel Face deserves to join that elite group. Once seen, this noir masterwork is impossible to forget and only gets better with every subsequent viewing.
I remember so well the first time I saw Angel Face way back in the early 1980s on a local TV station. It blew me away. Even when interrupted by commercials, the film cast a hypnotic spell and two gasp-inducing sequences instantly etched themselves in my memory. The closest comparison I can draw to those jaw-dropping scenes would be the stunning plot twist in the middle of William Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A., but the shock value in Angel Face is far greater because of the conservative era in which it was filmed.
Preminger loved to push buttons and push the censorship envelope throughout his career. His innocuous comedy The Moon Is Blue, released just six months after Angel Face, incited a furor because he refused to eliminate the word "virgin" from the script. Six years after that moviegoers blushed when James Stewart and Lee Remick repeatedly referred to a woman's "panties" in Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder. Though Angel Face doesn't contain any salacious sexual references, its visceral violence is equally groundbreaking and provokes both horror and a ghoulish glee over its brilliant execution and the delicious element of surprise.
"I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander. That's the guy who always gets hurt." If only Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) took his own advice. A strapping EMT who's called to the hilltop mansion of Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) to provide medical aid to his wife Catherine (Barbara O'Neil) after she's nearly asphyxiated by the gas from her bedroom fireplace, Frank becomes instantly bewitched by Charles' aloof and alluring daughter Diane (Jean Simmons), who doesn't seem particularly perturbed by her stepmother's brush with death.
The apple of her father's eye (and I mean that in the creepiest way possible), Diane bitterly resents Catherine for stealing her father's affection and attention. Her jealousy and hatred eat away at her soul and drive Diane to drastic lengths to eradicate Catherine from her life. Frank recognizes Diane's neurosis, but can't resist her charms and quickly gets entangled in her dangerous web. Diane may have the face of an angel, but Frank soon discovers she more closely resembles the Angel of Death.
Preminger initially - and quite masterfully - lulls us by focusing on Diane's subtle manipulations, devious machinations, and burgeoning relationship with Frank. Then, all of a sudden, he literally puts the pedal to the metal with an out-of-nowhere jolt of violence that shifts the tale into high gear and hurtles it toward its devastating denouement. When "The End" finally flashes on the screen, a big exhale is required before sitting back, cracking a wry smile, and whispering "Wow." Few movies provoke such a reaction and Angel Face is chief among them.
The film would mark Preminger's final foray into the murky world of noir, after helming such notable noir entries as Laura (the movie that put him on the cinematic map), Fallen Angel, Whirlpool, and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Angel Face is arguably Preminger's darkest noir, and though it's difficult to ignore the narrative links to Double Indemnity and especially The Postman Always Rings Twice, the screenplay by former New York Times film critic Frank S. Nugent (who would write scripts for 11 John Ford pictures, including Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man [for which he received an Oscar nomination], Mister Roberts, and The Searchers) and Oscar Millard takes the story in new and provocative directions and contains some welcome black humor.
Frank isn't as dumb as most noir heroes, but he allows Diane to sink her hooks into him. Like many men, he believes he's always in control and his good looks and macho swagger will rectify his wrongs. The part was tailor-made for Mitchum and he brings to it his customary understated bravado, beguiling cynicism, and innate toughness. He also generates plenty of electricity with the ravishing Simmons, who keeps us transfixed throughout.
Much to my continual dismay and frustration, the luminous Simmons rarely receives her proper due, despite filing an array of fine performances in a variety of roles. Angel Face is Exhibit A. Her chilling portrayal adds fresh, complex elements to the femme fatale playbook, and though her Diane Tremayne should rank alongside Barbara Stanwyck's Phyllis Dietrichson, Lana Turner's Cora Smith, Jane Greer's Kathie Moffat, and Kathleen Turner's Matty Walker as one of the all-time top femme fatales, you won't find Simmons on any list. (I checked a few and came up empty.) Simmons starred in many big-budget blockbusters, but in the intimate, cheaply made Angel Face this gifted actress makes an indelible impression.
The excellent supporting cast supplies additional luster. As the doting father, Marshall deftly conveys his underlying lascivious feelings for his daughter, while O'Neil, best known for portraying Scarlett O'Hara's mother in Gone with the Wind (a fact that's difficult to overlook considering Simmons' striking resemblance to Vivien Leigh), shades her performance with just the right amount of ambiguity. Leon Ames, who played a bulldog prosecutor in The Postman Always Rings Twice, shines as a bulldog defense attorney and Mona Freeman provides some spunk as the virtuous girlfriend Frank jilts in favor of the sexier Diane.
Angel Face is the little noir that could. It's not flashy, but like the piano sonatas Diane plays intermittently throughout the film, it's elegant, lyrical, and haunting...and crescendos to a shattering climax. Though it may not be properly valued just yet by mainstream audiences, this primo Preminger production is worth its weight in gold.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Angel Face arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A brand new 4K scan of the best preservation elements yields a terrific 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that faithfully honors the striking cinematography of two-time Oscar-winner and 14-time nominee Harry Stradling. Grain is evident and preserves the feel of celluloid, but never calls undue attention to itself. Deep blacks and crisp whites anchor the image, while beautifully varied grays provide essential contours and heighten depth. Excellent shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, razor-sharp close-ups highlight Simmons’ breathtaking beauty and Mitchum’s rugged machismo, and not a single nick, mark, or errant scratch dots the pristine print. Though the Angel Face DVD looked quite nice, this Blu-ray rendering is a notable step up and definitely warrants an upgrade.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track supplies clear, well-modulated sound that enhances the noir atmosphere. A wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of Dimitri Tiomkin’s haunting score without any distortion, and the dulcet solo piano tones supply a hint of creepy elegance. Sonic accents like sirens, honking horns, facial slaps, and the all-important revving car engines are distinct, while subtleties like faint footsteps come through cleanly. All the dialogue is easy to comprehend and any age-related hiss, pops, and crackle have been meticulously erased.
In addition to the audio commentary that's ported over from the DVD, this Blu-ray release also contains the movie's original theatrical trailer, which is not listed on the packaging.
Audio Commentary - Recorded in 2007 by film noir expert and TCM host Eddie Muller, this commentary is paired here with a standard definition transfer of the film. The reason for that is because the commentary didn't sync properly with the Blu-ray's new 4K scan that was struck from different and better elements and contained a number of frames that were left out of the previous source. Much to its credit, Warner Archive recognized the commentary's value and decided to include it in this unorthodox manner. Though I wish I could listen to Muller's remarks while watching the breathtaking new transfer, it would have been a blow to lose this exemplary track that greatly enhances appreciation for the film. Muller calls Angel Face "an almost perfectly constructed film" and says Preminger took "what could have been a run-of-the-mill B...[and] made...something exceptional." He also praises the screenplay and the power it gives its female characters, examines Simmons' rocky professional relationship with Howard Hughes, chronicles the production's backstory, shares a personal recollection of Simmons, debunks a theory about the evolution of the femme fatale, and points out the differences between the original screenplay/treatment and finished film. If you're a diehard Angel Face fan or a newly dazzled viewer, this commentary is essential.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The original Angel Face preview gives away a key plot element, so don't watch it until after you've seen the film.
One of the all-time great film noirs with a humdinger of an ending you will never forget, Angel Face remains slick, seductive, and shocking 70 years after its premiere, thanks to Otto Preminger's taut direction, a literate script, and the magnetic performances of Robert Mitchum and especially Jean Simmons. Restored video and audio make this long-awaited Blu-ray release well worth an upgrade and a slam-dunk for fans of noir, Preminger, and the film's stars. Highly Recommended.
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