Daily Archives: April 3, 2021

Black Angel (1946)

*. Basically Phantom Lady over again. Both films are based on Cornell Woolrich stories, though he was reportedly unhappy with how this one was adapted. Once again a married man is charged with murder, though this time he is suspected of killing a lover who had been blackmailing him. He is tried, found guilty, and sent to death row, effectively disappearing from the movie. His wife sets out to prove his innocence.
*. It’s not as good a movie as Phantom Lady. Director Roy William Neill was a prolific journeyman, probably best known for directing a pile of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, the first of Universal’s horror ensembles. He wasn’t an old man but this was his last movie as he died of a heart attack soon after finishing it. I think he does fine, but he’s no Robert Siodmak in the style department, and indeed doesn’t even try for much in that regard.
*. The cast is second tier. Dan Duryea and June Vincent are the leads and you’ll have to be a real fan of the period to recognize their names. Peter Lorre just shows up and tries to amuse himself by seeing how low he can dangle a cigarette from his lips while delivering his lines. There’s even one scene where he’s on the telephone and he hangs it up as he’s still talking to the guy on the other end. That’s just lazy and careless on everyone’s part.
*. The one thing that does stand out is the twist in the plot that comes at the end. That took me by surprise, even though I was puzzling throughout how they were going to make the romantic angles all square off, as they were getting mighty murky by the standards of Code Hollywood. Well, they don’t manage it very easily, as things take a turn for the wildly improbable in the final act. And I’m left wondering if Carver & Martin wouldn’t have been a better outcome. Wouldn’t they have been good for each other? She’s on her way to becoming a star and he’s kicked his drinking habit. As for hubby, when Vincent points to his photo and asks Duryea if he thinks that looks like a killer, don’t you want to say, “Yes!”
*. There’s a not uncommon flaw in mystery stories where they tease us with red herrings and misdirections that, in the finale, turn out to make more sense than the actual explanation that’s given. Black Angel may fall into this category. The ending we’re left with just doesn’t add up, though it does deserve some points for weirdness and mocking expectations.