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.

30 thoughts on “Black Angel (1946)

    1. Alex Good

      It’s minor noir, and I wouldn’t call it a must-see for anyone but a big fan. Lorre seems to be trying to show just how little work he can do and still get paid. You had to love him in The Maltese Falcon though!

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    You guys are up early! Great piece; this fits right in with the in depth discussion on Cornell Woodridge going on last month at Mysteriously, your comments on that piece do not mention your interest in the subject at the time….

      1. Alex Good Post author

        Could have just clicked on the link to the notes on Phantom Lady. Where I clearly copyright any further use of the name Cornell Woolrich.

      2. tensecondsfromnow

        I am Cornell Woolrich, and I would demand you take down the review of my work in leopard Man, except I see now that you never mentioned me or my book Black Alibi, which the film was based on. I invite you to meet with my lawyers at the soonest possible juncture.

        Yours sincerely

        famous author

        “Chris’ Cornel Wooldrich

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        Oh, so you think YOU are the judge of whether someone is Cornel Woolridge or not? You don’t even mention him in reviewing adaptations of his work!

        Best wishes

        Colonel Woolridge (Mrs)

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I’ve got notes on Samourai and Cercle Rouge up. But I think what you must be referring to mainly is Concorde: Airport ’79 . . .

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