Angel Face

Released:  1953

Cast:  Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman, Herbert Marshall

SUMMARY:  Frank Jessup is a veteran and an ambulance driver, who one evening is called to the Tremayne residence.  There, Catherine Tremayne has nearly been killed by gas escaping from her fireplace, but was rescued in time.  The police, who are already there, believe the incident to be an accident.  As Frank is leaving the house, he meets Catherine’s stepdaughter Diane, who is very upset by the events.  Frank manages to calm her down before he leaves.  He then goes to a diner; Diane follows him, and the two decide to go to dinner together.  During dinner, Frank tells Diane that he had been a racecar driver, and that he and his girlfriend Mary are trying to save up money for him to open a garage.  The next day, Diane meets Mary for lunch, and offers her $1000 for the garage.  In the process, she “accidentally” lets slip that she and Frank had had dinner the night before.  After this, Mary and Frank begin to grow apart, while Diane and Frank grow closer.  Diane convinces her father to hire Frank as a chauffeur, and to let him live in their guest apartment.  She even talks to Catherine about investing in Frank’s garage.  As they spend more and more time together, Diane and Frank begin a relationship.  However, Diane’s hatred of her stepmother resurfaces when Catherine seems genuinely interested in Frank’s garage proposal.  Diane tells Frank that Catherine has refused the project (which is a lie); she also tells him that if Catherine found out about their relationship, she would disapprove.  According to Diane, Catherine would fire Frank and be mean to Diane’s father:  after all (according to Diane), Catherine had already tried to kill her (Diane) with the gas fireplace accident.

All of this begins to sour Frank on his relationship with Diane, and he decides to go back to Mary, and to quit his job.  However, while he is packing his things, Diane shows up and manages to cajole him into staying for a few more days.  He tells her that he will reconsider their relationship, but is through as the chauffeur.  Not long after, Catherine prepares to drive herself on a trip.  At the last minute, Diane’s father, Charles, joins her in the car.  When Catherine puts the car in gear, it instead shoots backward and goes over a steep cliff.  The resulting crash kills both Catherine and Charles.  As the heir to Catherine’s considerable wealth, Diane is suspected:  because it was a car accident, Frank is also suspected.  To gain favor with the jury, the lawyers advise Frank and Diane to get married.  During the trial, the lawyers play up that relationship, and the jury acquits both of them.  When the trial is over, Frank tells Diane that he is leaving her.  He tries to go back to Mary, but she refuses to have him.  At the same time, Diane goes to her lawyer’s office and confesses to the entire crime.  She is ready to take the punishment for the crime, and is dismayed to learn that because of double jeopardy, she cannot be found guilty, despite her confession.  When Diane and Frank meet up again at the Tremayne house, Diane tries one last time to convince Frank to stay with her.  He refuses again, but agrees to let her drive him to the bus.  When they climb into the car, instead of driving away, Diane puts the car in reverse and drives it backward over the same steep cliff.  Just as before, the accident kills both pasengers.

MY TAKE:  This is a very stereotypical film noir:  there’s a mystery, a troubled hero and a femme fatale.  Unlike most films of this type, the femme fatale actually wins (sort of).  Frank becomes obsessed with Diane quickly after meeting her, even though she’s basically stalking him.  This would be enough to make me suspicious, but Frank doesn’t seem to get worked up about much of anything.  Apparently, he’s also a very slow learner.  When he starts to wonder if Diane’s a little off, he tries to leave and go back to Mary (whom he clearly should never have left).  Of course, he has to go back and get his clothes, and Diane just happens to show up.  Despite the fact that she is pretty clearly off her rocker, Frank’s obsession gets the better of him, and he agrees to stay with her.  Then there’s the whole dead-parents episode.  By this time, Frank should have been running away from Diane as fast as his legs could carry him.  Instead, he agrees to marry her.  This may have gotten him off the hook at the trial, but personally, I think being in jail would beat being dead.  While he never acknowledges it, you have to think that Frank has figured out that Diane is behind all these dangerous events (the gas leak, the car crash).    Just to prove he’s an idiot, he gets in the freaking car with her after telling her that their relationship is over.  I would think that being in a car with someone you’ve just broken up with would be uncomfortable for anybody, but when that person is a homicidal maniac, it’s just a brainless thing to do.  Everybody except Frank sees what’s coming next.

RATING:  Standard film noir with a twist ending.


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