Angel Face (1952)

OTTO PREMINGER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1952. . Story by , Screenplay by , . Cinematography by . Produced by Otto Preminger. Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

was furious when she learned that her contract had been sold by the Rank Organization to American businessman and Hollywood Svengali Howard Hughes, and tried to avoid working for him by cutting all her hair off, believing it would make her uncastable in the famously picky womanizer’s eyes. Angry with what he considered an ungrateful actress for refusing the benefits of his supervision, Hughes cast her in this film and arranged that the three weeks of shooting would coincide with the end of her contract, forcing a wig on her head (it shows) and hiring Otto Preminger to direct, believing that he would get proper revenge on Simmons by subjecting her to the maestro’s famously tyrannical ways.

The plan backfired somewhat, as Simmons actually had a good time making this movie, particularly enjoying the company of as her co-star, who stood by her side against the filmmaker whenever his obsessive tactics got out of hand (when Preminger asked Mitchum to smack Simmons across the face one too many times, Mitchum smacked Preminger instead).

The results that appear on screen don’t bear witness to any of these birthing difficulties, a sleek and streamlined film noir soap opera whose ridiculous murder plot is treated to top-notch direction and an infallible sense of including only what is necessary to keep things moving along. Mitchum plays an ambulance driver who is called to the scene of a distressed, wealthy woman () who believes that someone tried to kill her in the middle of the night. She’s written off as a silly hysteric but Mitchum hangs around after meeting her stepdaughter (Simmons), a beautiful young woman with whom he quickly strikes up a friendship that turns to love (though the way they play it, they make it obvious that it’s lust).

Mitchum leaves behind his faithful girlfriend and falls in deep with Simmons, accepting the job when she convinces her stepmother to make him the family chauffeur, and accepting the money she loans him to help fund his future dream of owning his own auto repair shop. When both Simmons’ father () and stepmother die in a horrible accident (one that could have been avoided if someone pointed out that there probably shouldn’t be a steep cliffside right next to their driveway), the young couple are put on trial for suspicion of having tampered with their car, encouraged to go so far as to marry because their lawyer () believes it will help them look good to the jury.

The outcome of the trial leads Mitchum to start wondering just much of his life has been happenstance and how much was the result of Simmons’ machinations, is she really the meek innocent that she seems, or is there a calculating mind behind all these accidental meetings and even more accidental deaths? Going through the film’s twists and turns is a dangerous car ride in itself, Preminger rewrote the script constantly throughout production (reportedly improving it) and it’s obvious that he doesn’t take it at all seriously, but it’s worth watching for the sexy chemistry between the two young leads and for the outrageously daring ending.

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