Thursday, November 09, 2017
Angel Face (1953)
Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (Holiday Affair, His Kind of Woman), Jean Simmons (the original Blue Lagoon, The Big Country), and Jim Backus (Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town, His Kind of Woman).
What It's About: A man (Mitchum) is drawn into the world of a poor little rich girl (Simmons) who at best craves drama and at worst may be trying to murder her step-mother.
How It Is: I'm a big fan of Jean Simmons, so it was tough to watch her play such a miserable character. She does it well though and I was sucked into the story of her relationship with Mitchum's Frank.
Frank is a complicated character himself. He's dating a woman named Mary (Mona Freeman), but insists that he's a romantic "free agent" and Mary acknowledges this, even if she doesn't fully accept it. So he's not a great guy, but he's also not exactly doing anything wrong when he starts to spend more and more time with Simmons' Diane. And I like that he's smart enough to recognize Diane's behavior as troubling.
His problem is that he trusts his detachment to protect him from whatever Diane's planning. He always leaves himself an exit from her, thinking that he can walk away at any time, but he underestimates her intelligence and determination. In it's own, noirish way, Angel Face has a strong feminist message for womanizing men.
There's a part late in the movie where Frank's true flaw is clearly revealed. Like I said, he's not a great guy, but he's not an awful person, either, and there's a lot that I admire in him. He's smart, and even if he's determined not to commit to anyone, then at least he's up front about it. But while he insists on being free to hang out (and make out) with Diane, it becomes more and more evident that he wants to keep Mary on the hook as well. And he resents it when she starts showing interest in their mutual friend Bill (Kenneth Tobey).
At one point, after Frank has been damaged by Diane and he's looking for comfort from Mary, he laments to her that he ever met Diane. Mary's response to him is great when she reminds him that Bill was also there when Frank and Diane met. Bill had the same opportunity as Frank to get pulled into Diane's web, but he resisted. Which means that Diane's not the problem in Frank and Mary's relationship; Frank is. It's a powerful revelation, powerfully stated.
(Footnote: I mentioned Backus in the cast, so I should follow up and say that he's not a big part of the movie. He has a minor, but important role as a lawyer, but it's Jim Backus, so it was worth mentioning.)
Rating: 3 out of 5 bummed out bluebloods