Tom McKnight, Roy William Neill for Universal
directed by Roy William Neill
starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling, Wallace Ford, Hobart Cavanaugh, Freddie Steele, John Phillips, Ben Bard, Junius Matthews, Marion Martin, Archie Twitchell, Maurice St. Clair, Vilova, Robert B. Williams, Dick Wessel, Mary Field, Pat Starling
screenplay by Roy Chanslor, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich, music by Frank Skinner
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When Kirk Bennett (John Phillips) arrives at his lover Mavis's
(Constance Dowling) hotel room late one night, he finds her dead,
murdered. He notices a brooch pinned to her dress, and thinks nothing as
he searches her room for clues, but when he looks at her body again, the
brooch is gone. And then he does exactly the wrong thing, instead of
calling the authorities immediately, he takes a long walk to air out his
head, and when he arrives home, Police Captain Flood (Broderick Crawford)
is already there to arrest him. He's sure he can prove his innocence - but
instead is sentenced to death.
Bennet's wife Catherine (June Vincent) is
convinced of his innocence nevertheless, even if he cheated on her, so she
swears to find the brooch, and if she finds the brooch she's sure the
killer can't be far. But she really has nobody to turn to, so she turns to
Mavis' ex-husband Martin (Dan Duryea) who has never stopped loving her,
and who would have had a motive for killing her even but too water-tight
an alibi to even suspect him. But since her death, Martin has turned a
hopeless drunk, and at first he doesn't want to have anything to do with
Catherine, especially since he, too, suspects her husband - but her
sincerity strikes a chord with him, and then he finds out the man he
witnessed going to her hotel wasn't Bennet at all, as he originally
assumed, but someone else. The only clue he and Catherine have though is a
phone number of a club - and when they visit it, Martin recognizes the
club's owner Marko (Peter Lorre) to be the mystery man whom he saw
entering Mavis' hotel. Now since Mavis is an accomplished singer and
Martin a professional pianist and composer, they go undercover in Marko's
club as a musical act to spy him out - and the more they investigate, the
more guilty he appears to be - but when they set a trap on him, it springs
on them instead, and not only that, they find out he has the most
water-tight alibis of all, he was with Captain Flood at the time the
murder happened, questioned about something else. Sure, he knew Mavis, and
had a motive to kill her as she blackmailed him, but it would have been
humanly impossible to kill her.
Catherine returns home a broken woman,
and Martin wants to cheer her up, but when she realizes he has actually
fallen in love with her and would like to take their relationship to the
next level, she sends him away - which breaks him, and he, who has sobered
up just for Catherine's sake, starts drinking again, and heavily so. And
then he, on the eve before Bennett's execution, finds Mavis' brooch, and
suddenly everything falls into place. But will he be able to get the
brooch to the police in time, or will the alcohol get the better of him.
And does he even want the truth out?
When it comes to murder
mysteries, it's pretty much impossible to beat the 1940s in both quality
and consistency - and the film noir is much more of a symptom of this than
the cause. And Black Angel is yet more proof of above claim, an
elegant noir that throws elements of love story and melodrama into the
mix, and even a subtext about alcoholism, to come up with a very coherent
movie that's cleverly built up and carried by a bunch of strong and
interesting characters, and brought to life by a bunch of first rate
performances, with Dan Duryea, film noir's favourite psychopath, playing a
man on the straight and narrow even better than one'd expect him to.
film that has really stood the test of time and is as tense and enjoyable
now as it has always been, and thus well worth a look.