Saturday, August 6, 2011
Fallen Angel (1945)
This time Andrews is a drifter named Eric Stanton who is kicked off a bus when he doesn’t have the money to pay his fare. He was heading for San Francisco but now he’s stuck in a sleepy seaside town a hundred miles short of his destination, and penniless. Stanton had been a successful publicist before gambling and love gone wrong caused him to hit the skids. But he still has a talent for selling people and when he discovers that the celebrated psychic Professor Madley (John Carradine) is about to hit town he sees a chance to make enough money to get him to San Francisco. He’ll drum up plenty of publicity and they can split the profits.
Every man in town wants Stella. But while Stella likes men well enough she’s not the kind of gal who jumps into bed with any good-looking guy who comes along. She makes it very clear that if a man wants to sleep with her he’d better be prepared to put a wedding ring on her finger. And until she has the ring he’s not even going to get to first base. And he’ll need more than just the dough for a ring - Stella wants a house and she wants nice things and she knows that with her looks she can get them.
Given that Eric’s entire fortune amounts to the princely sum of one dollar Stella is not inclined to take him too seriously as a suitor. But Eric convinces her that he knows how to lay his hands on money, big money, and if she will just wait a week or so he’ll be able go give her everything she dreams of.
But of course it isn’t so easy. Sweeping June off her feet is no problem, and getting her to the altar also presents no difficulties, but before Eric has a chance to put the rest of his plan into operation he finds himself a murder suspect. A dead woman, a very shaky alibi, a suspicious cop who dislikes him, it all adds up to a sticky situation for Eric. The fact that he arrived in town as a penniless drifter isn’t likely to help his case either.
Even where we seem to have a straightforward contrast between darkness and light it turns out that what we really have are shades of grey. At first glance the dark-haired sexy bad girl (Stella) and the blonde virginal good girl (June) seem like a very old Hollywood cliché. But Preminger presents this cliché in an ironic manner. Is Stella really a bad girl? She won’t have sex with a man until he marries her, she won’t go out with married men. And she never lies to men. She tells them the score right from the start. She might be somewhat mercenary, but that could just as easily be seen as being sensible. Stella knows that money is no guarantee of a happy marriage, but she has no doubt that it sure does help. It’s difficult to disagree with her. Stella has a face and a body that make men do crazy things, but if a moth gets burned by a candle is that the candle’s fault?
Eric is a multi-layered character as well. He’s cynical and ruthless on the surface but underneath he’s really basically a decent man who has lost his way. Dana Andrews always gave fine performances for Preminger and this is no exception.
Preminger is in top form, giving full rein to his fondness for long takes and for elaborate tracking shots. These techniques are never intrusive. Preminger’s genius was to be stylish without calling attention to the fact. The Region 1 DVD includes an entertaining commentary track by Eddie Muller and Dana Andrews’ daughter. As is the case with other Fox Film Noir DVD release the picture quality is superb. An underrated movie and definitely one to buy. This is a movie you’ll want to watch more than once.