Fallen Angel Reviews
Noir is a gateway drug into pulp novels, especially because so many of the former are based on the latter. This is how I know that they share many of the same failings. Certainly it will come as now surprise that they share a lot of the same dramatic devices, unto sharing the same clichés. Now, done well, even the clichés work well, but it does mean that seeking noir out for the sake of noir means you're going to encounter some turkeys along the way. I've watched several in the last few weeks. You will notice I haven't reviewed them. This is because I've pretty basically run out of things to say about bad noir. With this review, I may well run out of things to say about mediocre noir. Frankly, I'd much rather have written about [i]Big Love[/i] season one today, but apparently, it's not in the system, and with the setup as it is now, I'm not going to review it anyway.
Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) is your average noir drifter. We first see him asleep on a bus, and it becomes immediately obvious that he basically just bought a ticket to as far as his money would take him. And where it has taken him is Walton, California. He falls right away for sexy waitress Stella (Linda Darnell), who is quite clearly a woman with a past which the Code cannot really talk about. Eric is willing to do whatever it takes to be around her. First, this means helping out phony psychic Professor Madley (John Carradine), which then means ingratiating himself with local big shots Clara (Anne Revere) and June (Alice Faye) Mills. Without Clara's support, the performance will fail. And then, in ways I don't understand, Eric decides that he can get involved with June and rip off all her money. So they get married, because why not--and Stella is murdered on their wedding night. And naturally, Eric is the suspect.
Frankly, the plot only makes limited sense. By which I mean it basically doesn't make sense. I understand the marrying for money, but I don't understand why he thinks divorcing her will get him the money. It's possible there's some codicil in the whole thing I'm missing, that maybe the money got signed over to him. On the other hand, Clara makes it pretty clear that she wants to annul the marriage so he doesn't get a dime. So I don't know. Stella doesn't seem to, either, so that's something. Of course, she also really believes that he's fallen in love with June and is planning to use Stella for cheap, dirty sex. It doesn't seem all that unreasonable, really, and he certainly wouldn't be the first guy to do it. I'm also not really clear on why he's the obvious suspect in her murder, even if there was a witness who saw him looking for her. We are just, within the context of the movie, going along with the whole thing.
Honestly, Stella feels as though she's from a different movie entirely. Her sultry looks which draw the eyes of the town's men to her do belong in noir, but it almost feels as though she's there for token noirness. Likewise the murder. Let's face it, there's a perfectly serviceable plot without Stella. Even without her, there's a pretty shady side to Eric, and Clara's well within reason to distrust him. He don't need to see another woman for him to know that Eric's marrying June for the money, especially since it's about the first thing he finds out when he hits town. Stella, of course, is not the first woman ever tacked onto a movie for whatever reason, but it really feels as though they didn't know how to build a plot without her. I guess maybe they thought she builds suspense.
I'm not sure why this movie was in my Netflix queue. The two options I see are that Netflix itself recommended the movie based on something else I'd watched or that one of the two inferior 1000 Movies You Should Watch lists thinks, well, I should watch it. I mean, the 1001 list I generally use has a lot of bizarre choices in it, but the other two are essentially terrible. (No silent films and no documentaries?) I kind of wonder how many of the lesser movies I find on my queue got there out of an attempt to watch those lists' suggestions. Or, possibly, the main one. Or because the Netflix recommendation system is itself not the best. It does mean that, given the dearth of actual feature films from the library at the moment, that I've been dipping more heavily than usual into my own film collection.
However, it is a well produced piece. It was a subtle movie in what it was after, but still falls flat in its climax. A small companion type movie that still looked good and has ?some San Francisco? in it.
My current obsession is something I have pondered. I'm sure there is some sort of Freudian explanation for the level I have taken it to recently. I am femme fatale fodder for the taking.
So Stella, is something else. I've established that. I mean, she's got the stuff that dreams are shattered out of. Stella will chew you up and spit you out, and then charge you for her time....... they say you can judge a person's character based on how they take their coffee... For Stella, it's lot's of sugar, no cream. That's what I'm talking about.
People have claimed this film is not 'noir' enough for them. Interesting theory. It's definitely easy to spot, but hard to define. I think people should stop trying so hard to label noir, and just go with it. I would say that it's a safe bet to place this film in the dark realm of cinema.
Stella = true femme fatale...... or just sultry skank?
So, like many other films from this time, this one is an under appreciated noir classic. Highly recommended to all my fellow filmheads.
directed by Otto Preminger
written by Harry Kleiner
based on the novel by Marty Holland
starring Alice Faye, Linda Darnell, Dana Andrews, Charles Bickford, Anne Revere, John Carradine, Bruce Cabot, Percy Kilbride
In this bitter romance cloaked in all the futile formality of noir, a solid blue lust object is murdered by one of her many would be suitors.
Stella (Darnell) is the focus of just about every man in Walton, California. They come into the diner, Pop?s Eats, where she toils to shamelessly cast their gaze upon her lovely form. She?s a petty thief, taking money out of the till, and plays her hand coolly and with little or no emotional investment. Eric Stanton (Andrews) stumbles into town because he can?t afford the bus ride the rest of the way to San Francisco. He too is immediately transfixed by Stella and the film conveys much of their relationship after a fashion.
This is fairly passable noir. Through the cinematic eye of Joseph LeShelle it possesses all the right cruel lamentations of darkness juxtaposed neatly with the wide open treatment of mostly artificial light. It?s all about creating a criminal mood through shadows that obscure faces and lend the picture the ubiquitous sense of mystery. Stella is a player with a list of eager men as long as her immaculate arm and she gives nothing away, leaving herself ample room to radiate the facade of delicacy and vulnerability. Stanton is on to her straight away and devises a scheme to make her his wife.
Stanton is a soft con artist who tricks people seemingly out of the overarching need for survival. When we first meet him he cons his way into the empty motel room of another con artist named Professor Madley (Carradine) who fools people into thinking he can communicate with the dead. Stanton convinces two sisters, June (Faye) and Clara (Revere) Mills to attend the seance and they are horrified when Madley begins to share their finances with his crowd of dupes. They abscond and Stanton quickly meets up with them. He romances the reticent June and asks her to marry him which he accepts straight away. His devilish plan is to steal all poor June?s money and divorce her immediately so he can be with Stella and give her the home and security she craves.
The film does a fine job setting up its necessary revelation at the end. All of the clues are present if one is able to understand the machinations of obsession and desire. Stella oozes a type of sexuality that we just don?t see much of at the present time. Still, she is favorably matched by the more buttoned up allure of June who is played innocent and naive by the sheepishly lovely Alice Faye. It?s true that Stella is supposed to cast fear into the hearts of all men who see this picture but the true siren exists inside the heaving breast of June just waiting to finally be released. Stella is too obvious and too generic to truly make much of an impact in the end. It is June who scalds the screen because her flesh is far too impossible to caress as she seems scared, delicately so, by the touch of any man who might long to possess her. Stella has seen it all many times over and a kiss means little or nothing to her. But to June, the slightest brush of the hand is like dynamite and it has the potential to pummel her into ash.
The overall impact of the film suggests that obsession can drive any man to extreme lengths. It?s a tight lesson that all great noir films traffic in routinely. In this film Stella is held up as an object worth losing one?s head over. She has all the slinky moves, the silky voice, and the proper amount of indifference to make her into something wholly dangerous to any man that would dare to apprehend her. It is her lack of interest that makes men swoon when they first catch a glimpse of her. She dates men without allowing her emotions to get in the way of a good time and she takes full advantage of the desperate adoration that is afforded her by every man she meets. Then she meets Stanton and all her tried and true measures to remain cold and elusive fall apart at her feet. She finds herself being sucked in against her better judgment and takes him at his word. But then she ends up dead, probably strangled, perhaps with her throat slit, and the film quietly begins to unravel the mystery of her demise.
Pop?s Eats stands in as a viable touchstone where a considerable amount of action takes place. Pop (Kilbride) is an elderly gentleman who harbors his own manic fancy for Stella and early on when she disappears for a short while he is beside himself with worry imagining all sorts of terrible outcomes stemming from her absence. The crowd usually contains an ex New York cop named Judd (Bickford) who is hired on to lead the investigation into Stella?s death. Judd routinely has a panic in his eyes and it?s no mystery why he shows up every day during Stella?s shift to drink his coffee and share in town gossip.
Clara Mills seems to have closed her body off to the penetrating gaze of men. She affects a tired, biblical austerity that holds back the potential outbreak of wanton sexuality. Yet there is something vital and promising about her flesh hidden behind the garments of a first rate spinster. If June holds passions then her sister contains legions that must find some outlet somewhere. Yet Clara is not given an opportunity to realize her carnal aims and subsequently shuffles quietly off into the night. She represents an antithesis to the gay social life as demonstrated by the dance halls and beer joints that Stanton introduces June to in an attempt to show her what she?s missing. June is an easy mark and succumbs to the more worldly viewpoint of Stanton and his big New York sensibilities. June has settled in a small town and knows little of the world?s fast ways so she naturally jumps at the chance to experience life as it can be lived by those who know where to look.
The film creates a small-town aesthetic beset with minor joys and simple pleasures. Stanton represents a more world-weary dynamic and his presence shifts the tension outward toward more vast and potentially threatening concerns. He introduces a perspective that has been forged by moments and textures that are none too familiar to the denizens of Walton who remain oblivious to much of the cruelty with which the outside world amuses itself. A murder in this town of a lovely, dynamic girl who creates a sensation everywhere she goes is the kind of event that townsfolk will remember for many years to come. Where Stanton comes from murders are as prevalent as rain showers. He possesses a more cynical attitude to matters of life and death because he has been privy to more abject inhumanity than Walton?s residents. Thus when he breezes into town he brings with him memories of events, however vicariously experienced, that immediately cause folks in Walton to wag their tongues.
Every role in this film is filled by actors who get the most out of the material they have been handed. Alice Faye is quiet, almost meek, for much of this film. Her character remains distant and elusive in a different way than Stella. She has shut herself off to the world and is in danger of ending up like her sister forever swearing off men as sinister beasts with only one thing on their minds. Instead she opens herself up to life and puts herself consequently at risk. Faye captures June?s longing and determination as well as her ability to be duplicitous when the situation calls for it. Dana Andrews carries himself with trepidation and care throughout this film. His character is always observing in this film be it Stella or any situation he happens upon. Stanton is cool and reserved but ultimately not particularly interesting as a character. He is rather shallow and one doesn?t much desire to follow him throughout the film. Linda Darnell is certainly worthy of the attention her character is paid in this film. It?s clear what the intentions of the film makers are regarding Stella and for the most part they succeed. Darnell brings a sultry urgency to her character although she never quite reaches icon status with this role. She is not achingly desirable nor does her flesh create illicit thoughts of the sort that immediately cause one to blush. Still, she?s lovely enough and perfectly suited for this role.
Overall, this film conveys all the traditional aspects of noir. It?s dark, shadowy, and somebody did someone wrong. There is an elegance to the camera work and the editing superbly captures the essential character of the film. The sexual tension is electric and certainly present for the duration. The main object of desire proves to be secondary to the primal qualities inherent in the flesh of the second tier love interest. It isn?t supposed to focus on the allure of June but she proves to possess the most material for creative outbursts of erotic fury. Stella is a cold fish who has tired of sexual gymnastics and has nothing left to teach. June on the other hand is ripe for the plucking and consumed with many secret and filthy desires that can be released by the right manipulation. Unfortunately, she?s not going to be so awakened by Stanton who will never see what is right in front of him to be seen.