79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2000
This 1946 memorable noir boasts a fine cast that includes: Peter Lorre, Dan Duryea, June Vincent, and the stunningly beautiful Constance Dowling. Based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich and directed by Roy William Neill, Black Angel's storyline hinges on the elements that comprise many noir classics. Murder, blackmail, deceit, and a race against time to prove a desperate man's innocence are the essential plot elements that propell Neill's film through the uncertainties of urban darkness. Cheating husband Kirk Bennett (John Phillips) is wrongfully convicted of murder and is sentenced to die in the electric chair. This time it is a woman, Kirk's wife Cahterine ( June Vincent) who intensifies the murder investigation. As Kirk's execution date draws near, Catherine instills the help of an alcoholic songwriter, Marty Blair (Dan Duryea). Blair is the ex-husband of the murdered woman ( Constance Dowling). The unlikely pairing uncover a trail of clues that lead them to a swarthy night club owner named Marko ( Peter Lorre). Great performances by all actors highlight the picture. Lorre is excellent as the shaddy club owner who is being blackmailed. June Vincent as Catherine gives an admirable performance as she attempts to balance emotional distance and closeness with the rejuvenated Marty. But it is Constance Dowling as Mavis Marlowe who devours her screen time with vampish presence. Mavis exudes sexual danger as a pretensiously concieted singer who lives in a posh high-rise apartment surrounded by trinkets that reaffirm her beauty and status. Why Dowling never achieved the same screen stardom as actresses such as: Lauren Bacall, Barbara Stanwyck, or Rita Hayworth is mystifying. Maybe that is why films such as Black Angel are worth viewing over and over again.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2004
Within the last ten years or so, I've really come to appreciate films of the `noir' period, so I was pleased to see a couple of the major studios cracking their vaults and releasing some to DVD. The snappy dialogue (including all those wonderful euphemisms), the immaculately dressed characters (who do you know who dresses `to the nines' to go out and buy a newspaper or pack of cigarettes? Unfiltered, of course...), the bleak atmosphere, scheming mugs, cynical tough guys, and beautiful, yet dangerous, dames...it's a world rarely defined in terms of black or white, but various shades of gray, where very little is as it seems...
Black Angel (1946), directed by Roy William Neill (his last film before his death), who did a handful of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes throughout the 40's, stars Dan Duryea (Scarlet Street, The Flight of the Phoenix) and June Vincent (Trapped by Boston Blackie). Also appearing is the ever lovable, bugged eyed Peter Lorre (Casablanca) and J. Edgar Hoover look-a-like Broderick Crawford (New York Confidential).
After the murder of a particularly nasty woman with a penchant for extortion (as we find out later), Catherine Bennett's (June Vincent) husband Kirk is fingered for the crime, since he was the last person witnessed going to the woman's apartment (woo woo), but, as we saw, she was already dead when he got there (hey Kirk, nice job of getting your grimy fingerprints all over everything in her posh apartment...did you really have to pick everything up, including the gun? Knucklehead...) Catherine knows he's innocent, of the murder at least, and feels she must learn the truth, as the great, whopping pile of evidence pointing towards Kirk, aka Mr. Touchy, has scheduled an appointment for him in the gas chamber for a crime he didn't commit. She seeks the aid of the murdered woman's estranged husband, Martin Blair (Duryea), who's been on one heck of a bender since getting the old heave ho by his wife, especially now that she's dead, and isn't inclined at first to help, but soon has a change of heart as Catherine's a heck of a looker and certain possibilities begin to cross his mind. The trail leads our two junior detectives to Mr. Marko (Lorre), a nightclub owner and generally shady character (I did think it was really cool him having a barber chair and set up right in his office...imagine a haircut and shave whenever you wanted). Time is against the plucky pair (well, June is kinda plucky, but not so much Martin...I would call him optimistically opportunistic), as Kirk's day of reckoning is quickly approaching (movie justice sure is swift).
All in all, I thought this was a pretty good film, with a few problems, mainly in the plot. I thought June Vincent (she's a real knockout and sings well, too) and Dan Duryea did well (nice coif Duryea...looks like a can of pomade a day man) but the enjoyment came from Peter Lorre's semi-sinister character of Marko. Sadly, his role was relegated to that of a supporting player, so he didn't appear as much as I would have liked. Even when he plays the most despicable of characters, he's just so damn adorable, you can't help but love him...and that distinctive voice. As an actor, he just seemed to fit so well in the time when he was most popular, playing the characters he did. I thought the direction was highly professional (a perfect example is at the beginning, as we're outside and we see a shot of a cab pulling up to a hotel...as the cab stops, we see from the sign on the cab door that informs us the film takes place in some city in California...it may not seem like much, but the beauty is in the subtlety. A less capable director would have found a way to beat us over the head with this minor fact. I thought the dialog pretty good, but not as snappy as I would have liked...I suppose it's probably because I use The Maltese Falcon as a frame of reference for `gangster speak' (unfairly, I admit) when it comes films within the genre. The problems, for me, lie in the plot. Initially, it seemed like there were some gaping holes, but those were cleared up later on...leaving some minor pot holes causing a niggling sense of the parts not all fitting together quite right. Kirk being such a gullible chump, the convoluted part about Catherine and Martin forming an act as to allow them to infiltrate Marko's club (I had a good laugh when a certain revelation was made that torpedoed their well laid plans and essentially sunk their efforts). After awhile, and well before the identity of the killer is revealed, I guessed whodunit, although I was a bit fuzzy on one particular detail, which was haphazardly explained away (in my opinion). Also, given the who the killer was, I was a bit surprised at the ease of which the killer managed to slip by Kirk when they were both in the murdered woman's apartment, at the beginning of the film, but given what a bonehead Kirk was, I guess I can't pick at that point too much. Also, did it seem to anyone else like the only reason to have June Vincent's character sing a couple of numbers was to capitalize on her singing ability, rather than forward the storyline along? She was a very good singer, but that whole plot element seemed awkward and jammed into the story, interrupting the general flow. I suppose I'm probably making too much of these essentially minor elements, as the film is really pretty entertaining, and deeply steeped with the `noir' qualities I was looking for when I bought it.
The print Universal used on this DVD looks pretty good, with a few, very minor aging elements apparent. The picture is full screen (original aspect ratio), and the audio is excellent. Included is an original theatrical trailer.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
A sexy singer, an ex lover and a dutiful wife: classic film noir lover's triangle tinged with a race against time and singed in sparkling performances from a stellar cast. In "Black Angel" femme fatale chanteuse Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) turns up dead. Kirk Bennett (John Phillips) who used to be her lover seems the natural choice for the police's prime suspect and their latest blackmail victim. No one believes Kirk's story - it is a little hard to swallow - that he found Mavis already a goner on the floor of her apartment. However, when Kirk is sentenced to death, his long-suffering, too-good-to-be-true wife, Catherine (June Vincent) begins to investigate the crime for answers of her own. She's aided by Martin Blair (Dan Duryea) Mavis' husband. The film is riddled with rich curiosities of character; Kirk's philandering innocence, Mavis' evil vixen turned victim, Catherine's never wavering devotion to her wayward hubby and Blair's nonchalant, noncommittal dedication to discovering who really killed his wife. At one point Blair even goes so far as to offer himself as Kirk's replacement, should salvation not come in time to spare him from the electric chair. It must be love! An outstanding cameo comes by way of Peter Lorre as Marco, the always spurious, never to be trusted seedy nightclub owner who happened to visit Mavis Marlowe on the night she bought the farm. It should be pointed out however, that the suspense of finding the killer gets somewhat diffused in the process and never quite reaches the par excellence caliber of say, "The Asphalt Jungle" or "Laura."
Another solid effort from Universal.The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks and whites that are almost pristine. There's a hint film grain and some age related artifacts. Also, some edge enhancement and pixelization occur as well but nothing that will distract. The audio is mono and very well represented. There are no extras on this disc. Nevertheless, it is a good disc to add to your library of classic cinema.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2004
This seems almost like two movies. The first hour is only mildly entertaining and the dialogue is clunky. As noted by another reviewer, Peter Lorre seems wasted; I think this was partly because his part was not written to be as menacing as it should have been. The excellent Dan Duryea, as the alcholic husband of a murdered woman, is interesting to watch, but he is swimming upstream through all the bad lines he has to speak. The plot line is intriguing enough: the wife (June Vincent) of the convicted killer conducts her own investigation to free him. The story becomes a little hard to swallow, though, because characters are constantly surprised by "new facts" that Miss Vincent uncovers. In the real world, these facts would have been brought to light much earlier. For example, Dan Duryea has never seen a picture of his wife's already-convicted killer until June Vincent shows it to him! He only then realizes that this was not the man he saw going to his wife's apartment shortly before her death. Why wasn't all this unearthed at the trial if not during the police investigation?
The last half hour of the film suddenly explodes into gritty noir, sort of a cross between "Lost Weekend," the "Snake Pit," and "Spellbound." It'a almost as though another director and writer took over. Even the cast is energized. Duryea is at his drunken, perspiring, tortured best and the ending will surprise you. I thought I had the killer identified after the first five minutes of the film, but I was very wrong. So the movie redeems itself in a way that makes you glad you kept watching.
A nice example of low-budget film noir starring an underrated actor, Dan Duryea!