How could Robert Mitchum fall for the femme fatale? That was the question I kept asking myself as I watched Angel Face. Mitchum plays an ambulance driver named Frank Jessup who gets a call to the home of Diane Tremayne whose stepmother is found alive in her room with the gas running. A suicide attempt or a murder? In no time, Diane tries to sink her hooks into Jessup and we find out that she really doesn’t like her stepmother.
This is where the film differentiates itself from other noirs. My original question was answered with…he isn’t. Diane tries to bring Frank into her plot to murder her stepmother, but he only seems to take the job as her family’s chauffeur because he isn’t happy at home. She manages to drive a little wedge between the stepmother and him by getting his hopes up for possible business funding, but it’s still preexisting unhappiness that drives Mitchum. Meanwhile, Diane moves forward with her murderous plan.
The film is really the story of her obsessions, her “love”, and her guilt. Jessup is along for the ride and seems content with her till the end. The movie can feel trying at times, such as the trial sequence, because we don’t feel that Double Indemnity manipulation and step by step murder plot. The manipulation never takes hold and the murder comes suddenly. However, the fatalism is strong even if it is easy to miss at first. Jessup stepped into Diane’s toilet bowl when he arrived at her home at the beginning and we are just watching as it spins up to suck them both down.
Director Otto Preminger does a fine job and so do the actors, but while I think I get it, that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. Nothing made me care, nothing made me appreciate the fatalism, or enjoy the downward spiral. I felt like I was just on the fringes of the actual story of Diane’s self destruction rather than engaged in it. So for me, it gets a worth a look.