>> Thursday, November 15, 2007
USA/B&W-80m./Dir: Roy William Neill/Wr: Roy Chanslor/Cast: Dan Duryea (Martin Blair), June Vincent (Catherine Bennett), Peter Lorre (Marko), Broderick Crawford (Captain Flood), Constance Dowling (Mavis Marlowe), John Phillips (Kirk Bennett)
Lost Weekend-type boozing and edge-of-your-seat suspense combine in Black Angel, a forgotten noir mystery that deserves to be better remembered. Based upon a novel by pulp scribbler Cornell “Rear Window” Woolrich, the film tells the story of Marty Blair (Dan Duryea), a full-time drunk and part-time songwriter who goes on a colossal bender when his chanteuse wife rejects him on their anniversary. The next morning, Marty’s spouse is found straggled, and an unlucky sap who discovers the body is mistaken for the murderer. When the innocent man is sentenced to death, his wife (June Bennett) enlists Marty’s help to track down the real killer. The key to proving the condemned man’s innocence lies in finding a missing broach, possibly in the possession of a mysterious nightclub owner (Peter Lorre); but the larger mystery is whether Marty can stay sober long enough to piece the puzzle together.
For a low budget flick, Black Angel boasts excellent direction, imaginative camerawork (including a spectacular opening shot and a flashback photographed as if through a drunken haze), and solid performances. June Vincent makes a fine female lead, and always reliable supporting actors Lorre and Broderick Crawford make the most of their screen time. However, the film really belongs to Dan Duryea, who shines in a rare lead performance. With his slightly weather-beaten look, Duryea was usually relegated to playing heavies or character parts. Black Angel finally provided him the opportunity to carry a film, because his hangdog appearance was just what was required for the sad sack character of functional souse Marty Blair. Duryea acquits himself nicely in the romantic scenes, but his acting is really outstanding in the sequences where Marty wallows in drunken despair. Marty’s alcoholism is never played for laughs, and Duryea’s performance rivals that of Ray Milland’s celebrated work in The Lost Weekend (which only preceded Black Angel by a few months).
While not exactly essential viewing for fans of film noir or of soused cinema, Black Angel is a solid entry in both genres. You won’t regret taking a taste of this rarely sipped cocktail.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, beer, wine, and unnamed cocktails
Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, passing out, hangover, public disturbance, brawling, physical violence, and bar tossed
Potent Quotables--JOE: (speaking of Marty): When is he gonna learn you can't drink it as fast as they make it?
JANITOR: Well, it's his stomach.
Video Availability--Black Angel DVD (Universal Noir Collection)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Anne Baxter goes on a drinking binge that ends in murder in Fritz Lang’s similarly themed The Blue Gardenia (1953).