In Los Angeles, when the singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is found dead in her apartment, Kirk Bennett (John Phillips) is accused for the murder, since he had been blackmailed by the victim. Kirk's wife Catherine Bennett (June Vincent) believes her husband is innocent and joins to Martin Blair (Dan Duryea), the alcoholic former husband of Mavis, to investigate the crime and try to find the killer. They suspect of Marko (Peter Lorre), the owner of a night-club that was seen in Mavis' place in the night she was murdered, and they try to prove his possible guilty.
Dan Duryea ... Martin Blair
June Vincent ... Catherine Bennett
Peter Lorre ... Marko
Broderick Crawford ... Captain Flood
Constance Dowling ... Mavis Marlowe
Wallace Ford ... Joe
Hobart Cavanaugh ... Jake, janitor
Freddie Steele ... Lucky, manager of Rio's
John Phillips ... Kirk Bennett
Ben Bard ... Bartender
Junius Matthews ... Dr. Courtney
Marion Martin ... Millie
Archie Twitchell ... George Mitchell (as Michael Branden)
Maurice St. Clair ... Dancer (as St. Clair)
Vilova ... Dancer
This interesting, creative film-noir is much less widely known than are most of the classics of the genre, but it is well worth seeing both for the story and the cast. In a relatively brief running time, it packs in a satisfying and unpredictable story with numerous turns, with a very good cast that work together quite well. The settings are well-conceived, and together with the photography and the rest of the production, they establish a convincing noir atmosphere.
Dan Duryea is always so good at straightforward villainous "noir" roles that he sometimes seems not to have received many opportunities to do anything else, and so it's very nice to see him get such an interesting role here. He delivers very well, believably portraying the different sides of a more complex character. He also works surprisingly well with June Vincent, as together they try to solve the mystery.
Peter Lorre does not have a very large role, but as you would expect, he makes the most of it. Toss in Broderick Crawford as the police captain, and you have a cast very well suited for film-noir.
The story is not all that complex, but it is well-written, features some well-conceived turns, and fits together nicely. Roy William Neill has a good touch with the material, not trying to make it fancier or bigger than it is, but simply crafting a solid, enjoyable movie that has just about all that you could reasonably ask for in a film-noir.
"Black Angel" (Universal, 1946) is one of the most entertaining films noir of the 1940s, that era when Hollywood discovered the genre and brought to it a high polish.
In this outstanding dark mystery, based on the novel of the same name by Cornell Woolrich, director Roy William Neill guides stars Dan Duryea and June Vincent through a byzantine plot that begins with murder and proceeds through the arrest and conviction of an innocent person, then finally ends with the true murderer being uncovered.
It sounds simple and straightforward, but Neill keeps the audience off balance throughout. Just when we think one piece of evidence will pay off, it doesn't. When we think another bit of business is benign, it turns out to be a crucial clue to the unraveling of the mystery.
Duryea and Vincent are compelling throughout, and they are supported by two excellent character actors, the always-sinister Peter Lorre and future Oscar winner Broderick Crawford.
And I like to think that with "Black Angel," Universal finally atoned for the fatal mistake it made with another Woolrich thriller, "Phantom Lady," in 1944. In the book "Phantom Lady," written by Woolrich under his pseudonym William Irish, the plot was a tightly woven murder mystery, with the revelation of the culprit coming as a surprise to all but the cleverest readers. But when the story was filmed in 1944, Universal made the outrageous decision to reveal the killer's identity to the audience from the start.
In "Black Angel," the murderer's identity is kept from the public until the end, the suspense is sustained, and the final scenes allow the audience to exhale after an hour and a half of diverting tension.
Dan Duryea appeared in a number of Films Noirs and always brought intensity and conviction to his villain roles. Something about his looks and voice sums up the essence of Noir.
Fortunately for Film Noir enthusiasts, "Black Angel" has finally been issued on video. This is an extremely enjoyable dark drama with a few variations of its own: first, the casting of Duryea in the lead is a wonderful asset, since he was an excellent actor and his previous screen incarnations had type-cast him as a weakling or a sleazy con artist; second, Duryea's character, a depressed musician is an unexpected turn on the noir hero, not a jaded detective, or ex-con loner. Further, the presence of Peter Lorre in any film, especially playing a villain is always welcome. And Constance Dowling has a memorable moment on screen as a tempermental singer.
Based on a Cornell Woolrich story, the movie's intrigue is sufficiently convoluted, though not as much as in some other films of this type. "Black Angel" is true Film Noir in its depiction of a down and out protagonist up against a seemingly unstoppable dark force.
The plot in THE BLACK ANGEL is pretty typical of the noir film period in the 1940's. However, the film is better than average, thanks to a pretty good performance by Dan Duryea.
He's an alcoholic musician here, instead of being his normal 'tough guy'. He does a fine job, but not great.
The film has an excellent noir nightmare/dream scene in it (again, typical for the noir of that period). For that alone it is worth watching the movie, especially if you are a fan of noir.
The film was put together by Roy William Neill, who directed many of the Sherlock Holmes films. BLACK ANGEL would be his last directorial effort. It is based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich, who wrote a lot of noir-ish screenplays before this and went on to become a excellent writer for television dramas later.
Nothing really special all the way around, but it's held together nicely by the likes of Peter Lorre, who plays a somewhat-decent club owner instead of the usual bad guy, and other somewhat-less-known character actors of the 1940's.