Film Review: Angel Face (1953)

Also known as: Murder Story (original script title), The Bystander, The Murder (working titles)
Release Date: January 2nd, 1953 (London premiere)
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Frank Nugent, Oscar Millard, Chester Erskine
Music by: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman, Herbert Marshall

Howard Hughes Presents, RKO Radio Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Charles, at times your charm wears dangerously thin. Right now it’s so thin I can see through it.” – Mrs. Catherine Tremayne

This was a film that Otto Preminger didn’t want to direct but he was persuaded by producer Howard Hughes, who wanted Preminger to use his rule on the film’s set to torture Jean Simmons. What can I say, Hollywood was sick. Not that much has changed, as a lot of really dark shit has been brought to light over the last few years.

A scene where Mitchum slaps Simmons was one instance of the torture that the starlet had to endure. Preminger demanded retake after retake where he instructed Mitchum to hit Simmons harder each time. Mitchum, having enough, walked over to Preminger, whacked him across the face and said, “Is that hard enough for you, Otto?”

This stuff, as far as I know, has never been revealed until TCM’s Noir Alley host Eddie Muller discussed it when this film was recently featured on the show. He had done an event with Simmons and she had a hard time, went backstage and eventually told Muller of the bad memories of her experience making Angel Face.

The script was apparently shit, which is the main reason why Preminger didn’t want to direct the film but there were rewrites and he was given control over it. The only catch, was that he had to make Jean Simmons’ life hell.

All that insanity aside, this did turn out to be a pretty good picture. Maybe all that real life tension and drama carried over into the performances by Simmons and Mitchum.

The film also benefits from having that standard RKO film-noir look. Preminger has a stellar eye behind the camera but the cinematography of Harry Stradling was really good. Not quite at the level of his Academy Award winning films: The Picture of Dorian Gray and My Fair Lady but he was certainly on his A-game and made a fine looking picture in the noir style.

The Dimitri Tiomkin score is strong but it doesn’t stand out among a lot of the more prolific film-noir pictures of the day but I did enjoy it and it helped marry the tone of the emotional context of the film, as well as its visual look. Everything came together really well but the score was the glue.

It’s unfortunate that Jean Simmons had to put up with such abuse on set. Frankly, it’s pretty unforgivable. Still, despite this, Angel Face is a much better than average film-noir.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Otto Preminger films: LauraFallen Angel and Anatomy of a Murder, as well as some of Robert Mitchum’s other noir pictures: Out of the PastThe RacketHis Kind of Woman and The Locket.

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