Fallen Angel

FALLEN ANGEL, stylish but far-fetched 1945 noir, has been elevated by present-day reviewers to a loftier perch than it was accorded by the actors who worked on it. Impressed by producer-director Otto Preminger’s handling of the pulpy balderdash, and over-enamored with the collective pile-on ‘acumen’ about certain filmmakers continually trumpeted status as auteurs, the gushing (can keystrokes be ‘breathless’?) is at wide variance with the front-line opinions of the troopers in the field. *

Blithely pushy drifter ‘Eric Stanton’ (Dana Andrews) shows up in a small northern California town: broke, keen for a meal ticket and some suckers. The first comes via hustling for a fake spiritualist, the second from angling for the affections of two local ladies. Naive, bookish ‘June Mills’ (Alice Faye) has family money in a San Francisco bank, while sultry, ‘been-there-Mac’ diner waitress ‘Stella’ (Linda Darnell) exudes allure that draws man-moths to the heat source (the pulp gets to ya, starting with no last name for Darnell’s dame, simple ‘Stella’ serving sex-notice). Faster than you can say “My name’s Sketchy, let’s get hitched” Stanton has b.s.’d both the women into his life of slime. Dead person, coming right up.

Don’t smile. Your face looks better without it.

Harry Kleiner’s hard-boiled (and par-boiled) screenplay was based on a novel by Marty Holland:  beyond some fun dialogue exchanges, it’s ridiculous, fast-tracking the romance stuff to whiplash proportions. Faye, 30, is hard to accept as June, who is so naive she may as well be 12 (or a 1945 12-year-old anyway). Andrews, always good at conveying cross-currents of affability and anxiety, is tightly wound, the supporting cast is sturdy, and Preminger stages it well. An ace card from the credits onward is the moody black & white lensing from Joseph LaShelle.  Preminger, Andrews, LaShelle and composer David Raksin had done the acclaimed Laura the year before: the hope was this would likewise click, and also boost Faye’s career in a new path.

Besides the camerawork, the best feature (and figure) in the enterprise is Darnell, 21, who smolders with a take-no-guff attitude: Andrews biographer Carl Rollyson (who praises the movie to noir heaven, 10 pages worth) has a great line about Darnell: “I doubt anyone had to tell Linda Darnell that just by taking her shoe off she could make a man want her.”

Brought in for $1075,000, grosses managed 83rd spot on the ’45 line, taking $4,200,000. 97 minutes, with vivid turns from Charles Bickford (cruel, desirous of ‘Stella’) Bruce Cabot (sullen, as one of Stella’s beaus), Percy Kilbride, (pitiful ‘Pop’, moping over Stella), John Carradine (casually corrupt as phony psychic ‘Prof. Madley’), Olin Howland (smirking, as another huckster), Dorothy Adams (pop-eyed, like a rabid squirrel).

*  Andrews thought the script was lousy, saying later that Preminger “didn’t understand why I didn’t like it. I said ‘In the first place, I don’t think it’s a picture for Alice Faye, but besides that, I don’t like the part for me. I don’t like the picture. It’s terrible. It’s in bad taste, it’s unbelievable. I just can’t see it at all.”  Confident and easygoing, he’d managed to get along with Otto the Terrible on Laura, this and later for Daisy Kenyon, Where The Sidewalk Ends and In Harm’s Way. I have to side with Andrews (who I’m more fond of than Preminger): I think the movie is more enjoyable than he did, but after a great first act it throws credibility out the window like a half-smoked cigarette: this is one those flicks where no-one ever finishes a drink they order.

Always underrated, the sensitive and insecure Darnell was one of the many actors Preminger raged at: she grew to despise him yet was obliged to put up with his abuse through Centennial Summer, Forever Amber (where he was especially brutish) and The 13th Letter. As for Faye, miscast and midled, instead of reviving her career, this killed it: furious over editing that chopped her already thin character of Judy down to a cartoon, she left studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck an unprintable letter, quit 20th Century Fox and didn’t appear again on screen again until 1962’s remake of State Fair. The angel had fallen.

One person that came out fine was author Marty Holland. Twenty-six, she was working as a typist for $40 a week, when “Fallen Angel”, her first novel, was purchased for $40,000 (in 2023 a tidy $660,000). She followed with “The File On Thelma Jordon”, which became a 1949 noir entry with Barbara Stanwyck.

3 thoughts on “Fallen Angel

  1. This film has long been one of my favourites, even before it was reappraised and given more prominent showings on TCM. Dana was one of my first loves of Classic Film so, naturally, I sought to see as many of his films as I could. To me, the story is perfection and I cannot see much fault with it. It somehow has the feel of a Poverty Row Noir but that is part of the reason that I love it so much.
    Thank you for writing a very just and excellent, trivia-filled review for FALLEN ANGEL. It is definitely not for everyone but, all the same, it has some great things to offer. Charles Bickford is at the top of that list. 😉

  2. Thanks! I do try to be just. I’m a big fan of Andrews also, and the ill-fated Darnell. Even when I don’t care for, or, in this case, care for as much as others do about a film, I try not to insult those who like it.

    • This is one of my faves; a standout scene is the seedy hotel to where Andrews and Faye flee for their honeymoon; another is when they visit the San Francisco bank. And don’t forget Anne Revere doing a splendid turn as the bitter older sister to Faye’s younger Clara; she is rightly suspicious of Andrew’s motives. Darnell – at 21! – is a knock – out as the weary hash house waitress Stella; watch the brief scene at the cash register when she jiggers the check to steal a few bits out of the cash register. And I love the way she snarls “Donut?” to Andrews. It’s a shame Faye’s part was cut, she is fine in this. This is an excellent movie to watch very late at night…

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