Although not well received on its initial release, 'Angel Face' has grown steadily in reputation. It was originally made, on the instructions of studio head Howard Hughes in order to fulfil Jean Simmons's contract at RKO and it is Simmons's falsely angelic character which drives the movie.
The American film noir movement is dominated by doomed romances and powerfully manipulative femmes fatales, who lure gullible men to their destruction. Otto Preminger's 'Angel Face' appears late in the series and obviously owes much to earlier fims such as Jacques Tourneur's 'Out of the Past' from 1947. This features Robert Mitchum in a similar role as a private investigator who discovers, but cannot escape from, the machinations of the amoral woman he loves.
'Angel Face', however, is more cynical and sardonic than its predecessors. It traces the obsession of a working-class man, Frank Jessup (Mitchum), for a beautiful rich woman who involves him in a plot to murder her stepmother. Earlier, Diane Tremayne, the eponymous cherub (Jean Simmons, cast effectively against type) had deliberately broken up Frank's engagement to Mary (Mona Freeman), the 'good' woman who represents a normal life that is no longer enough for Frank once he meets Diane and develops a taste for rich living. The murder plot succeeds, but only at the additional and unexpected cost of the life of Diane's father. Diane, however, never feels a twinge of guilt, and nothing derails her plans. The couple are indicted for what is soon suspected to be a crime, but, in the tradition of 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', they are acquitted because of the shyster lawyer she hires to defend them who successfully depicts them as innocent lovebirds.
Though seemingly destined for a life together, Frank finally has an attack of conscience. He attempts to break with Diane after the trial and resume his previous life. In a gesture that dooms him (again recalling Mitchum's role in 'Out of the Past'), Frank allows Diane to drive him to the bus station. But she would rather die than give him up. Diane backs the car over a cliff, killing them both, in a gesture that recalls the 'accident' she plotted earlier.
'Angel Face' features impressive performances from both Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons which Preminger's direction subtly reinforces through an artful manipulation of mise-en-scene stage setting - classic film noir.
Main CastRobert Mitchum ... Frank Jessup
Jean Simmons ... Diane Tremayne
Mona Freeman ... Mary Wilton
Herbert Marshall ... Mr. Charles Tremayne
Leon Ames ... Fred Barrett
Barbara O'Neil ... Mrs. Catherine Tremayne
Kenneth Tobey ... Bill Crompton
Raymond Greenleaf ... Arthur Vance
Griff Barnett ... The Judge
Robert Gist ... Miller
Morgan Farley ... Juror
Jim Backus ... District Attorney Judson
CreditsDirector ... Otto Preminger
Producer ... Otto Preminger
Writer ... Chester Erskine
Screenwriters ... Oscar Millard, Frank S. Nugent
Cinematographer ... Harry Stradling
Duration ... 91 minutes
Premiere ... 18 June, 1952
Production Company ... RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Format ... B & W
Music Score ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Academy AwardsNo Nominations