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BLACK ANGEL (director: Roy William Neill; screenwriters: Roy Chanslor/from a novel by Cornell Woolrich; cinematographer: Paul Ivano; editor: Saul A. Goodkind; cast: Dan Duryea (Martin Blair), June Vincent (Catherine Bennett), Peter Lorre (Marko), Broderick Crawford (Capt. Flood), Wallace Ford (Joe), Hobart Cavanaugh (Jake), Constance Dowling (Marvis Marlowe), Ben Bard (Bartender), John Phillips (Kirk Bennett), Junius Matthews (Dr. Courtney). Marion Martin (Millie), Mary Fields (Maid); Runtime: 80; Universal; 1946)
“This was Duryea’s first starring role after playing heavies.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Black Angel is a film noir armed with the following: a brilliant script by Roy Chanslor that is taken from a Cornell Woolrich novel, an engaging performance turned in by Dan Duryea who is in a rare role as someone sympathetic, and it is directed flawlessly by Roy William Neill. This was Duryea’s first starring role after playing heavies. The film asks the question: Is he a hero or a villain?

The self-pitying musical composer and piano player, Marty Blair (Duryea), husband of obnoxious but sexy nightclub singer Mavis Marlowe (Dowling), tries to get her to remember their wedding anniversary by sending her the jeweled, heart-shaped brooch he gave her when they were married but she left behind when she split from him. But after Mavis receives the gift via a messenger, she refuses to see him when he comes to her luxurious apartment as the burly doorman throws him out. But Marty sees someone he doesn’t know get by the doorman, and will later learn that he’s a nightclub owner named Marko (Lorre). Marty gets plastered and does not remember his activities that night, as Mavis is found strangled to death in her apartment. The hit song Marty wrote for her, “Heartbreak,” which she hates, is surprisingly playing on the phonograph. The brooch is also missing. Marty’s alibi is that his good friend Joe locked him in his shabby room after his drinking binge, something he always does to prevent Marty from getting into further trouble.

Unfortunately for Kirk Bennett (Phillips) he went up to the singer’s apartment because she’s been blackmailing him about their affair and he doesn’t want his wife to know about it. When Kirk enters Mavis’s apartment he finds her dead and while trying to leave without being noticed, he’s spotted by Mavis’s maid.

Captain Flood (Crawford) arrests Kirk when he comes home to his wife Catherine (Vincent). But Kirk swears he didn’t do it. Catherine believes him in spite of now knowing about his affair, but Kirk’s convicted and sentenced to the gas chamber.

As a last resort, Catherine seeks the help of Marty to free her hubby. Marty agrees to help because he’s attracted to Catherine, as the first thing they do is track down the shady Marko and get a job under assumed names as a singer and piano player act in his club. When after all their undercover work Marko turns out to be innocent, Marty feels that Kirk must be guilty. When he asks Catherine to be his girl, she turns him down by saying she still loves Kirk.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

This causes Marty to go on another bender, where by accident he meets in a bar the girl (Marion Martin) he gave the brooch to and realizes he must have murdered his wife. When Marty’s memory comes back, he acts to save Kirk’s life by calling Captain Flood.

The low-budget film had a stunning simplicity. It was an excellent character study of the Dan Duryea character, making him into a complicated black angel figure.

REVIEWED ON 9/16/2001 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”