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FALLEN ANGEL (director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Harry Kleiner/from the novel “Fallen Angel” by Marty Holland; cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle; editor: Harry Reynolds; music: David Raksin; cast: Alice Faye (June), Dana Andrews (Eric Stanton), Linda Darnell (Stella), Charles Bickford (Judd), Anne Revere (Clara Mills), Bruce Cabot (Atkins), John Carradine (Prof. Madley), Percy Kilbride (Pop), Olin Howland (Joe Ellis); Runtime: 98; 20th Century Fox; 1945)
“A follow-up film noir to the highly successful Laura.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A follow-up film noir to the highly successful Laura. It is directed by Otto Preminger, who in this lesser known work nevertheless manages to create an imaginative mystery story through his intriguing study of the main characters. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle does a fine job of showing the contrasting dark and light images.

Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews), a former public relations man from New York, is a wash out with only one dollar in his pocket. He is heading by bus to San Francisco, but is kicked off the bus in a small northern California town called Walton because he doesn’t have the fare. He stops off for a cup of coffee in Pop’s Diner. Having a coffee at the other end of the counter is a former New York detective, Judd (Bickford), who quit the force for health reasons. The somber quiet is broken when the sultry waitress Stella (Darnell) returns to the diner and Pop is overjoyed that she didn’t leave town. Stella is the kind of earthy woman with a questionable character and a rotten disposition which doesn’t interfere with Eric’s attraction.

Eric manages to stay in town by earning a few bucks promoting a charlatan mind reading act of the dead performed by Professor Madley (Carradine). During the show he becomes acquainted with the town’s prominent citizens, the sisters Clara Mills (Revere) and June (Faye). Clara is the widow of the former town mayor and June is her church organist younger sister.

Eric tries to get Stella to go with him to San Francisco and get married, but she says she wants him to provide her with a house and a steady income before they marry. Eric tells her of his scheme to get acquainted with June and steal her inheritance. Stella tells him that she will date others until he comes up with the dough to support her in style.

When Eric’s scheme is taking too long to develop, he decides to marry June in San Francisco. On the wedding night he sneaks out of Clara’s house without consummating the marriage and goes to meet Stella in the diner. But Stella rejects Eric saying she doesn’t date married men. Stella then hops into the car of a juke box salesman Atkins and goes out on a late date. Clara followed Eric and hid in the shadows and witnessed their meeting.

When Stella is reported murdered at four a.m., the police chief asks Judd to handle the investigation. Judd questions Atkins and tries to beat a confession out of him. When Atkins’ alibi holds up, Eric figures Judd will frame him and disappears. Even when learning how Eric was going to cheat her out of her money, June says she’s madly in love with him and will stick by him because she knows he’s innocent.

It now becomes a question if Eric is guilty, or if possibly someone else had a secret motive to commit the murder.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

What becomes interesting in this melodrama about contrasts between opposites (the rich and the poor, the good and the evil) is how the Dana Andrews character is presented as a Lucifer figure redeemed by the love of the angelic Alice Faye, while it turns out Bickford is the Lucifer figure who couldn’t be redeemed by his love of the dark Darnell and he killed her when she rejected him to marry Atkins. Andrews and Bickford are both bad characters, but Andrews has another chance of finding his better side after leaving his hellish life in New York. Bickford, who was really forced to resign his detective job because of a history of abuse, is never able to change.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”