Director and Producer: Otto Preminger
Story and Screenwriter: Marty Holland and Harry Kleiner
Cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle
Music: David Raksin
Studio: 20th Century Fox 1945
Main Actors: Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Alice Faye
Fallen Angel is generally considered a lesser Preminger picture, not only in his filmography but also in the handful of noirs he directed early in his career. Many people—myself included—find that the ending in Pop’s Diner comes to a rather underwhelmingly flat conclusion. That said, the intense film noir vibe running throughout this movie is more than palpable. Linda Darnell is perfect as the angle shooting femme temptress who juggles multiple men in the hopes of settling down with the one guy who can offer her the most (of course, she in turn would offer him the least). Darnell makes it easy to see why men would resort to criminal activities in order to get on her character’s good side. She is like a snake waiting to strike her next prey using her sexual charms. But, turn your back for a second and you might get swallowed up—or at least find your cash register short by a few hundred. Her need to fortify a comfortable future for herself means she is willing to go to great lengths, even death, to secure it.
Dana Andrews’ character is about as down on his luck as possible. His Eric Stanton can’t even afford the bus fare to get to San Francisco. Thrown out on his rear in the ultimate dead-end town of Walton, he has to figure out a way to get back on his feet. Since he is a press agent by trade, you know the schemes are going to come on fast and thick. The central con that Fallen Angel seems to suggest—that hoodwinking a rich girl to marry you is as simple as Stanton makes it seem—gives all us poor schmucks real hope. Much of the plot is silly and hard to accept at times and there is a lot of improbability that may make non-genre-loving viewers snicker at the overall premise. Still, I really like Fallen Angel more than the average noir. It attempts to give Stanton a shot at redemption and respectability by marrying a woman, June (played by Alice Faye), that will see through his cynical facade and uncork the honesty that resides within. She acts as an entry point for him, a way for him to comprehend how his life journey can take a more productive path. In spite of his hustle to take her wealth, June tries to change his meaningless existence and shape his fate into one with a positive outcome. She is a good woman that becomes his salvation in the end. I guess this film is more of a personal choice for me and I accept the sentimental warts and imperfections in the script.
I’m tired, like I was a million years old”.
The movie exudes noirness and moral ambiguity at every turn and visually, Fallen Angel offers more shadows and expressionistic camera angles than Preminger’s more successful Laura. There are many iconic shots in Fallen Angel, the most famous involving Andrews standing outside the diner as he listens in on Stella. Another of my favorites: The shot features a slow-tracking camera drifting towards a window with a neon hotel sign where Stanton has offered up his monologue of existential tribulations. The curtains gently billowing in the night breeze offer the viewer a pictorial respite of tranquility after much turbulence. John Carradine as Professor Madley has a small but sweet role as a traveling scam artist looking for his next grift. While most of the main characters have shifting ethical values, the feature does not simply wallow in nihilism. Most noirs were out to teach a moral lesson while indulging the viewers in cynical Hayes-Code-boundary-pushing imagery. The main message here is simply that all your dishonesty will eventually catch up with you unless you attempt a change. Stanton is one of the few protagonists in noir that gets out alive. A flawed gem with murky clarity but ultimately an ideal cut.