Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You Otto See It: Angel Face (1953)

This is my first in a series of entries on the director Otto Preminger. I'm planning to watch 8 Preminger films (click here for the list) in preparation for my friend Kevin's lecture in November.

The first I watched was Angel Face (1953) , "presented" by Howard Hughes and starring Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum. I'm not sure what this film is and after watching it I wasn't sure exactly what it was that I saw. I just know that Robert Mitchum looked hot and that he slapped Otto Preminger during production. Go Mitchum! I would have liked to have slapped Preminger too for having to sit through this film. Although I titled this series "You Otto See It", I don't really recommend it. It's boring, confusing and the only thing to look forward to is Mitchum's pretty mug.

I did, however, like the beginning of the movie. Mitchum plays an ambulance driver, Frank, who gets called to the scene of a potential smothering. A rich woman claims someone tried to suffocate her and already we are suspicious. Then there is the woman's step-daughter, Diane, played by Jean Simmons, who is beautiful, tormented, has an angel face, blah blah blah. Frank and Diane slap each other a few times (many re-takes compelled Mitchum to slap Preminger) and are thrusted into a hot and heavy affair. Trouble is Frank's got this girl, Mary, played by Mona Freeman, a nurse at the hospital he works for. She doesn't have the angel face but she's got an angel heart. He should be with Mary but Diane is the one who excites him. Mary is confronted by Diane and finds out about Frank's infidelity. Frank doesn't know that Mary knows about Frank & Diane's rendezvous the previous night. When Mary confronts Frank, this gem appears in the dialogue:

Frank: I would have been lousy company last night. Ten minutes after I left Harry's I was in the sack.

Mary: I can believe that. Well, you can head for that same sack tonight.

I don't know much about the social norms of dating and relationships in the 1950's. But from what I gather from this film and others like it is that a man is free to see who he wants until he gets married. There isn't really a concept of a "boyfriend" or a committed pre-marital relationship, as we have in our contemporary culture. Just a courtship, which if successful, leads to an engagement which is mercifully brief and followed by a quick marriage. Engagements sometimes last hours or a few days, unless the beau is really dragging his heels. Maybe fast courtships and engagements were a way to snag a guy before a dangerous angel face lures him away. Who knows?

It's not that this film answered any questions I had, it just got me thinking. So at least I have that. In the end, the moral of the story was that beauty is dangerous and don't teach a girl how to fix a car.


  1. I haven't seen this one yet...I like Jean Simmons, though. And Preminger of course.

    Which film of his are you looking forward to most? :)

  2. Allow me to respond to your assumptions regarding relationships in the 50s. I am not quite old enough to have experienced it first hand, but my parents were as well as their friends. In those days it was in fact far more expected that a steady relationship would be exclusive. That is what puts the sting in Mary's comment. She is saying that she knows who Frank was with and that they were in the sack only because of Diane's apparent low moral charcter. Mary is saying she won't stand for that.

    When you see contrary behavior in movies from that era, they are trying to shock you. They are saying, "see what a slut this woman is?" Of course, such a statement is hypocritical and exhibits a double standard. While my description of the expectations is accurate above, real people didn't live up to those expectations at all times. But they certainly went to great lengths to appear that they did.

    As to the movie, I enjoy it more than you apparently did. It is something of a freak show, similar to Leave Her to Heaven, or Fatal Attraction. People were not accustomed to seeing women bahave in such a vicious manner. And the sympathy is clearly with Mitchum. See what happens when a poor sap is unable to control himself? The temptation leads him to destruction. Of course, there is a misogynistic and hypocritical message there, too. But that is a reflection of the times.

  3. Ginger - I have seen Simmons in various things but she didn't stand out until this one. I'm really looking forward to Man With a Golden Arm!!!

    Brad - Thanks for your input. It's much appreciated. I do have to defer to something Mary said. When Mary and Diane met, she told Diane that she had no hold over Frank. If they were steady, why would she say that? Maybe she wanted to have him all to herself (and rightly so!!!), but knew that it was up to him. Anyways, thanks for stopping by!

  4. My interpretation of Mary's comment, and I of course would defer to a woman's opinion, is that Mary realizes that she has no hold if Frank doesn't want her to. Mary is already recognizing that Frank may be slipping away. A cynic might say that Mary is saying, "if you are the type of woman he wants, good riddance." But that is just my opinion.

  5. Brad - Oh I completely agree. Mary definitely recognized that she had no hold on Frank. Especially since he had that other "sack" to go to.


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