A Black Angel
"Black Angel" is a 1946 noir film that, as its title suggests, develops ambiguities of character. Portrayed by June Vincent, the "black angel" in the film is a beautiful housewife, Catherine Bennett, with a cheating husband, Kirk (John Phillips). Kirk's mistress, Mavis Marlowe, is in fact blackmailing him and several other men. When Mavis is strangled to death one evening, the trail leads to Kirk. He is arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Broderick Crawford offers a solid performance of the hard but fair officer responsible for bringing the killer to justice, Captain Flood. A wronged wife, Catherine remains loyal to her husband She is convinced of Kirk's innocence and attempts to find the killer.
Catherine also leaves a trail of disappointment and sorrow in her wake as other men in the story fall in love with her only to be rejected. The story suggests that the qualities which make her loyal and angelic are also those qualities which bring pain and heartbreak
The primary disappointed lover in the film is Martin Blair, an alcoholic pianist and composer played by the famous noir actor, Dan Duryea. Martin, Mavis' former husband. joins with Catherine in her search for Mavis' killer. Another suspect, a reformed criminal and nightclub owner, Marko, (Peter Lorre) also becomes infatuated with Catherine.
The film builds in suspense and emotional intensity with some surprising shifts in the plot. Each of the characters is troubled and conflicted, as is the case in the best noir. The ambiguities in the film are more with the divided characters than with the plot which ultimately resolves. The film is set in Los Angeles with many beautifully photographed, shadowy scenes in clubs, exclusive apartments, and streets. The film has a strong musical line with songs and club scenes. Each of the characters dresses sharply. The film's visual effects often are stunning.
The film is based on a 1943 novel by Cornell Woolrich (1903 -- 1968) whose writings became the basis for many classic noir films. Woolrich's novel, in turn, was adopted from several stories he had published in pulp magazines. Woolrich was unhappy with this film version of his novel. He told Mark Van Doren, the famous Professor of English at Columbia University, that after seeing the film "I was so ashamed when I came out of there ... it took me two or three days to get over it. All I could keep thinking of in the dark was: Is that what I wasted my whole life at?" (quote from Wiki article on the book version of "The Black Angel")
In spite of Woolrich's disappointment, this film is effective noir in its strong acting, characterization, atmosphere, and music. Some critics rate it highly among films in the noir genre. I enjoy exploring the genre and learning more about it and about Woolrich. Viewers with an interest in film noir or in stylized 1940 film will enjoy "The Black Angel".