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Black Angel

Black Angel(1946)

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Black Angel (1946) is one of the least-seen of the many films noirs recently released on DVD, but it's a good one, and it features Dan Duryea in an unusually romantic role. The actor best-known for playing oily, duplicitous tough guys here shines as a much nicer and sympathetic character. But don't get the impression that Black Angel is a romance - it most certainly is noir. The story, from a Cornell Woolrich novel, takes the form primarily of a mystery, with suprising and believable plot twists.

When John Phillips is unjustly convicted of a murder he didn't commit and police detective Broderick Crawford stops his investigation, Phillips' wife June Vincent carries on looking for the real killer. Her detective work leads her to the alcoholic Duryea, who decides to help her. In a truly crackpot story development, they masquerade as a singer-and-pianist performing duo to infiltrate the nightclub of Peter Lorre, who has aroused their suspicions. And along the way, Vincent and Duryea develop feelings for each other.

Black Angel is an unusual noir not just for its casting but for the fact that its oppressive fatalism isn't really clear until the end. Then it hits you, and you realize what a bleak world you've been immersed in for 81 minutes. Its look is beautifully atmospheric, thanks to the fine directing (and producing) of Roy William Neill. Neill had just produced and directed most of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone, and any classic movie fan knows that those pictures are gorgeous to look at. Black Angel looks very similar. Tragically, Neill died of a heart attack, at age 59, just months after the release of Black Angel. It was his last film but a fine conclusion to a career that boasted over 100 directing credits dating back to 1917. Black Angel is also enjoyable for Peter Lorre - it's especially amusing, after Casablanca, to see him as the owner of a nightclub, even dressed in a white tuxedo a la Bogart.

Universal Home Video's DVD of Black Angel features a fine transfer with rich shades of black and grey and good sound. The only extra is a re-release trailer.

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by Jeremy Arnold