Cast & Crew
One night, Beverly Hills ambulance driver Frank Jessup and his partner Bill are called to the cliffside estate of Charles and Catherine Tremayne. By the time they arrive, Catherine has already been treated for gas inhalation, which the police believe occurred accidentally, but which the wealthy Catherine suspects was deliberate. As he is leaving the house, Frank notices Catherine's beautiful English stepdaughter Diane playing a melancholy piano piece and assures her that her stepmother will be fine. When Diane becomes hysterical, Frank slaps her face to calm her. Confused, she slaps him back, then apologizes. Later, after getting off work, Frank goes to a nearby diner, unaware that Diane is following him in her sports car. In the diner, Frank tries to call his girl friend, Mary Wilton, a hospital receptionist, but gets no answer. Diane then comes in and strikes up a flirtatious conversation with him. When Mary finally calls him, Frank turns down her dinner invitation, claiming that he is too tired. Frank takes Diane out, and over dinner, she tells him that her father is a well-respected novelist but has not finished a book since her mother's death during the war. Diane then asks Frank, a former race car driver who dreams of owning his own garage, about Mary, and he reveals that Mary has been saving her money to help him. The next day, Diane invites Mary to lunch and, while pretending that she wants to contribute to Frank's garage fund, lets her know that he spent the evening with her. Seeing through Diane's tactics, Mary rejects her offer but admits that her faith in Frank is shaken. That night, Mary is about to go out with Frank when he lies again about his date with Diane. Disgusted, Mary rejects Frank and goes out with Bill, a longtime admirer. Later, at the diner, Diane finds Frank, who chastises her for speaking to Mary. When Diane suggests that he drive her car in an upcoming race, however, Frank forgives her and agrees to talk further about her idea. Diane then convinces her parents to hire a chauffeur and, while kissing him on a moonlit drive, persuades Frank to accept the job. Soon after, Diane informs Frank that she has talked to her stepmother about investing in his garage, and he presents Catherine with a written proposal. Although Catherine is suspicious of Diane's motives, she tells Frank that she will consider the offer. Catherine then calls her lawyer, Arthur Vance, for advice, but learns that he is out of town. Later, Diane meets secretly with Frank and tells him that Catherine threw his proposal in the trash. Diane also confides her fear that if Catherine were to find out about their romance, she would fire him and lock her up. Frank tries to reassure Diane that Catherine has no power over her, but Diane insists that Catherine will take her anger out on her beloved, weak father if she is defied. In the middle of the night, Diane then comes to Frank's room and tells him that Catherine tried to kill her by turning on her gas fireplace. Frank refuses to believe Diane's story and orders her back to bed. The next day, Frank stops by Mary's apartment and states that he is leaving his job and Diane. After making a date with Mary for that night, Frank returns to the Tremaynes and starts to pack. Having anticipated his move, Diane cries and begs him to run away with her, showing him her own packed suitcase. Admitting that he loves her, Frank agrees to stay for a few more days so that she can think seriously about the situation. The following day, with Frank gone, Catherine prepares to drive herself to Santa Barbara. As she is about to leave, Charles asks for a lift, and after Catherine puts the car in drive and steps on the gas, the vehicle screeches backward over the cliff. Catherine and Charles are killed in the crash, and following some investigation, both Frank and Diane are arrested for murder. Diane, who stands to inherit all of Catherine's wealth, has suffered a nervous breakdown, however, and is incarcerated in a prison hospital. To help Diane, Vance hires Fred Barrett, a renowned defense lawyer. Just before the trial is to start, Fred convinces Frank and Diane to marry so that he can propose that Diane's suitcase was in Frank's room because they were planning to elope. During the trial, Barrett skillfully deflates expert testimony regarding the car's transmission and steering mechanism, which appears to have been tampered with, and paints Frank and Diane as innocent lovebirds. Frank and Diane are acquitted, but once back at the estate, Frank tells Diane he is divorcing her. Diane finally talks about the jealousy and loneliness she felt when her father married Catherine and the grief she suffered upon seeing their crushed bodies. Despite Diane's remorse, Frank insists he is returning to Mary. After Diane bets Frank her sports car that Mary will not take him back, Frank goes to Mary, who rejects him in favor of Bill. Diane, meanwhile, visits Barrett's office and insists on confessing to the murders, detailing how she asked an unsuspecting Frank to explain the car's transmission. Reminding Diane about the double jeopardy rule, Barrett tears up the confession. Upon returning home, Diane finds Frank packing for Mexico and asks if she can go, too. Frank says no, but agrees to let her drive him to the bus station. After Frank gets in, Diane shifts into reverse, jams her foot on the gas pedal and sends the car over the cliff.
Mary Jane Carey
Albert S. D'agostino
Fred A. Fleck
Ben F. Goldman
Angel Face, which Preminger directed in 1952, stands as one of his more memorable projects. The "Angel Face" of the title is Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons), the apparently innocent daughter of a wealthy businessman named Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall.) Diane may seem like a sweetie on the surface, but she also happens to be a psychotic who will stop at nothing to maintain her own happiness, including killing her stepmother (Barbara O'Neil.) Diane also sets her sights on the family's hunky chauffeur, Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum), even though Frank already has a girlfriend (Mona Freeman.) Suffice it to say that things don't go well for Frank and Diane. You'll need a very broad definition of "happy ending" to smile at how this one wraps up.
The film's harshness isn't surprising, really. Preminger wasn't the only risk-taker who was connected with it. Howard Hughes, who owned RKO at the time, set the whole thing up, and for very strange reasons. Preminger was contracted to 20th Century Fox when Darryl Zanuck told him that he had been loaned out for one picture to Hughes. When Zanuck handed him the script, which was then inventively titled Murder Story, Preminger was aghast. He thought it was awful and refused to be involved. No matter how much Zanuck insisted (and he welded enormous power in Hollywood), Preminger held his ground. He wouldn't have anything to do with the movie.
But he didn't count on a dose of Howard Hughes-style persistence. The next morning, at 3 a.m., Hughes phoned Preminger and told him to get out of bed and be ready to leave the house 30 minutes later. Hughes promptly showed up in his noisy old Chevy, and the two men tooled around the empty streets of Los Angeles for several hours, discussing the project. Hughes explained that Simmons was only under contract to RKO for 18 more shooting days, and he desperately wanted to get another film out of her before she left. He and the actress recently had a violent argument, and she took a pair of scissors and cut her hair to the quick, knowing that her boss hated short hair on women. "I'm going to get even with that little bitch," Hughes told Preminger, "and you're going to help me." Hughes told Preminger he could have carte blanche on the film; he'd even let him have complete control of the script, so long as he didn't hire any "Commies" to do the re-writes! All Hughes asked was that Simmons would be forced to wear a long black wig throughout the picture. Preminger accepted on those terms.
In the end, Simmons basically won the battle. She gives one of the strongest, most unexpected performances of her career in Angel Face. And Preminger took some abuse of his own on the set, which may well have been karmic retribution for agreeing to push Simmons around as a favor to Hughes. One day, Preminger slapped Simmons in a fit of anger, and Mitchum stepped in to correct his mistake: he punched the director right in the nose. Later, in his popular autobiography, Preminger insisted that he very much enjoyed working with Simmons. He never mentioned the slap, or getting belted by Mitchum. Maybe he just forgot.
Produced and directed by: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Frank Nugent (based on a story by Chester Erskine)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Art Direction: Carroll Clark and Albert S. D'Agostino
Costume Design: Michael Woulfe
Principal Cast: Robert Mitchum (Frank), Jean Simmons (Diane), Mona Freeman (Mary), Herbert Marshall (Mr. Tremayne), Kenneth Tobey (Bill), Raymond Greenleaf (Arthur Vance), Griff Barnett (The Judge), Robert Gist (Miller), Morgan Farley (Juror), Jim Backus (District Attorney Judson.)
BW-92m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara
Angel Face - Robert Mitchum & Jean Simmons in Otto Preminger's 1952 Film Noir
In terms of story alone Angel Face would seem to be yet another Double Indemnity retread, but Preminger and his screenwriters fashion a distinctive conflict: Up in the thinner air of the ritzy Hollywood Hills, an ambitious member of the middle class succumbs to temptation.
Synopsis: Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) meets the wealthy and beautiful Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) while on a call to tend to her stepmother Catherine (Barbara O'Neill), who may have tried to commit suicide. Frank quits his job and stands up his fiancée Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman) to become the Tremayne's chauffeur -- where he can be close to Diane. The longer Frank hangs around, the more he comes to suspect that Diane idolizes her father Charles (Herbert Marshall) and wants to murder her mother. But Frank is too much in love with Diane to do anything about it.
Robert Mitchum's films are easily divided into two categories: Those he commits to and the ones he sleeps through. For every sharp performance as in Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, there are two 'look handsome and say the lines' efforts. Angel Face falls solidly into the first category. Mitchum plays Frank, a dour anti-hero who can't help falling in love with a woman who has everything. The war cooled Frank's ambitions as a professional racecar driver, and now he's stuck driving an ambulance in Beverly Hills. He already has a steady girl in ambulance dispatcher Mary, but she pales against the vision of a future with Diane Tremayne. Diane is beautiful, young and rich, a combination that could end Frank's workaday blues and put him back into the racing business.
Angel Face critiques Franks' values but avoids outright moral judgments. Frank doesn't 'decide' to take his new opportunity as much as the opportunity takes him. He follows the line of least resistance and doesn't sweat the details. He simply dumps his fiancée and ignores hints that Diane may be big trouble. This refusal to pigeonhole the characters is a trait typical of Preminger's later dramas.
Frank first catches sight of Diane as she broods at the piano. He's immediately hooked, but we can also tell that the Tremayne wealth is a big part of his attraction. Interestingly, Diane kills not for money but as an expression of mad love for her father Charles.
Diane is fascinatingly complex. She and Charles have formed a petty conspiracy against Catherine, making disrespectful jokes about her addiction to bridge games. Diane sees Catherine as a competitor for the affections of her father, a famous author. Since remarrying, Charles has stopped writing, and Diane blames Catherine. When Catherine almost dies from asphyxiation in her bedroom, even Frank can see that something is wrong in the family relationships. The police have reason to suspect that the incident was either an attempted murder or an attempted suicide, but the wealth of the Tremaynes intimidates them, and they do nothing.
Frank eventually becomes a prime chump when Diane suckers him into passively participating in murder. He foolishly believes that Diane's questions about car transmissions indicate an interest in his racing plans. She's simply looking for more reliable method than gas to kill her stepmother and make it look like an accident.
Otto Preminger's direction of Angel Face is near flawless. His dynamic blocking makes simple scenes look complex, expressing the relationships between characters without resorting to psychological explanations. Even the topography is important. The Tremaynes live up in the hills where the money is, but it's a bleak-looking area without many trees. In the third act's murder trial, Preminger makes Diane and Frank seem like minor players in a much bigger arena of scandal and legal showmanship. Lawyer Leon Ames' trial games are a cool replay of the cynical manipulations seen in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Sitting at the defendant's table, melancholy Diane and the irrelevant Frank watch silently as a phony ploy extricates them from the consequences of their acts: To win the sympathy of the jury, the lawyer has had them submit to a jailhouse marriage.
Unlike a standard Noir femme fatale, Diane derives no pleasure from her crimes, only misery and solitude. Poor Frank underestimates Diane every step of the way, not realizing that he's only along for the ride. Frank's shallow opportunism is best expressed when he lamely tries to go back to his old girlfriend. The sensible Mary has instead taken up with Frank's fellow ambulance driver Bill (Kenneth Tobey). She politely tells Frank that she prefers a mate that won't stray at every new opportunity, and sends him packing. Frank's a special kind of Noir protagonist in that he's handsome, self-possessed, ambitious -- and a total loser. The shock ending is bleak in the extreme, a violent coda that comes out of nowhere.
Warners' excellent transfer of Angel Face brings out the creepy atmosphere in Harry Stradling's B&W cinematography. It also lets us appreciate Dimitri Tiomkin's swooning, delirious score, motivated by Diane's moody piano playing. In a scene that parallels Preminger's Laura, the score rises to a tragic crescendo as Diane wanders the empty rooms of her house. She's like a heroine in a horror story, sick with the knowledge that she's doomed herself to isolation.
The only extra is Eddie Muller's sharp commentary. It mixes analysis of the film -- he points out the emphasis placed on money and the film's female-dominated relationships -- with a production tale that belongs in Hollywood Babylon. Young Simmons had to struggle to keep Howard Hughes from making her into a personal possession, and Angel Face was the result of a legal effort to settle her contract. Hughes retaliated by making the production as miserable as possible for the actress. To put a stop to being harassed by unnecessary hairstyle tests, Simmons cut her hair off with shears -- necessitating that wigs be made. Simmons' costar became a strong ally in the fight with Hughes, and with director Preminger. When Preminger insisted that he really slap her in one scene, repeatedly, Mitchum at first did as he was instructed. But when he figured enough was enough, he turned and slapped Preminger instead.
For more information about Angel Face, visit Warner Video. To order Angel Face, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Angel Face - Robert Mitchum & Jean Simmons in Otto Preminger's 1952 Film Noir
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
Born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1917, Tobey originally intended to be a lawyer before a stint with the University of California Little Theater changed his mind. From there, he went straight to New York and spent nearly two years studying acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where his classmates included Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach and Tony Randall. Throughout the '40s, Tobey acted on Broadway and in stock before relocating to Hollywood. Once there, Tobey soon found himself playing a tough soldier in films like I Was a Male War Bride and Twelve O' Clock High (both 1949); or a tough police officer in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Three Secrets (both 1950). Such roles were hardly surprising, given Tobey's craggy features, unsmiling countenance and rough voice.
Needless to say, no-nonsense, authority figures would be Tobey's calling for the remainder of his career; yet given the right role, he had the talent to make it memorable: the smart, likeable Captain Hendrey in The Thing From Another World (1951); the gallant Colonel Jack Evans in the "prehistoric dinosaur attacks an urban center" genre chiller The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953, a must-see film for fans of special effects wizard, Ray Harryhausen; and as Bat Masterson, holding his own against Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).
Television would also offer Tobey much work: he had his own action series as chopper pilot Chuck Martin in Whirlybirds (1957-59); and had a recurring role as Assistant District Attorney Alvin in Perry Mason (1957-66). He would also be kept busy with guest appearances in countless westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Virginian) and cop shows (The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, Ironside) for the next two decades. Most amusingly, the tail end of Tobey's career saw some self-deprecating cameo spots in such contemporary shockers as The Howling (1981); Strange Invaders (1983) and his role reprisal of Captain Hendry in The Attack of the B-Movie Monsters (2002). Tobey is survived by a daughter, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Kenneth Tobey (1917-2003)
Director Otto Preminger insisted that Robert Mitchum actually slap 'Simmons, Jean' during filming of a particular scene.
The working titles of this film were The Murder and The Bystander. Modern sources also list Murder Story as a working title. According to modern sources, the story was based loosely on the real-life case of Beulah Louise Overell and George Gollum, who in 1947 were accused of murdering Overell's parents in their yacht off Newport Beach, CA. Police maintained that seventeen-year-old Overell and twenty-one-year-old Gollum bludgeoned the couple to death prior to setting off a crude explosive device on the boat. Suspicion fell on young Overell, who stood to inherit a sizable fortune, after it was revealed that her parents did not approve of her romance with Gollum, a pre-med student. After a lengthy trial, one of the longest then on record, Gollum and Overell were acquitted. In November 1957, writer Chester Erskine sold the rights to his story to producers Sam Baerwitz and Joseph Justman of Belsam Pictures, according to news items. Edmond O'Brien was announced as Belsam's probable star and director in January 1952.
After RKO head Howard Hughes acquired the property, he borrowed Otto Preminger from Twentieth Century-Fox to direct. In his autobiography, Preminger states that he at first rejected the script, despite pleadings from Darryl F. Zanuck, Fox's production chief, who reportedly owed Hughes some favors. According to the autobiography, Hughes called Preminger at three in the morning, drove him around town for hours and convinced him to take the job. Preminger claimed that Hughes gave him carte blanche on the production, stipulating only that Simmons be required to wear a long, black wig over her recently cut hair, and that the filming be completed in eighteen shooting days, as required by her contract termination date. As per Preminger's request, the script was quickly rewritten by Frank Nugent and Oscar Millard and cinematographer Harry Stradling was borrowed from Samuel Goldwyn's company for the production.
Although the CBCS lists Ralph Volkie (Good Humor man), Peggy Walker (TV girl) and Charles Tannen (TV broadcaster) in the cast, those characters were not included in the final film. Modern sources note that Layne Britton worked as a makeup artist on the picture.
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States February 2, 1953
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex) as part of program "Femmes Fatales Follow Them at Your Own Risk!" October 5 - December 15, 1996.)
Released in United States February 2, 1953