It’s that dastardly wonderful time of year when Speakeasy* Shadows and Satin & Silver Screenings host The Great Villain Blogathon 2017! featuring an endless array of diabolically cunning, insensate evil, down right nefarious and at times psychotic adversaries that Cinema has to offer!
Now in the past several years I’ve taken a long look at Gloria Holden & Gloria Swanson: When the Spider Woman Looks: Wicked Love, Close ups & Old Jewels -Sunset Blvd (1950) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).
Dark Patroons & Hat Box Killers: for 2015’s The Great Villain Blogathon! I focused on the extraordinarily passionate Vincent Price in Dragonwyck 1946 and the ruthlessly sublime Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall 1937—in a twisted nail biter by director Walter Graumen who puts the lovely Olivia de Havilland in peril at the hands of a sociopathic animal James Caan — Lady in a Cage (1964) for the spectacular Blogathonian lady’s hosting the 2014’s —The Great Villain Blogathon and once again last year for 2016’s event, I featured True Crime Folie à deux: with my take on Truman Capote’s true crime drama In Cold Blood (1967) & the offbeat psycho thriller The Honeymoon Killers (1969).
I was tempted to do a double feature tribute to the two masterful, despicably loathsome characters brought to life by Robert Mitchum. First his superb manifestation of the crazed preacher Harry Powell in Charles Laughton’s expressionist masterpiece The Night of the Hunter (1955). And then as the animalistic psychotic Max Cady in director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear (1962).
I might not wait until The Great Villain Blogathon 2018, and just do a special feature “Robert Mitchum’s Alpha Madmen” because he & these two films are just too good not to write about before next go around! And I’m simply mad about Robert Mitchum, not to worry, not mad in the same way as Angel Face’s Diane Tremayne!
The Great Villain Blogathon is perhaps one of my favorite blogathons because the possibilities are devilishly deliciously endless. My mind began to wander around all the delightfully deadly possibility of dastardly dames…
Beautiful Anti-Heroines with a psychological underpinning as in THE DARK MIRROR 1946 starring Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters one bad, one good, de Havilland also embodies that certain dangerous allure in MY COUSIN RACHEL 1952.
THE STRANGE WOMAN 1946 features a very cunning and mesmerizing Hedy Lamarr, and then there’s always Anne Baxter who portrays a deeply disturbed woman in GUEST IN THE HOUSE 1944. All would be excellent choices for this bad ass… blogathon! BUT…!
This year, I find myself drawn to two intoxicatingly beautiful antagonists who’s veneer of elegance & delicate exquisiteness is tenuously covering their obsessive shattered psyches. Jean Simmons and Gene Tierney both manage to create an icy austerity and a menacing malignancy within the immediate allure of their physical beauty and wiles.
Also significant in both these films, the characters of Diane Tremayne and Ellen Berent flip the male gaze and conquer it for themselves, being the ones ‘to look’.
In both these films, the two deadly women are father-fixated! Both are pathologically jealous. And both women will not go “easy” Diane won’t put the car in gear “Easy!” and Ellen will not leave Dick alone and go away “easy.” These two killer psycho-noir ladies are a great pairing of deadly damsels!
DEFINITION : beauty |ˈbyo͞odē|
noun (pl. beauties)
1 a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: I was struck by her beauty | an area of outstanding natural beauty.
DEFINITION : CRIMINALLY INSANE
1 in a manner that is contrary to or forbidden by criminal law:
noun (pl. psychoses |-ˌsēz| )
a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.
the state of being obsessed with someone or something: she cared for him with a devotion bordering on obsession.
- an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind:
Freudian |ˈfroidēən| Psychology
relating to or influenced by Sigmund Freud and his methods of psychoanalysis, especially with reference to the importance of sexuality in human behavior.
pathological |ˌpaTHəˈläjək(ə)l| (also pathologic)
the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.—• mental, social, or linguistic abnormality or malfunction—compulsive; obsessive
*feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages:
*feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship:•
*fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions:
• (of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.
From Mary Ann Doane’s book “The femme fatale is the figure of a certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma. For her most striking characteristic, perhaps, is the fact that she never really is what she seems to be. She harbors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable or manageable. In thus transforming the threat of the woman into a secret, something which must be aggressively revealed, unmasked, discovered … Her appearance marks the confluence of modernity, urbanization, Freudian psychoanalysis…The femme fatale is a clear indication of the extent of the fears and anxieties prompted by shifts in the understanding of sexual difference in the late nineteenth century… “
Doane goes on to say that it’s no wonder cinema was a great place for the femme fatale of 1940s noir with the femme fatale representing a sign of deviant strength. That could be said of both of our highlighted villainesses!
ANGEL FACE (1952)
She loved one man … enough to KILL to get him!
Directed by Otto Preminger written by Frank Nugent, Oscar Milland, Chester Erskine, and an uncredited Ben Hecht.
Jean Simmons stars as the antagonist Diane Tremayne Jessup, Robert Mitchum plays Frank Jessup, Mona Freeman as nice girl Mary Wilton, Herbert Marshall as Diane’s beloved father, Mr. Charles Tremayne, Barbara O’Neil as stepmother Mrs. Catherine Tremayne, Leon Ames as attorney Fred Barrett, and Kenneth Tobey as nice guy Bill Compton, who is also Franks ambulance jockey partner. Cinematography by Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs 1960, Gypsy 1962, My Fair Lady 1964) and haunting score by great composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Angel Face is a bit of a reserved psycho-drama/noir directed by Otto Preminger who also produced. Quite striking in its few brutal moments scattered throughout as the murders play out at the hands of the extremely poised Jean Simmons, (So Long at the Fair 1950, The Big Country 1958, Spartacus 1960) which is what gives the film its nasty ironic burn in the end.
Jean Simmons was absolutely mesmerizing as Charlotte Bronn, a tormented woman who suffers a nervous breakdown, who leaves the institution and tries to make sense of her life with her austere husband Dan O’Herlihy, sister Rhonda Fleming, and sympathetic Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in director Mervyn Leroy’s Home Before Dark 1958.
In Angel Face, Simmons plays it almost perfectly chilling with her refined beauty that displays no affect, a few obvious inner demons behind those dreamy eyes, not so much bubbling passion underneath as there are bursts of fervency out of necessity. She stunningly floats through the scenes with ice water in her veins, determined to possess, first her father (Herbert Marshall) and then Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum).
As an actor, Robert Mitchum possesses an enormous range, and many layers to his film & real-life persona– although he always exudes that smooth yet brawny exterior, he can either play it self-possessed, a coolly determined hero or visceral anti-hero, and at times he’s been quite effective as a sicko. In Angel Face, Mitchum while still the usual rugged beast and cocksure fella, this time he is foolish and unsympathetically led by his pants, right into our anti-heroin’s trap…
Frank should have stayed with nice nurse Mary, a nice fella for a girl.
Herbert Marshall as Charles Tremayne tries to explain to the doctor and the ambulance drivers what might have happened when the gas valve was left on in his wife’s bedroom.
Robert Mitchum plays former race car driver Frank Jessup, an ambulance jockey who becomes drawn into Diane Tremayne’s (Jean Simmons) psychotically woven web of obsessive love. Frank and Bill are called to the wealthy Tremayne family’s hilltop mansion when Catherine Tremayne (Barbara O’Neil) is almost asphyxiated when the gas valve on her bedroom fireplace is stuck on. In reality, Diane’s attempt to gas her stepmother fails. It seems that Diane is insanely jealous of the woman who took her dear doting father Charles’ (Herbert Marshall) attentions away.
Catherine Tremayne insists that someone has tried to kill her and that the gas inhalation was not a suicide attempt. Catherine Tremayne is looked after by the doctor, given a sedative, and tucked into bed. Frank wanders down the great staircase, lured by haunting piano playing.
Frank wanders into the parlor when he hears the refined and innocent doe-eye-looking Diane playing a classical melody on the grand piano. He is immediately struck by the beautifully delicate young woman. As soon as Diane sees Frank who tells her that her stepmother is okay, she becomes hysterical. He tries to calm her down in his gruff manner, “Look take it easy I told ya she’s gonna be fine.” Diane continues to sob, “Leave me alone.” He grabs her arm forcefully and yells at her to stop it, but Diane acts as if she is inconsolable, while Frank is getting more frustrated with her. So, the big guy slaps her, slaps her hard. Some sort of awareness washes over her face, in fact, she might have rather liked getting smacked in the face and so, she slaps him back, just as hard. Frank laughs, “Now look, the manual says that’s supposed to stop hysterics, it doesn’t say a word about getting slapped back.” “I’m sorry”, “That’s alright forget it. I’ve been slapped by dames before.”
We can see that there is something definitely off about this strange young woman and it should have raised the hair on the back of his neck but Frank is a bit of a dog you see.
Frank and Bill drive back to the hospital where they are set to get off from work. Frank says goodnight to Bill and walks over to the cafe because Mary is waiting on his call. Bill tells Frank he’s a lucky guy, and he agrees- “You know it!”
What Frank doesn’t realize is that Diane has jumped into her little sportscar and has followed the men in the ambulance all the way back to the hospital. She watches as Frank enters the cafe. Harry the cafe owner says, “Well if it ain’t the dead body jockey” “Sure Harry that’s why I come here it looks like the morgue.”
Frank puts a coin in the phone and begins to call Mary but he gets a busy signal. He turns around and voilà Diane is standing there. She floats out an innocent sounding, “Hello.” Frank pleasantly surprised says “Well hello, you do get around fast don’t ya.” Diane answers, “I parked my broomstick outside” Frank-“Beer Harry… what do witches drink?”
Now… This is why Frank is a dog, it doesn’t trouble him that this young woman has followed him to work. He was supposed to have dinner with his girlfriend Mary who is a nurse at the hospital and a wonderful person.
Naturally, one busy signal and Frank’s attention span is switched to this young stalker whom he finds intriguing. He finally gets Mary on the phone and tells her that he’s too tired to get together and goes off into the night to dine and dance with Diane. He is now ensnared in her web.
Frank-“I’ll see you tomorrow” Mary-“Tomorrow… was it a rough call?” Frank staring at Diane- “Yeah, rough.”
Diane asks Mary to lunch… she’s got a plan you see.
What makes Diane even more conniving is that the next day she meets Mary for lunch and tells her about her evening with her boyfriend. She puts it under the pretense of helping the couple out with Frank’s plans on owning his own sports car repair ship, Diane having the means to offer financial support. But the seed is planted and Mary gets the heavy hint dropped that Frank is a dog and feels betrayed by Frank’s lie about being too tired. Mary is no dope and she lets Diane know that she won’t be a fool. She tells Diane that she would have rather not known about their evening together and knows that Diane has brought her to lunch to try and shake her faith in Frank and to “find out how stupid” she was. Mary isn’t the typical good girl in noir—she’s more streetwise than that and a bit jaded by the ways of the world. She’s a good girl, but not a dumb girl.
That night Frank is about to go out on a date with Mary and he continues to lie about the previous evening “I was so beat last night I hit the sack as soon as I got in” Mary tells him “That, I can believe.”
Diane walks into the diner and tells Frank that she met with Mary for lunch.
Diane-“Go ahead hit me.” Frank-“First I’ll buy you dinner then I’ll hit ya.” Diane -“When I tell you what I did you probably won’t want to see me again, ever.” Frank-“Sounds pretty grim.” Diane-“I had lunch with Mary I told her about last night… oh not everything just that we went out together.” Frank gripes-“Well why did you say that, I told her that…” Diane-“I just told her that I wanted to help you get the garage.” Frank-“Oh yeah you’re a big help.”
Later that evening while dropping subtle barbs at each other about the price of Diane’s spending, she lays the groundwork for getting Catherine to hire Frank as her new chauffeur.
Diane to Catherine complaining about her expense account-“Don’t you know it’s the simple things that cost the most!”
Diane tells Catherine that she could really use a chauffeur…
Now that Frank and Mary’s relationship is strained Diane moves in for the kill, she initiates a passionate kiss, she tempts him with the idea of a race coming up, tempting him with “pebble beach” and that she will loan her car to him, also luring him with the security of a better-paying job.
He decides to take a job with the Tremayne’s as her stepmother Catherine’s chauffeur, though he tells Diane he’s just “not the type” even move into an apartment over the garage. Diane tells Frank about her father, how he is a widowed writer, who has been wasting his talent, marrying into money for its comfort with the rich Catherine whom Diane despises for the way she treats him.
Part of Diane’s diabolical plot to draw Frank into her web, she pretends to be nice to Catherine asking her to invest in Frank’s desire to open up his own garage that caters to sports cars.
This is also a way for Diane to ingratiate herself into Frank’s life by appealing to his love of fast cars, as an extension of her own dangerous mind, she drives a sports car that Frank seems to be dazzled by and covets as he was once a race car driver. This is just an example of one of Diane’s manipulative powers as she seduces Frank with the illusion that he will be in control. Race cars are vehicles that represent freedom and freedom of movement as they are capable of high speeds and risk-taking. Both Diane and Frank seem to want to move at their own speed and of their own volition with no one interfering. In that way, they are suited. Frank wants to do his own thing, opening up his own garage and Diane is looking for someone new to possess and control since her father is now a little more out of her reach.
But this is where the bait, or point of attraction leads Frank down a dangerous spiraling road led completely by Diane’s calculating will— where he will ultimately and literally crash and burn.
And so Frank meets with his employer who is receptive to him. Catherine actually thinks he’s a very nice young man and calls over to her lawyer to look over the papers, feeling fine about lending a great deal of money for him to open up his own garage, though she must wait for her attorney to look over the financial details of the transaction. Frank believes the deal is going to happen, until Diane sabotages the whole thing by insinuating herself using deception once again, pretending to show Frank a crumpled paper from the waste pail with the figures for the investment, that her stepmother supposedly trashed. Frank seems surprised that Catherine decided not to go ahead with it, as she appeared keen on the idea.
“Oh, Frank I’m so sorry.” Frank-“Don’t take it so hard. You had a nice idea it just didn’t work that’s all.” Diane-“I’m so sorry for you.” Frank-“She changed her mind forget it, we’ll make a big night of it.” Diane– “Not tonight.” Frank slightly annoyed-“Now why?” Diane warns him, “It would be safer not to. We have to be careful for a few days. More than ever now.” Frank-“What do we have to be careful of now?” Diane-“Well if she finds out she’ll dismiss you and I couldn’t stand to lose you now…” Frank-“So she fires me and I get another job. Maybe it’s better that way. At least we won’t have to play around like this. Hiding like kids.” Diane-“You don’t know her Frank. She’d lock me in.” Frank laughs-“How could she lock you in?” Diane-“She could do anything to me because of my father. If I try to fight her, she makes him pay for it, she knows I can’t stand that, please try to understand.”
Of course, Diane has constructed this lie as Catherine was very interested in going through with the deal. She wants to poison Frank’s mind against Catherine, and Frank doesn’t go straight to Catherine and merely asks if this is true, he just takes Diane’s word for it.
Once he is working for the Tremayne’s, and the prospect of his garage will not materialize-Frank gets antsy.
While Diane plays chess with dear old daddy, Frank gets bored playing chauffeur above the garage and tries to call Mary but he can’t reach her. Diane says goodnight to Father laying out his milk, biscuits, and cigarettes by his bedside, like the loving daughter, he can’t do without.
While Diane sits at the piano and plays her lamenting melody, in her eyes she appears like a black widow knowing that she has a juicy fly trapped above the garage, planning her next strategy which comes in the middle of the night.
She comes to Frank’s room crying and frightened claiming that Catherine had been in her bedroom looking down at her. Diane says with her most delicate voice-“It was so strange I wanted to speak but I couldn’t.” Diane tells Frank that Catherine had closed the window and put the gas on in her room, that she heard that awful hissing sound. She didn’t dare leave the room. Frank wants to tell her father and the police, but Diane quickly gathers her composure, “No Frank we mustn’t do that.”
Diane’s pretense of paranoia about Catherine’s trying to kill her emerges more clearly for Frank who is now taking notice of it.
An exercise in frustration, Frank begins to realize that he is in love with a lovely yet quite homicidal head case! but he fails to untangle himself from this deadly beauty.
Frank [of Diane’s supposed ‘evil’ stepmother] … “If she’s tryin’ to kill you, why did she turn on the gas in her own room first?”
Diane “To make it look as though somebody else was guilty…”
Frank “Is that what you did?”
Diane “Frank, are you accusing me?”
Frank “I’m not accusing anybody. But if I were a cop and not a very bright cop at that, I’d say that your story was as phony as a three-dollar bill.”
Diane “How can you say that to me?”
Frank “Oh, you mean after all we’ve been to each other?… Diane, look. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind that pretty little face of yours – I don’t *want* to. But I learned one thing very early. Never be the innocent bystander – that’s the guy that always gets hurt. If you want to play with matches, that’s your business. But not in gas-filled rooms – that’s not only dangerous, it’s stupid.”
Diane tells him that she’s very tired. He says “Yeah, that I can believe.” When she tries to kiss him, he pulls away from her.
Meantime Frank visits with Mary, who is on her way out to meet up with Bill for a date. She is surprisingly nice to Frank which is more than he deserves. She tells him Bill was sure he’d show up for last night’s bowling tournament he tells her –“I’ve been busy.”
Frank asks how Bill did in the tournament, she tells him “Wonderful.” Frank answers, “He’s been making out alright with you too huh.”
Mary says, “Bill was very sweet to me after you walked out.”
Frank-“I took a job that pays better than being a lousy ambulance driver, is that a crime?” Mary- “Is taking the boss’s daughter to the Mocalmba (club) part of the job?” Frank-“They got a good band there, remind me to take you there sometime.”
You just can’t blame Mary for trying to move on, Bill is a much more dependable and very likable guy who has worshiped Mary from the beginning. She asks about Frank’s new life, and he tells her that he’s thinking of quitting.
He tells her, “I’ve been thinking about quitting, it’s a weird outfit, not for me.”
Frank asks-“What’s the score Mary, has Bill taken over or do I still rate?”
Mary-“That’s a hard question to answer and I don’t think a fair one to ask” Frank-“A very simple question, yes or no, Bill or me? Can’t you make up your mind?” Mary tells him, “Yes, but I want to be sure you can make up yours. Can’t we let it go at that for a while” Frank-“Oh, I’m on probation, okay, how bout tonight, we got a date?” Mary laughs- “Why not” Frank says, “You know something you’re a pretty nice guy… for a girl.”
The next day Frank is going to leave, but Diane has packed her bags and stumbles onto Frank packing his own bags. She asks him where he is going. He tells her that he’s quitting, and when she asks why, he tells her, “Well maybe it’s the altitude. Living up here makes my heart pound.”
Of course, Diane collapses onto the couch and begins to weep. Frank tells her, “Now let’s face it I never should have taken this job. You shouldn’t have asked me… you know I’m right. You have your world I have mine. You got beautiful clothes a big house, someday you’ll come into a lot of money. I got a pair of big hands and not much else.”
“But all I want is you. I can’t let you go now… I won’t.”
He tells Diane that he wants to quit his job and she becomes upset as her plaything and the object of her second fixation is now slipping away from her. Frank doesn’t want to be involved with the whole package anymore. “It’s no good I tell you, I’m not getting involved.” She asks “Involved with what?”
“How stupid do you think I am –You hate that woman. Someday somehow you’re gonna hate her enough to kill her. It’s been in the back of your mind all along.”
Diane says coldly-“So she’s fooled you too! Just like she has everyone else.”
Diane reminds Frank about her father’s book. That one day she went into his desk to hide a present for him, just “something between him and me…”
And she found inside the drawer where he was supposed to keep his manuscript, there was nothing but a stack of blank paper. He hasn’t written a line since he married Catherine. At first Frank just blows this off, “So he got tired. Writer marries a rich widow what’d ya expect him to write… checks.” This touches on a nerve, “Don’t joke about my father!” She tells Frank that Catherine has “humiliated and destroyed him.”
Frank tells her that there’s no law that says she has to stay, she could move out and find work the way other girls must do. She tells Frank that she would leave if it weren’t for her father. “That’s where I came in. I guess that’s where I leave.”
“Frank please will you tell me one thing? Do you love me at all? I must know…”
“I suppose it’s a kind of love. But with a girl like you, how can a man be sure.” Diane quietly asks, “Will you take me with you?”
Frank-“You had it all figured out didn’t ya? You mean you’d really leave your father and everything here.” Diane-“If I have to, to keep you.” Frank-“I could be wrong about you.”
Diane begins to tell Frank how she can sell her jewels and the fancy car and he can get a small garage at first. He wants her to be sure of what she is getting herself into. She tells him that she’s sure. They hear Catherine’s car pull around. He tells her to think it over for a few days. Her kisses and sympathetic story about her poor father have worked perfectly on Frank. And she makes sure that he promises that he won’t leave until then. Diane’s maneuvering has worked.
Diane leaves Frank’s room, and walks passed Catherine’s car. Tiomkin’s score plays fervently, feverishly as she looks down the steep cliff and seems thoughtful about the car that is framed behind her. Finding an empty package of cigarettes stuck in the hedge, she holds it out and watches it as it drops down the deep cliff side. Shades of darker things are soon to follow.
Diane is so sinister she even loans Catherine a pair of her new driving gloves, just for the irony of it all. Sometimes she can be so sweet.
Catherine needs to go to her bridge game looking for Frank to drive her, Diane makes the excuse that he needed to go to Santa Barbara, having loaned her sports car to him. Diane offers to drive her instead, knowing all too well that she’ll refuse. And of course, Catherine does in fact decide to drive herself to her bridge game. At the last minute, Charles decides to tag along for a ride to Beverly Hills.
Diane languidly floats as if in a psychotic trance and sits at her piano performing the same melody she played the night she failed to asphyxiate Catherine. We can hear Diane playing her melancholy ‘death song’ on the grand piano as her stepmother and father proceed to drive. But…
Diane has figured out how to tamper with the gear shift. She’s been watching Frank tinker with the mansion’s cars and learns how to reconfigure the brakes and the shift.
Catherine starts up the car, put the gear into drive AND the car shoots backward rather than forwards –it has been rigged to go into reverse, as her stepmother and father are propelled over the steep cliff’s edge.
An homage to the earlier murder, the convertible car goes careening over the jagged cliff, rolling over and over and smashing against the rocks, the crash dummies used are quite effective as they (Catherine and Diane’s father) seem to become crushed under the twisted fiery metal…
here’s a nifty gif to illustrate
It is one horrific scene indeed. A scene that truly rattles me!
Diane is successful at the second attempt on her stepmother’s (Barbara O’Neil Stella Dallas 1937, Gone with the Wind 1939, All this, And Heaven Too 1940, Secret Beyond the Door 1947, Whirlpool 1950) life. The problem with Diane’s almost ingenious perfect murder unbeknownst to her is that dear Daddy wasn’t supposed to be a passenger in the car so he also dies in the fiery crash, a casualty in the wreckage of Diane’s unbridled psychotic scheme of stepmother machine meddling.
The police think there is something strange about the accident and Frank is charged with murder after Diane’s packed suitcase is found in his room.
The cop on the case knows Frank from driving the ambulance, and he brings Frank in for questioning. Detective Lt. Ed Brady asks how Frank came to work for the Tremaynes, and Frank tells him that he sort of just fell into it, after they had gotten the call about Catherine’s near asphyxiation. Ed tells him he knows. He’s got the report right there on his desk, Detective Lt. Ed Brady (Larry J. Blake)-“Probably accidental, sure makes you wonder, don’t it.” Frank asks, “What da ya mean?” Ed “She claims somebody tried to murder her” Frank laughs it off-“She was hysterical, why would anyone try to murder her?” Ed-“Are you kiddin’ a woman with her kind of money? Oh by the way Frank, what sort of a girl is this stepdaughter er… Diane?” Frank tells him, “Very nice girl, very pretty girl.” Ed-“Any boyfriends?” Frank-“None that I ever saw. She and her father were very close.” he puffs on his cigarette some more. Ed mentions “But didn’t get along with her stepmother eh” Frank- “I didn’t say that.” Ed-“Okay okay, when was the last time you drove the Tremayne car?”
Ed shows him the packed suitcase and then tells Frank he should get himself a lawyer.
Attorney Fred Barrett (Leon Ames), Diane’s lawyer comes to see her in the prison hospital ward.
“She idolized the man Fred it’s no wonder her nerves are cracked!”
Diane suffers a breakdown as she had only wanted to kill her stepmother, she never intended on killing her beloved father when she tinkered with the car. It looks like Frank is involved because he was the last known person to handle the car. He was known to have worked on the cars at the Tremaynes.
The Tremayne family lawyer hires one of L.A.’s best defense attorneys, Fred Barrett a master at playing on a jury’s emotions.
Barrett tries to tell her that it won’t serve either her or Frank to shoulder the blame because the jury would believe them both guilty. In a moment of honesty, she tries to save Frank’s neck. Seeming less like a crazy girl and in more control of her powers now in the aftermath of what she has done, inadvertently killing her father, she wants to take responsibility for the murders herself, not wanting anyone to defend her and that she acted alone.
Diane confesses to the crime-“But I’m telling the truth.”
“The truth is what the jury decides…not you, not me, not Frank.”
At first Frank doesn’t want to go along with Barrett’s plan.
Barrett-“To be perfectly blunt Mr. Jessup I’m not particularly invested in saving your neck. The concern is with my client Diane Tremayne” Frank-“Yeah that’s what I figured” Barrett tells him, “But the point is you have a much better chance together than separately. And the evidence actually points much more to you than it does to her. The fact that an automobile was involved” Frank interrupts, “If she thinks she can get away with that she’s lost her mind.”
Frank and Diane are married at the hospital…
The ladies at the prison bake the bride and groom a wedding cake-“Kids we sure hope you beat the rap!”
Barrett concocts a scheme to have Frank and Diane married in the hospital jail ward where Diane is spending her time while first catatonic, she is then convalescing after the breakdown. Diane’s legal team insists that she marry Frank so that it would seem like the couple was just innocent young people who intended matrimony and not having a sordid affair. They want Diane to keep her honest revelations to herself. A morally distasteful strategy that might guarantee a good outcome for them at the trial.
This scheme tries to offset any more scandal for the headlines framing it as two innocent people in love. And that explains they leave the Tremayne house that day with plans to elope.
Another bad choice, Frank goes along with it, hoping to save his own skin not wanting to be convicted of the murders himself. He allows yet again an outside influence to manipulate his life. The idea of Frank and Diane getting married seems to push Diane further into the delusion that they will remain married and that she will have a future with Frank.
But Frank now wants nothing to do with the obsessive murderous Diane. D.A. Judson (Jim Backus) brings in the car’s mangled motor and drive shaft to demonstrate his theory of how the transmission was jimmied to stay in reverse. The defense attorney Barrett manages to create a measure of reasonable doubt, supplied by with his own specialists who do create doubt in the minds of the jury and the trial ends with an acquittal. And the couple is now free to go. Frank wants a divorce.
Returning to the mansion Frank tells Diane he’ll go visit Mary to see if she’ll take him back. If she won’t he’ll leave for Mexico. Diane is devastated and in desperation makes him an offer. She’ll loan him her jaguar to go see Mary. If Mary takes him back, he can keep the car. If not he’ll bring the car back.
Here we are not sure whether Diane’s psychosis has broken up a little like a dark cloud getting clearer, as she appears more genuine at this point, or if she is still manipulating Frank.
She shares a little history about her childhood and where her fixations might be coming from. She tells him that she was only ten years old when her mother was caught in an air raid in England, after which her father “became everything” to her. But once he married Catherine, Diane says she used to fantasize about what she and her father would do if her stepmother were dead.
She tells Frank that now she realizes that Catherine never meant any harm and she wants him to believe her when she says that she would give her life to bring them back. This is why she tells Frank that he cannot leave her because she wouldn’t know what to do without him. Now appearing just more desperately lonely than viciously psychotic. But Frank isn’t ready to stay married to her, not even try at staying close, though he doesn’t hate her, he is “getting out all the same.”
After Frank leaves she closes up the house, dismisses the servants, and wanders around the estate alone, before she goes to Frank’s room where she spends the night curled up in the armchair wrapped in his jacket.
Diane believes that she’ll never see him again. She goes to Barrett’s office, wanting to confess, and Barrett reluctantly agrees to take her statement. Diane details how she unwittingly got Frank to show her while giving the car a tune-up on how to rig the car to go in reverse. But he tells her she can’t be tried again due to double jeopardy. Her admission shows that she might not be totally delusional, just a regretful psychotic.
When Diane returns to the lonely mansion, Dimitri Tiomkin’s dark score swells dramatically around Diane as she appears to drift bereft with grief through the empty halls and rooms. But Diane’s hopes are sparked when Frank returns, Mary has by right rejected him, preferring the kind and loyal ex-partner Bill and Frank decides to leave for Mexico.
Diane pleads with him to let her go along. He says no way. Even though he’s called a cab, he decides to let her drive him to the bus station. They get in the jaguar, and Diane brings champagne and two glasses.
It might not be necessarily clear when the idea came to Diane If it was the final realization that she’d be driving him to the station never to see him again. Maybe she thinks she can change his mind over that glass of champagne. But something clicks in her brain when Frank criticizes the way she puts the car in gear, as he exclaims. “Easy” seems to spark her reaction…
He pours the champagne as she starts the engine. Then looking at him, she floors the car in reverse as the two go frighteningly backward over that scary steep cliff…
And rockets them down the same cliff that killed her father and stepmother, the car smashing against the rocks and mangled into the same kind of twisted metal sculpture.
Irony-a few minutes later the cab arrives…. Frank you idiot.
The scene is given its moxie by cinematographer Harry Straddling (Suspicion 1941, A Streetcar Named Desire 1951, A Face in the Crowd 1957)
Angel Face dramatically embraces the darker implications of noir.
I admit, I’d have a hard time saying no to Jean Simmons too… but Franks stupidity and Mitchum’s ability to play a tough guy (who smokes a cigarette sexier than any man I can think of) a guy just floating where the wind blows his pants is aptly described in Silver and Ursini’s book—FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS– on Otto Preminger
“One of the big achievement of Preminger his writers his cast and composer Tiomkin is to create a tone of amour fou in Angel Face that is realistic, poignant, delirious and suspenseful in equal doses. Frank is not the smartest guy, but he’s not a dummy, either. His lackadaisical attitude about life is embodied in Mitchum’s languid body language. Slow on the uptake about how dangerous Diane is, his problem is one of the noir anti-hero most common:thinking with his balls and not his brains. If he hadn’t given Diane a second chance, if Mary had taken him back;and if he’d realized Diane was willing to sacrifice her own life to be with him. A lot of ifs. Frank is always a half-beat behind trying to get in rhythm and he pays for it dearly. Preminger actually generates some sympathy for Diane when she tries to make up for the murders by confessing, only to realize the state will never punish her. Barrett’s assertion she may end up institutionalized if she presses the issue is more unpalatable to her than the gas chamber. When she comes home before seeing Frank for the final time, the romantic delirium builds to fever pitch, culminating in a bittersweet shot of her curled up in the shadows in Frank’s room. Frank’s coat wrapped around her. It is one of the most moving sequences… the character is completely self-aware of her own psychosis. Angel Face is Preminger’s finest noir.”
Continue reading “Beautiful Poison: Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953) & Gene Tierney in Leave Her To Heaven (1945)”