Movies We Like
“We were born to tread the Earth as angels, to seek out heaven this side of the sky. But they who race alone shall stumble in the dark and fall from grace. Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise, for only two together can enter Paradise.”
The above quote has quite a bit of significance when uttered in the film Fallen Angel. It suggests a theme that had not really been explored much in cinema by 1945, and remains as sparse today: a man falls from grace when he betrays his betrothed, and their bond is the only thing that can redeem his wickedness. It's not uncommon for this to be something that occurs in a movie, but rarely is the man given the opportunity to make amends for his foul actions.
Fallen Angel tracks Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) on his way to San Francisco, just kicked off a bus for lack of fare and landing almost squarely in between what he left behind and where he wants to go. Without any baggage and only a buck, he wanders into Pop's Eats—a local restaurant and watering hole run by a nervous older man named Pop. Everyone in the place seems to be in a dreary mood following the latest of the periodical “disappearances” of the cashier, Stella (Linda Darnell). It so happens she's chosen that particular night to make her re-appearance, as her latest scheme to find a man to give her a new life has backfired. Stanton first sees the gorgeous vixen as a challenge and plays cool. As a schemer who needs to find his next opportunity quick, he dismisses the dull-eyed and husky-voiced maiden at first.
Stanton's interest is piqued by a traveling fortune-teller whose reputation shakily stands on being able to commune with the dead. He convinces the man to hire him to promote his show in the town, which is no easy task as the townspeople follow the lead of the surviving Mills heiresses—the oldest of which finds the whole charade deplorable. The younger of the two, June (Alice Faye), is a bit easier to work on and Eric manages to charm her and get the two to attend the spectacle, thus the rest of the town follows. However, the main attraction of the night is the spiritual visitation of their father and it backfires when their family disgrace is aired due to the troupe's underhanded investigation into their lives.
Once Eric has a steady flow of cash he begins to court Stella, finding that she's only interested in a sense of security that a man like him can't offer. Yet, he can't help but be taken in by her coolness; there's often something enticing about the unattainable. He begins to plot a way to have her, which entails getting a large sum of money. In his shyster's mind, the easiest way to do this is to simultaneously court June Mills (after asking for her forgiveness) to get half of her inheritance pending a speedy divorce. This doesn't make Stella necessarily happy, and she's not the waiting type. They strike a deal: procure the money and then elope. Stella doesn't wait up alone, as it were. Meanwhile Eric manages to succeed in his efforts and hastily marries June. Later the same evening, Stella is murdered.
The film then impressively breaks into a nasty investigation that offers a pool of suspects. Men who were transfixed by Stella and offered her a desirable gain and no doubt the promise of a ring. It becomes obvious that she had finally made up her mind and that someone else couldn't stand to not be chosen. These events more or less out Eric as a slimy fool, and seemingly with the strongest motive to kill Stella. Can he clear himself, and will he still have the love of June at the end? In terms of how it all comes together, the answer is not of the norm. That's what makes this one of my favorite noirs in terms of the romantic element. Film Noir usually presents a stimulating mystery with some juicy bits to make everyone happy. Rarely does it present the audience with a practical life lesson, as is the case here.
June Mills remains my favorite character in the film, due entirely to Alice Faye's performance. Faye sort of pre-dates my favorite type of star: the one who, in life, is very much like the characters they portray. Gena Rowlands is a prime example. In fact, the romance in this film very much reminds me of a Cassavettes sort of story where the men are unimaginable bastards and the women are frail and humble. All the while, there remains an attractiveness to the pairing.
Director Otto Preminger is well, and perhaps best, known for his film Laura—a quintessential noir. Fallen Angel doesn't come too far after and the style is very similar, which is to say that he and the rest of the world were falling in love with the darker recesses of their imagination. That enthusiasm shows and is very easy to admire here. To be honest, Andrews doesn't necessarily leave a bold impression as Stanton, though he's charming and easy to follow. It makes for a perfect match for his character, though. Supporting cast members, including Darnell, are well-developed and enjoyable. I recommend the film mostly to those who are only familiar with Faye's work in musicals and wish to see her shine in a wholly different way, but also for those who'd enjoy a sort of sacrificial love story.