Angels Over Broadway (1940)

Angels Over Broadway (1940) is a pretty little film noir B-picture, with elements of comedy and farce tagged on to some more usual elements, which include a suicidal male lead and some hoods playing a crooked game of poker.

The 'angels' of the title ultimately gather around an insecure and insignificant little man who is about to kill himself, due to  mis-appropriated $3,000. These three unlikely characters are grifter and street-dwelling shark-about town Douglas Fairbanks Jnr; confident and innocent girl-on-the-up Rita Hayworth, and playwright and bombastic drunk, Thomas Mitchell.

What starts as a scam against the suicidal man is transformed by this unusual crew into more of a long con, when the four conspire to cheat some very bad gang-members out of money in a seedy high stakes game. The mark, in effect turns the tables and becomes the conman, although this high risk strategy of course doesn't play out as expected.


Contemplating The End
None of Angels Over Broadway in fact comes along as expected. The script, which is both verbose as it is delivered by Thomas Mitchell, is also full of great film noir gems and delights, although the story swerves on and off the tracks, plunges into moddy noir corners, and remains exceptionally cheap. Rita Hayworth was 22 years old when this was shot, and it is a phenomenon to behold the class she inadvertently delivers to this cheap fare.

The wisecracks and film noir 'street' language roll off the production line fast, presenting as much escapism and thrill as possible, with no hint of the world at war, for once. Some favourites:

Bill O'Brien: [on the telephone] Hello, Dutch? Bill O'Brien! Say listen, I'm over at the Pigeon Club takin' in the sights, and, uh, I ran into somethin' that I thought might be of mutual interest to us. An out-of-town job came shoo-shooing in here a while ago and throwin' away money like birdseed.

Nina Barone: I'm a little better than you think, Mr. O'Brien.
Bill O'Brien: That wouldn't be hard.

Gene Gibbons: They'll deal you hope off the bottom.

And there are plenty of throwaways such as:
"Here keep the change buddy, it's your turn to get rich."

Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, at the same time, isn't a name that is associated much with noir, and it is fair to say that he doesn't do hardboiled and downtrodden. It all ships in fact with a fearsome optimism, as he wanders the rainy, broken and depressing streets of New York, he's searching a lucky break, what he calls 'rolling his seven'. He may be down, but even in the rain, and even broken to the last time, he throws a cheery smile and skips on, not exactly the noir archetype it should be said.


The Whole Crew Await The Long Con

It all takes place over the course of one night, and the slightly awkward but entertaining mix is probably down to the production; Fairbanks wanted to feel his way into and experiment with the emerging strains of hard-boiled crime capering, while producer Harry Cohn sought to offer Rita Hayworth her first starring role. It does cram in an awful lot in its 79 minutes, trailing up from the depths of suicide to the heights of the pure-love interest which only works because of the sheer power of the two legendary actors squeezing it out.







Seedy City Corners of Film Noir in ANGELS OVER BROADWAY
What should be a dark drama, ends up being charming and endearing, and yet the criminal flavour and genuine threat the movie needs, does pick up with the card game and so the picture finishes strong. John Qualen is good as the mousy, suicidal book-keeper man who really is at the center of this story, and keeps things going. He may not be the big name actor here, but he is the real anchor of this movie.



For noir fans, there is a keen sense of Rita Hayworth's young and innocent charms here - she certainly is no femme fatale. And yet there is plenty inventive, shadowy lighting and dark and depressing city corners, which stamp Angels Over Broadway - whatever else it is - as film noir.




Angels Over Broadway Wikipedia

Angels Over Broadway IMDB

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