Angel Face (1953)

Angel Face (1953) is a obsessive paranoid murder madness classic film noir from RKO Radio Pictures, the home of film noir, film noir central, as it should be known, and a late late entry from the great forgotten studio, and maybe one of the few from the Howard Hawks era that can be enjoyed for its full scale bizarre noir melodrama.

It's hard for some people to recover from the initial sight of Robert Mitchum in that apron. He is a lousy guy, yet hopefully not a lousy ambulance driver and medic. In the motor car noir aspect of Angel Face (1953) he is a bulk boy to be racing the elite cars so maybe ambulances are his thing.

He wants to race elite though and that is what happens. As a lousy boyfriend he is up there with the lying best of them. He doesn't mind a bit of the cheat and like any good heel does not spot the femme fatale with the offer of not just an apartment but more than that.

Plus he gets to drive her rocket-powered torpedo — and yet he remains lousy throughout, a louche Mitchum of a lousy cheat.


There are not just major league spoilers for Angel Face (1953) on this page but pictures of these spoilers too, so don't get scrollin' if you ain't rollin'.

Jean Simmons flirts it up in what might be her only ever film noir role, yes really. The lap of luxury is displayed at its best, something both Hollywood and it is fair to say film noir did almost better bthen anything else — laying it on. Angel Face lays it on.

Robert Mitchum in Angel Face (1953)

Their ridiculous parking garage with a nearby cliff is a Hollywood normality. In most film noir and especially in the case of the paranoid woman noir, the cliff falls to the sea. Some people also always fall. In Angel Face the cliff leads to a deep and deadly gulch, and many a sap lay taking their last gulp in that gulch — three to be exact and one femme fatale with them.

Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953)

Film noir is all red flags, and in Angel Face they are laid on so thick you won't know where to look. The posh lady becomes the co-owner of a garage because the rich just do this. This is 1953 and yet is purest 1940s-style fantasy with every echo of wealth thrown up by the decades. Warnings of wealth are one of the most fun parts of noir, and so a very rich family are always a lot of prospective psychos, criminals, thieves and murderers..

Emotional handling in Angel Face (1953)

To be so unrealistic in style in 1953 was purest bravery and this might be one of the few things we have Howard Hughes to thank for.

There is a tobacco spit out in this movie from Mitchum around the 31 minute mark. These may be another hallmark of noir. 

The music is excellent, unexpected and soft, and often quiet, as at the commencing. The commencing is excellent.

Mitchum hypnotises Simmons by patronising her into submission and in the beautiful dark of noir with the most sublime photography in the world, the world wonders what goes on behind that pretty face of hers.

The alienated girlfriend story almost qualifying as a lousy husband narrative sees the long underwear and dressing scene of the movie from Mona Freeman who is also patronised and takes the alienation quite casually but has Bill, Kenneth Tobey, Frank's fellow ambulance driver — also abandoned — to fall back on. Thus the plotting.

Angel Face is a chump movie, a sap for a frame-up tale following the dumbo behaviour of an ambulance driver with garage dreams.

There's a hospital wedding and undoubtedly one of the key mis en scenes of all film noir: the choir of inmates at this hospital wedding.

To climax this classic Angel Face matures and becomes the last word in lousy husband noir.

Frank Jessup was just another grease monkey with a pipe dream, chauffeuring the sick and the dying in his ambulance, but he nursed a vision that went beyond the wail of sirens and the stench of antiseptic. The man dreamt of a repair shop for the sleek beasts of speed, the kind that roared through the asphalt jungle with a predatory grace. Little did he know, his fate would take a detour into a labyrinth of desire, betrayal, and murder.

One smoky evening, responding to an emergency in the bosom of opulence, Frank collided with the gaze of a femme fatale – Diane Tremayne, a dame whose allure was as dangerous as a loaded .45. Their rendezvous wasn't happenstance; it was a scripted dance of shadows where Diane pirouetted into Frank's world. A whirlwind affair ensued, shattering the heart of his steady gal, Mary Wilton.

The Tremayne family dangled an offer in front of Frank like a poisoned apple – the gig of a chauffeur, complete with a swanky room on the estate. Little did he know, this was a one-way ticket to the heart of a tempest.

One fateful afternoon, the Tremayne chariot took a fatal nosedive off a cliff, a macabre waltz that silenced the lips of the old man and his doll-faced stepmom. As the heiress to the Tremayne kingdom, Diane found herself in the crosshairs of suspicion. Frank, too, was on the hook, accused of messing with the gears of fate.

Enter Fred Barrett, a slick-talking shyster who convinced them that tying the knot would be their ticket to salvation. Frank, against his gut, took the plunge into a sham marriage.

Robert Mitchum and Mona Freeman  in Angel Face (1953)

In the courtroom, the DA swung wild, but the lack of a smoking gun set Frank and Diane free. The shadows receded, but the price of liberty was a pact of deceit. Post-acquittal, Frank, now free of the shackles of the law, broke the news to Diane – the masquerade was over. He tried to rekindle the flame with Mary, but she slammed the door on his mug.

Meanwhile, Diane, drowning in a sea of remorse, spilled her dark secrets to Barrett. The law might be blind, but guilt has a way of stripping away the blindfold. Barrett dropped the bomb – the dame couldn't be retried for the same dance with the devil.

A noir haze enveloped the Tremayne estate as Frank returned to grab his gear. A taxi was his ticket out, but Diane, the puppeteer of doom, lured him into her death waltz. The car roared in reverse, careening off the precipice, a final plunge into the abyss, where secrets and desires collided in a symphony of shattered dreams.

She wanders the post mortem found innocent of double murder mansion at night, clutching a chess piece and then leaving ti slightly squint, all to wonderful, deep, melodramatic, sweeping, weeping Tiomkin, and lots of it.

Robert Mitchum in Angel Face (1953)

Life for a Hollywood actor in the 1940s and 1950s was shaped by the cultural, social, and economic conditions of the time. Here are some aspects that characterized the experience of Hollywood actors during these decades:

Robert Mitchum in Angel Face (1953)

No denying, this one's a looker, a tight little package gliding through its paces. Supporting cast ain't slouches either, especially Herbert Marshall as the old man. The writing's sharp as a switchblade. This flick, it's a rare breed, like Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past," also with Mitchum. Film noir vibes, sure, but it's something else entirely, a real piece of work. Special, you dig?

Jean Simmons as the grieving fatal femme in Angel Face (1953)

Tiomkin hit the bullseye with this composition, a symphonic revelation that reverberates through the soul. But it ain't until that lonesome night, when Simmons strolls back to the desolate stretch where her folks cashed in their chips, that the wordless chorus joins forces with Tiomkin's melody. If that don't etch itself into your cinematic memory as one of the most haunting moments, then partner, you might need to check your pulse. This ain't kiddie fare, nor is it for the faint of heart. The imagery hits you like a thunderbolt, leaving a mark you won't soon forget. Heed the call, but shield the eyes of the greenhorns and the tender-hearted.

As an easygoing ambulance driver, Mr. Mitchum is annexed by a beautiful, smitten introvert, Miss Simmons, who, after installing him as a chauffeur, turns out to be the neurotic of all time. The early scenes of simmering byplay between this mysterious young lady, her fanatically adored father, Herbert Marshall, and hated stepmother, Barbara O'Neil, with the chauffeur as pawn, promise some tingling, civilized intrigue. In the blunt, dawdling events that follow, Miss Simmons lethargically murders the old folks (or did she?), escapes the gas chamber by marrying the repulsed chauffeur (or is he?) and finally drives them both off a hundred-foot cliff (and how!).As the focal point, Miss Simmons manages to keep up a miraculously successful histrionic defense. Mr. Mitchum's laconic utterances may or may not be perfectly in keeping with the chain of events. Mr. Marshall and Miss O'Neil do well in their roles, but Leon Ames, as the family lawyer, seems unduly roguish and altruistic. However, any paying customer out for sense and sensibility will have to hang on to the brief appearances of Mona Freeman, as the spunky, realistic little nurse whom Mr. Mitchum jilts. Exactly why he did, and why the film itself commits hari-kari, only the Sphinx knows.

New York Times, 25th April 1953

Dressing and voyeur scene in Angel Face (1953)

Hospital choir in classic film noir Angel Face (1953)

Morgan Farley in Angel Face (1953)

Normality in the home versus darkness in film noir 
Mona Freeman and Kenneth Tobey in Angel Face (1953)

Robert Mitchum was a legendary figure in Hollywood, known for his distinctive on-screen presence and off-screen persona. Born on August 6, 1917, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Mitchum grew to become an iconic actor with a career spanning over five decades. Here are some aspects that characterize the kind of man Robert Mitchum was:

Mitchum exuded a laid-back and cool demeanor, both on and off the screen. His nonchalant style and deep, resonant voice became his trademarks. This coolness often translated into a sense of toughness and calm in his film roles.

While often associated with film noir and tough guy roles, Mitchum displayed a remarkable versatility as an actor. He seamlessly transitioned between genres, taking on roles in westerns, war films, romantic dramas, and comedies.

Saying farewell in Angel Face (1953)

Mitchum was notoriously private and guarded about his personal life. He seldom engaged in the typical Hollywood publicity machine and preferred to keep a low profile. This added an air of mystery to his persona.

Jean Simmons, beautifully blank, plays the ultimate femme fatale, a rich girl who seduces her beefcake chauffeur (Robert Mitchum) when daddy (Herbert Marshall) resists her advances. The film is a disturbingly cool, rational investigation of the terrors of sexuality, much as Preminger's later masterpiece Bunny Lake Is Missing is a detached appraisal of childhood horrors. The sets, characters, and actions are extremely stylized, yet Preminger's moving camera gives them a frightening unity and fluidity, tracing a straight, clean line to a cliff top for one of the most audacious endings in film history.

Excerpt from Dave Keher's review at the Chicago Reader quoted on DVD Beaver 

Known for his independent spirit, Mitchum was not one to conform to Hollywood norms. He had a reputation for resisting authority and maintaining a certain level of detachment from the Hollywood glamour.

Many of Mitchum's most memorable roles cast him as an anti-hero, challenging the traditional leading man archetype. His characters often had a moral ambiguity that set them apart from more conventional protagonists.

Mitchum faced legal troubles in 1948 when he was arrested for marijuana possession. Despite serving a brief jail sentence, he downplayed the incident, and it didn't significantly affect his career. This event added a rebellious edge to his public image.


In essence ANGEL FACE is a separation of wealth story, with wealth (especially the inherited kind) diametrically opposed to working class ideals. The Tremayne residence makes for a forbidding film noir landscape, a hilltop locale that neatly summarizes the affluent family's obvious social status. The mansion perched near the edge of a precipitous slope also comes equipped with obvious connotations about the Tremayne family trajectory; the very location of the Tremayne place factors in their demise. Beneath the elegant exteriors there is something rotting inside. During the opening sequence a major warning shot is fired that something is wrong:  Catherine and her husband Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) have separate bedrooms. The family matriarch seems to possess a certain emasculating power over her novelist husband, who has slipped into a state of stalled productivity since the day he met her. A kept man, he is a writer who no longer generates anything for publication. Herbert Marshall was an inspired casting option to portray such a man. While serving in WWI he lost a leg and had to be fitted with a wooden leg. His deliberate gait perfectly fits the noir world, where men often have mobility issues that reflect diminished patriarchal power.

Film Noir Board 09 | 23

Mitchum was known for his strong work ethic. He appeared in a vast number of films throughout his career, showcasing his dedication to his craft. His commitment to his work contributed to the longevity of his successful career.

Despite his tough exterior, Mitchum was a devoted family man. He was married to his wife, Dorothy, for over 57 years until his death in 1997. The couple had three children together.

She knows where she's going. Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum in Otto Preminger's Angel Face (1953)

As Hughes would often put something other than the bottom line first, even if it was silly or vindictive, the final product was usually more artistic even if that was in spite of him. Preminger had absolutely refused to do this film, originally titled Murder Story, feeling it was trash. However, in order to get another picture out of Jean Simmons in the 18 shooting days he had left and stick it to her for cutting her hair short by making her wear a long wig, Hughes allowed Preminger to do whatever he wanted with the picture as long as he didn't hire any communists to fix the script and conceded to the silly wig. What emerged was one of Preminger's better explorations of what would eventually go down as his typical themes. He liked to explore the contrast between the exterior and interior of women, more specifically seemingly attractive young innocents who were actually mentally unbalanced. Simmons gets the nod here as the spoiled rich girl, pretending to be in love with Robert Mitchum while really plotting to use him to help get rid of her stepmother so she could have her beloved father all to herself again. Despite the censors, early on Preminger is able to make it clear her interest in her father is sexual. 

RB Movie Reviews

Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953)

Otto Preminger's Angel Face is a gripping and well-crafted dark thriller, featuring the most inscrutable of inscrutable femmes fatales, a couple of excellent performances from Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons, and an absolute kicker of an ending.

Stotty's One-Line Reviews  04 | 2017

Angel Face (1953) at Wikipedia

In 1963, Jean-Luc Godard listed Angel Face as the eighth-best American sound film.

Cahiers du Cinema Archived December 23, 2016, at the Wayback Machine via Godard on Godard, Da Capo Press, March 22, 1986. Last accessed: February 26, 2011. C'est Ici Mes Noireaux


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