‘Hey you — I’ve seen the sleeping act before. You know your ticket ran out the last stop!’ With these words a bus driver drops off the world’s next noir victim on the outskirts of Walton, and in the middle of the night. It’s Fallen Angel, a film noir starring Alice Faye, Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell, director Otto Preminger. Stuck in Walton, 150 miles short of his destination, our anti-hero Dana Andrews wanders into the local diner, where the locals are up to a decent amount of skulduggery, worried about a missing girl called Stella. It isn’t long before the floozy breezes in, her legs at a dangerous angle. She swipes the hero’s hamburger and he exits to wander the streets alone.
The never ending highway, favoured of David Lynch and many others, is a sure-fire noir staple. The rolling highway of Detour starts off this film, and many others that have become as lost as the highway’s worst losers. Like Detour, Fallen Angel sneers from wall to wall in the fallen form of a floozy with a nasty stare. Stella, who steals from the register, and snarls at the townsfolk, stays out late and is always snapping misanthropic and yet erotic comments at the wise-asses who surround her. She’s lousy at her job too, though nobody seems to notice.
Stranger arrives in town is a common starting point for many Hollywood films. In Fallen Angel, the stranger hooks up with a fraudulent and lame huckster who is attempting to raise fifteen dollars by pretending to communicate with the dead — and the wandering bum thrown off the highway and into Walton helps muscle up a crowd for the fake medium show.
David Carradine NOT Playing a Monster
The medium is Professor Madely, played by John Carradine, convincingly fake, the same distinguished crummy air about him as usual, although a much more stirring haircut than we are used to. In fact, in Fallen Angel, David Carradine looks not unlike son Keith in this incarnation, and seems light and relaxed, without the camp weight with which he burdened many other roles. Dana Andrews is good noir material — serious, not entirely tough, with a likeable side that never smiles but is always ready with a quip. Here he plays the con man who gets more than he bargained for — and actually he does smile from time to time, but it’s always a smug little smile, something for himself, to pat himself on the back for a second.
Linda Darnell can crack the screen with a single sneer
The mood of Fallen Angel is cemented in the dark, brooding sluttish aspect of Linda Darnell. She is splendid, a revelation. While often called noir, the proper classification of this film is ‘sex-money murder drama’. Typically the nasty girl at the bar falls for the nasty drifter who bums his way into town with less than two dollars and a wicked idea up his sleeve. Typically she is a bitch, and typically if he had only got a proper job instead of falling for her the way he does, he would be alive and happy.
The Essence of Noir - Hats and Cups of Coffee
There were many dark classics out about the time of Fallen Angel — such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Lost Weekend (1945) — but unlike these films and Otto Preminger’s previous success, Laura (1944), one can have watched half an hour of Fallen Angel and still not be sure where it’s going. That’s a good thing. The seaside town of Walton is a drab place, not as backward as the town of Carbonville that Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin ride into in The Wild One (1953), but a dead end nonetheless. There’s a scent of crime in Walton, but it all hangs around Stella, and the more you see Linda Darnell doing this, the more worried you become at what may happen.
It makes the whole shebang pretty uncomfortable. The folks seem normal, scheming lust driven losers that eventually wind up in a mess of murder. There is nothing big about anybody, none of the grotesques of Murder, My Sweet, or any of the others in the long noir cycle of the 40s and 50s. Instead of guignol, Fallen Angel teases viewers along to a point for them when it’s too late for them to escape — a dark lustrous quality, nape-pricklingly foreboding — and all over the screen is a true mood of doom that is hard to pin down but always there nonetheless.
Typicallty the Hero Gets the Good Girl AND the Bad Girl
Running through the cast, I see that these guys were all big stars with Fox back in the 1940s. Alice Faye, who plays June Mills left the movie business after most of her part was cut from Fallen Angel — which I suspect is one of those perils of Hollywood. Linda Darnell embodied every other peril of Hollywood — first signed at the age of 15 and set up with a flat of her own by the studio, her life was fascinating, and predictably tragic, until she died at the age of 41. She had a well-developed drink problem and affairs with some of America’s most famous men, including Daryl Zanuck (who probably boosted her part in this and cut Alice Faye’s) — Howard Hughes and Joseph Mankiewicz. It looks like they used her, at least it’s hard to see what she got out of any of this, other than experience for acting roles like this.
Linda Darnell was a star however, who went to the bother of working as a waitress for role-experience for playing Stella, and was always found doing charity work, wherever and whenever she could. There you have another noir experience — a person who is nice, nice, nice at heart, but due to sociological and other factors, winds up dead, dead, dead, lost, drugged, drunk, double-crossed and in the pocket of some scumbag.
I can’t see that Alice Faye has much to complain about in this instance. She’s a victim in a pretty sleazy thriller, one in which no such thing as fine drama is ever going to surface. The parts are straightforward with the most basic of moulding, and I’m not sure of a lot more could be written into Alice’s role. The old noir themes kick in pretty late, with a mystery murder and all we have for tension is the decline of the central character as the murder continues to panic him. Alice Faye retains this quiet, and although we can never see why she would really fall for the Dana Andrews character, we warm to her as she struggles to feel the real love she wants so badly to feel.
The thing is, that Alice Faye was having a pretty decent career up until this point, but after the screening of Fallen Angel, she handed in the keys to her dressing room and effectively never worked again — being so angered that her part had been cut. This is tricky as the final film is effective, fine although there comes a point when guessing the killer becomes dangerously easy. Alice Faye is like everybody else — weak — and ready to fall for someone that wants to abuse her.
Looking deeper, it appears that Dana Andrews is the fallen angel of the title, starting near the end of a fall and through murder, being forced into examining himself, his motives and desires, and helping the police solve a murder. He is a coward a sneak a cheat and a drifter, nervous and with something to conceal, all standard noir aspects.
To fall for this sort of person you may gullible but it is just as likely that you are stupid — as Alice Faye’s sometimes undefined character may well be. It’s slight — the film is slight — and we’re asked to buy a whole lot, I feel. The bad turn good with little swaying, and the good are just dumbly putting up with it. The plot is ultimately slight, though the acting raises things nicely, and the way things quickly tie up is slight and slightly unsatisfying. It’s still great fare however.
It was quite normal in those distant days for a film to show police brutality (beatings etc) as a method of interrogation — and one can only wonder. A character called Atkins is beaten up — his alibi clears — and he is free to go. The cop Judd is probably the closest to a traditional noir grotesque — he’s steely bad, and looks like he’s ruined many men’s lives. And all of it because nobody can take their eyes of this one women, the woman that is driving them all insane. As I said, the actress Linda Darnell seems to have had the same effect. Here in Fallen Angel, she seems to be cock-teasing at least four local men into criminally tragic acts of depression — proof that losers make losers of winners — another noir trope satisfied, methinks.