17 July 2003 | eldorado2
An unjustly neglected noir gem
"Black Angel" (Universal, 1946) is one of the most entertaining films noir of the 1940s, that era when Hollywood discovered the genre and brought to it a high polish.
In this outstanding dark mystery, based on the novel of the same name by Cornell Woolrich, director Roy William Neill guides stars Dan Duryea and June Vincent through a byzantine plot that begins with murder and proceeds through the arrest and conviction of an innocent person, then finally ends with the true murderer being uncovered.
It sounds simple and straightforward, but Neill keeps the audience off balance throughout. Just when we think one piece of evidence will pay off, it doesn't. When we think another bit of business is benign, it turns out to be a crucial clue to the unraveling of the mystery.
Duryea and Vincent are compelling throughout, and they are supported by two excellent character actors, the always-sinister Peter Lorre and future Oscar winner Broderick Crawford.
And I like to think that with "Black Angel," Universal finally atoned for the fatal mistake it made with another Woolrich thriller, "Phantom Lady," in 1944. In the book "Phantom Lady," written by Woolrich under his pseudonym William Irish, the plot was a tightly woven murder mystery, with the revelation of the culprit coming as a surprise to all but the cleverest readers. But when the story was filmed in 1944, Universal made the outrageous decision to reveal the killer's identity to the audience from the start.
In "Black Angel," the murderer's identity is kept from the public until the end, the suspense is sustained, and the final scenes allow the audience to exhale after an hour and a half of diverting tension.
Now that "Black Angel" is available in VHS, you can enjoy one of the finest examples of American film noir on your own screen.