Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Dan Duryea Shows His Tender Side in BLACK ANGEL

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here every weekend!

This week: Black Angel, a terrific little noir—and one of  Dan Duryea’s far-too-few shots at a romantic lead. Soulfully playing the piano in a white dinner jacket. Gently guiding his lady around the dance floor. And absolutely breaking your heart as a down and out composer clawing his way out of the bottle and grasping hard at one last chance for redemption and happiness.

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Marty Blair (Duryea) is shaking off his latest bender when Cathy Bennett (June Vincent) comes knocking at the door of his shabby room in a ramshackle boardinghouse. Her husband Kirk (John Phillips) has been wrongfully convicted of murdering his mistresss, torch singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling), who was also Marty’s ex-wife. And for some reason that frankly escapes me entirely, Cathy is eager to track down evidence that will save him. (Whereas some of us—cough, cough—would take one look at Marty in the person of Dan Duryea, all rumply with his hair lazily falling into his eyes, and decide on the spot that he was a much worthier rescue mission than the straying hubby.)

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Marty eventually agrees to help the desperate wife, and their investigation leads them to a nightclub owned by the shady Mr. Marko (Peter Lorre, menacing and wryly hilarious as usual) and guarded by his loyal bouncer, Lucky (former boxer Freddie Steele, everyone’s favorite henchman). Convinced that Marko is their man, the amateur sleuths offer themselves up as a lounge act, with Cathy singing and Marty backing her up. (Vincent’s singing is dubbed, but yes, that really is Duryea playing the piano!) When they’re not making music or dancing thisclose, they’re dodging the suspicious glances of Lucky, breaking into locked offices, risking their lives for each other, and growing ever closer. Somehow through it all, Cathy remains true to her faithless blob of a husband, who’s eventually cleared… but how?

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Black Angel was directed by the criminally undersung Roy William Neill, who, with his masterful play of light and shadow, was doing noir long before anyone called it that. Best known for directing most of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone (who affectionately nicknamed him “Dear Mousie”), Neill was a diehard Holmsian, bringing as much authenticity as he could to the look and feel of the films, considering they’d been hijacked to wartime London to aid the morale effort. He also co-wrote The Scarlet Claw, one of the best offerings in the series.

Ironically, Neill’s first “official” noir was his last film. In 1946, shortly after completing Black Angel, he succumbed to a heart attack at age 59, during a family visit to London.

Based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich, Black Angel was brought to the screen by Roy Chanslor, who went on to adapt Johnny Guitar and Cat Ballou. Woolrich was underwhelmed by the results: “I was so ashamed when I came out of there, it took me two or three days to get over it. All I could keep thinking of in the dark was: Is that what I wasted my whole life at?”

Funny. All I could keep thinking of in the dark was Dan Duryea.

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you a free fun film every week! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

11 Comments

  1. Vienna

    Great choice. It’s Dan’s film and he’s great. Thanks for info on Roy William Neill.

    • Isn’t Dan amazing in this? Makes you wish he’d gotten to do a lot more of this. And Neill deserves so much more attention!!

  2. I particularly enjoyed his piano-playing skills!

    We showed this on BNoirDetour and it went over very well.

  3. Top film, I really enjoyed this one a lot a little earlier in the year when BNoirDetour did it. Great write up, just enough detail to catch the interest without giving away anything crucial and I love the info about Basil Rathbone’s nickname for Roy William Neill.

  4. Just love Dan Duryea, a versatile talent with great screen presence. Seems no one was more shocked than he was for being popular as a nasty screen SOB who socked the ladies (he got a lot of fan mail for it!). In real life he was known as a nice man who went to his children’s school PTA meetings. You’re right about Roy William Neill being an underrated director. In addition to the Sherlock Holmes films (which really are great noirs, both stylistically and thematically), he directed the great horror flick The Black Room, with Boris Karloff playing good and bad twins. Just some really good stuff on his resume.

    • Yes, Dan loved nothing more than hanging out with his (one and only!) wife and kids, and also gardening!! And Neill also did another fun horror flick, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, which, while it wasn’t on a calibre with The Black Room, has a lot of his style in it. Thank you so much for. Thank you so much for stopping by and adding your insights!!

  5. Ooh – Dan Duryea would be fab in this kind of role.

    I nearly spewed tea all over my keyboard when I read your last sentence, about thinking about Dan D. in the dark. Very good.

    • What can I say, Ruth? Dan has that effect on me! 🙂

  6. Dixie J. Whitted

    I was a member of Dan’s official fan club for several years, starting in 1956 (I was 17 and had written him a fan letter after seeing him in China Smith, my favorite TV series–he replied graciously and we wrote back and forth after that). I also sent him an oil portrait of himself that I had done, and he thanked me and sent me a photo of himself with the portrait. I still have five beautiful 8″x10″ photos of him, personally autographed to me. He was a great guy, totally unlike his screen persona–but he was also a great actor. I liked Black Angel, Scarlet Street & Ride Clear of Diablo best, but I would watch him in any movie (which he always stole from the rest of the cast). 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. TINTYPE TUESDAY: Dan Duryea — Gardener and Cub Scout Leader! | Sister Celluloid

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