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!
This week: Black Angel, a terrific little noir—and one of the far-too-few shots at a romantic lead given to Dan Duryea, who was an absolute peach in real life. 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.
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.)
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? Sadly, it’s an ending only the Production Code could love.
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 kept thinking of in the dark was Dan Duryea.
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