Black Angel [DVD] [1946]

Roy William Neill's Black Angel (1946), based on the book by Cornell Woolrich, is one of the more obscure thrillers in Universal's library, and the DVD release is a major event. Up to this point, Black Angel had only shown up intermittently on cable and hadn't been shown in repertory film programs in years. The movie itself is extraordinary, and perhaps the most fitting memorial to Neill, who passed away not long after completing this film. He was best known for his Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, which had their own virtues, but Black Angel, with its highly mobile camera work (complete with a sweeping crane shot in the introduction to an apartment whose layout is central to the plot), seems to have been a liberating experience for the longtime producer/director. The disc reveals a movie that is very well preserved and still holds up well; the full-screen (1.33:1) image is crystal clear and the sound is extremely sharp, which, considering that music is at the center of the story, is a particular plus, though the volume does need to be pushed up a bit. The score, credited to Frank Skinner (though one can never be 100-percent sure of these things where Universal was concerned), is one of the veteran composer's most subtle and ambitious pieces of composition, and, indeed, is almost on a par with the kind of work that Miklos Rozsa was doing in this vein. Additionally, the song "Heartbreak," which occupies a large place at the center of the story, represents superb work by Jack Brooks and Edgar Fairchild. In any case, every shadow in Paul Ivano's gorgeous cinematography is well-represented in this disc, and the 81-minute movie has been given a very generous 18 chapters. Apart from optional French and Spanish subtitles, the only bonus feature is a reissue trailer (from Realart), which is window-boxed but has a level of clarity reminiscent of a good laserdisc. The disc opens automatically to a simple two-layer menu.
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Overview

Special Features

  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

Black Angel
With an ingenious script by Roy Chanslor, this modest, but imaginative film noir is notable for the strong performance by lead actor Dan Duryea Alcoholic musician Martin Blair (Duryea) becomes the prime suspect when his cheating wife is murdered, until it is determined that he was "sleeping one off" at the time of the killing. Another man (John Phillips), who was being blackmailed by the murdered woman, is sent to prison for the crime. The condemned man's wife (June Vincent) believes in her husband's innocence and sets about to prove it, enlisting the aid of Blair, who has flashes of memory about the night of the crime. Recalling that he saw a stranger leave his wife's apartment, Blair endeavors to track down this stranger. The real murderer is revealed in the film's last moments...to everyone's surprise, including the guilty party! Black Angel was based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich. Normally assigned to villainous roles, Dan Duryea gives a surprisingly impressive performance as an affectingly romantic character and is by far the most interesting and sympathetic character in the film. His performance makes the plot twist at the end, both startling and believable. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Dan Duryea
    Dan Duryea - Martin Blair
  • June Vincent
    June Vincent - Catherine Bennett
  • Peter Lorre
    Peter Lorre - Marko
  • Broderick Crawford
    Broderick Crawford - Capt. Flood
  • Wallace Ford
    Wallace Ford - Joe
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