Blu-ray Review: Black Angel



February is a tough month for Noiristas. Why? Because Turner Classic Movie devotes the month to Oscar winners and give Eddie Muller and Noir Alley a break on the schedule. At first it doesn’t sound too bad. But very staying up to midnight on a Saturday or waking up at 10 a.m. on Sunday starts to feel wrong if there’s no black and white nightmares about people making really wrong choices. What can you do if you’re hooked on Film Noirs? You can track down the films that Muller has referenced over the years. One of those is Black Angel which came out in 1946 when the Noir attitude was sneaking into Hollywood productions. Black Angel has been upgraded to Blu-ray so you can get the right level of shadows in a tale of darkness in sophisticated Hollywood nightclubs.

Catherine Bennett (Here Come the Co-Eds‘s June Vincent) gets the frightening news that her husband has been arrested for homicide. He didn’t get into a bar fight or a robbery gone wrong. He’s been busted for killing nightclub singer Mavis Marlowe (Boston Blackie and the Law‘s Constance Dowling). Captain Flood (Highway Patrol‘s Broderick Crawford) knows he has his killer because he has enough evidence to send him to the electric chair. Catherine can’t believe he did it even though the husband admits to having an affair with Mavis. She wants the case reopened. Flood won’t offer any help because he’s got more killings to investigate since Mavis was hauled out of her place. Los Angeles is a dangerous place. If she can get real evidence, Flood will reconsider. She figures the key to uncovering the real killer is at the nightclub where Mavis sang. The place is run by Marko (The Maltese Falcon‘s Peter Lorre). But she needs a cover to get into the place to poke around. She enlists Martin Blair (Criss Cross‘s Dan Duryea). Sure he’s Mavis’ ex-husband and a major alcoholic, but he’s also a songwriter and pianist. He also wants to find the killer of his ex-wife. She dries him out and they form a partnership with her singing his songs. They land a gig at Marko’s club and snoop around looking for a certain piece of evidence that might be in the safe. Can their plan work fast enough to beat the executioner warming up for Catherine’s husband?

Black Angel is an enticing bit of criminal intent with a few light musical numbers. The film keeps you guessing thanks to casting three lead actors who are normally the guilty party in other films with Crawford, Duryea and especially Peter Lorre. Who wouldn’t suspect Peter Lorre as the guy who’d kill a female singer? So you’re not given an easy guess to the real killer or the reason why. There’s still a chance that Catherine’s husband is lying about this guilt. There’s darkness all over the screen. Cinematographer Paul Ivano doesn’t get to extreme with the lighting as you’d expect from a Film Noir. Part of this might be a case of Universal giving the production an “A” movie budget so they didn’t have skimp on the lamps. The third act really elevates this film as the real killer is unmasked in an unflinching way. For those feeling an aching in the next few weekends for the lack of Eddie Muller appearing on your TV, the Blu-ray of Black Angel will ease the Noir Alley craving.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer brings out the black and white world of Peter Lorre. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono with levels perfect for ominous behavior and sweet musical moments. The movie is subtitled in English.

Audio Commentary from Alan K. Rode goes deep into the film. He points out the film was rather lavish in budget for Universal at this time. He digs deep into quotes cast and crew.

A Fitting End (20:53) is a video appreciation from Neil Sinyard. He goes into how author Cornell Woolrich wasn’t happy how they adapted his novel into this film. He tells a hairy story about how Brodrick Crawford fought Frank Sintra.

Original Trailer (1:32) really gives Dan Duryea a star push.

Production Stills (15:40) has the cast and behind the scenes.

Posters and Lobby Cards (2:40) has Dan Duryea the largest in the images.

Arrow Academy present Black Angel. Directed by: Roy William Neill. Screenplay by: Roy Chanslor. Starring: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre & Broderick Crawford. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 81 minutes. Released: January 28, 2020.

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