Black Angel is an interesting film for a variety of reasons, one such being the performance of Dan Duryea which is as compelling as anything to be found within. While the man was always good in a western, it was to film noir and the tough guy image that he excelled, his talent burning bright on the screen. Here the man plays a drunk and a songwriter, both somewhat defining his life and a man who used to be married to a woman named Mavis Marlowe who also happens to get herself killed in the film. When Mavis turns Duryea’s Martin away, he goes on a bender and as he progresses throughout the movie, he is, if nothing else, a tormented yet hopeful man.
Starring opposite Duryea is June Vincent who plays the wife of the man accused of the slaying and when she comes into contact with Martin, they form a bond of sorts, one that starts to deepen with time while they look to find the real culprit. That would bring them into contact with other intriguing players in the game like Broderick Crawford who stars as police Captain Flood who is in charge of the case and Peter Lorre as a nightclub owner and the number one suspect in Martin and Catherine’s case. The problem with it all is that they have no evidence, only relying upon the man’s reputation and the memory of a drunk to go off of. As the investigation yawns before the pair and their feelings come into play, it only adds to the present tension which is an already overflowing pot.
With his final film, director Roy William Neill does a great job of it, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat and guessing as to who could be the murderer. There is the odd red herring throughout, making the viewer think it could be one thing and then turning out to be another, such as Lorre whose involvement automatically screams villain and yet, Neill would swerve yet again. The tension is palpable at times, the suspense slowly building throughout, even after the killer is revealed it continues for a bit until that fateful call to stop the execution of an innocent man is made.
When it was all said and done though, it was the performances that would make this film shine as it did with Duryea rising to the top. The fact that there was an able director at the helm, a strong supporting cast with music and cinematography to match and bring it all to life, it would end up making Black Angel more than entertaining.
4 out of 5