Runtime: 97 Minutes
Director: Otto Preminger
Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), Marty (Mary) Holland (novel)
Stars: Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell
By Bianca Garner
For this Noirvember I have been trying to seek out noirs that I haven’t seen before and ones which are lesser known. I happened to stumble across Otto Preminger’s “Fallen Angel” which was released in 1945 and starred Alice Faye, Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Charles Bickford. Although it’s not what one would describe as a noir classic, “Fallen Angel” is an interesting case study in how the gender roles of the 1940s have transformed into what we deem acceptable in today’s society. The film’s narrative is hardly spectacular, and is rather formulaic with a twist that you can see a mile off. However, what makes the film memorable is its performances, especially from Alice Faye who manages to bring some much needed humanity and depth to this pulpy B-movie noir.
Dana Andrews (who had starred in Preminger’s previous noir film “Laura”) plays Eric Stanton, a drifter who is so down-on-his-luck that he can’t even afford the full bus fare to San Francisco. As a result, Stanton is kicked off the bus at Walton, a small village in the middle of nowhere. The only place open is a little pokey diner called Pop’s which is run by the kindly Pop (Percy Kilbride) who is concerned about his missing waitress, Stella (Linda Darnell) who is the sultry femme fatale of the picture. In this scene we are also introduced to Mark Judd (Charles Bickford) who happens to be the local cop who has moved to Walton from the Big Apple. Judd is convinced that Stella will be back soon, and with a click of the fingers, she rolls into work.
Stanton is instantly attracted to Stella, and it’s not hard to see why. Darnell smoulders in this role, she’s clearly a prop for the male gaze, and the camera lingers on every inch of her body. Even though Stella is hardly the most well-known femme fatale out there, she’s certainly very memorable once you’ve seen the film and Darnell appears to be relishing her chance to play such a role. Stella isn’t really given much in terms of character depth, she’s there to act as Stanton’s motivation to try and swindle another woman out of her inheritance. She’s mostly there for the eye candy, but she does get some juicy lines of dialogue and isn’t afraid to go head-to-head with Stanton in order to put him in place. This line, “You talk different, sure. But you drive just like the rest. Well, you’ve got the wrong girl.” is my personal favourite.
“Even though Stella is hardly the most well-known femme fatale out there, she’s certainly very memorable once you’ve seen the film.”
In order to make money to impress Stella, Stanton manages to secure a job with Professor Madley (John Carradine), a traveling fortune teller. Madley is meant to perform in Walton but a local woman called Clara Mills (Anne Revere) is dead against his show. Clara holds a lot of respect in the village and is also quite wealthy. Stanton’s con-man tricks don’t seem to work on Clara but he manages to charm her younger sister June (Alice Faye) who persuades Clara to attend the performance.
In order to win Stella over and get her that dream house and life she craves for, Stanton comes up with a masterful plan of seducing and marrying June then divorcing her so he can inherit her fortune. The only flaw in the plan is when Stella turns up dead and Stanton is forced into going on the run with June.
“Interestingly, the novel in which the film was based was penned by Mary Holland, who had to write under the name “Marty Holland”. “
As a character, Stanton is sleazy and hard to root for. Instead, we find ourselves rooting for June who has become infatuated with her new husband. She happily goes along with him when he runs away from Walton. Even slumming it out in a run down hotel and being nothing but supportive when frankly Stanton doesn’t deserve her support or her love. He treats her poorly, dismissing her and even visiting Stella on his wedding night. Eventually, he comes to the realisation that June is the woman for him and the film ends with him climbing in a car with her and they drive off into the night to return to their home. If “Fallen Angel” was re-made today then maybe a more appropriate and satisfying ending would see June driving off on her own, to live a life as an independent woman.
The three women who are central to the film are all rather fascinating in their own ways. Stella is the obvious femme fatale, but there’s an element of tragedy to her life. Although she’s not given nearly enough backstory (in fact none of the characters are really given enough backstory), there’s enough evidence presented to us to indicate how much Stella craves a normal life where she has a house and can be a wife. June’s motivations are the same as Stella’s as she too craves for romance and to secure a husband. By today’s standards, these two women’s motivations seem rather old-fashioned and out-dated but of course it was the norm that women were expected to become housewives in 1945. The only female character that seems independent is Clara, but she’s been labelled a ‘spinster’ and even she seems to crave the life of a married woman. If re-made today by a female director, then the lives and motivations of these three women could be explored in more depth as there’s definitely a lot of potential here.
Interestingly, the novel in which the film was based was penned by Mary Holland, who had to write under the name “Marty Holland”. On first glance one could assume that this was done because Mary couldn’t secure a publishing deal as she was a woman, but apparently her photo appeared on the first edition cover of “Fallen Angel” and reviews referred to her as a she. According to the British Film Institute, “Hardly anything is known about Marty Holland except that ‘he’ was a she called Mary, who wrote two or three best-selling pulp novels and then in 1949—to all intents and purposes—vanished, there being no further record of her at all.” It would be fascinating to research into the life and career of Mary Holland because “Fallen Angel” has some really strong female roles and the character of Stanton is quite unique to the noir genre.
Whilst, “Fallen Angel” isn’t the strongest or the most thrilling noir film out there, it does have it’s good points. It’s well worth watching for Faye’s and Darnell’s performances alone and is ripe for a remake.