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Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel(1945)

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Made as a follow-up to Laura (1944), Fallen Angel (1945) boasts many of the same cast and crew: director Otto Preminger, star Dana Andrews, cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, composer David Raksin (who contributed another hit song), and even wide-eyed bit player Dorothy Adams (she played Bessie the maid in Laura). Both movies also feature murder mysteries in which all the characters are so ambiguous that any of them could well be the culprit - a quality that suits Preminger's objective style of filmmaking very well. When all is said and done, Fallen Angel lacks the momentum of the better Laura but is still a mature and sophisticated picture - and more of a film noir in its overall atmosphere. Now out on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, it's well worth watching.

Dana Andrews plays a drifter who steps off the bus in small town with a dollar in his pocket and not much else. Looking to make a few bucks, he learns that a phony spiritualist (John Carradine) is coming to town and sweet-talks his way into becoming his de facto publicist. Meanwhile, Andrews hangs out at Pop's Cafe, a second-rate diner that's popular with the local men because of the waitress who works there - stunningly sultry Linda Darnell. Andrews falls head over heels but Darnell wants money to go along with her man, so Andrews concocts an only-in-the-movies scheme: He will charm his way into the life of Alice Faye, a sweet yet prim woman who lives with her even primmer sister, marry her in order to get his hands on her money, then divorce her and run off with Darnell. A sudden murder, however, throws the scheme off balance and everything into question.

What makes Fallen Angel a film noir is its claustrophic, seedy atmosphere and the sense of desperation for sex and money that drives Andrews to his behavior. The two women, blonde Faye and brunette Darnell, represent the light and dark sides of Andrews's soul - a device that is used to even greater depth in the excellent noir Raw Deal (1948). It's a thoughtful way of delving into Andrews's character and it does somewhat make up for the film's overall credibility problem. Also making up for it is Preminger's fluid direction. His staging of crowd scenes is spectacular though almost invisible, with some gorgeous dolly and crane shots. By presenting scenes in one or two takes, Preminger is asking audience members to watch the story and make up their own minds about characters and motivations. The effect is to keep the audience in the action continuously.

While Alice Faye was the far bigger star in 1945, it's Linda Darnell as a knockout of a tough dame who steals Fallen Angel. This was clear at the time, too, and did not sit well with Faye. The top musical star at Twentieth Century-Fox, Faye had recently given birth to her second child and taken a year off from movies (with the exception of a cameo in Four Jills in a Jeep, 1944). When she was ready to return, she decided that she wanted to do something different, a non-musical. Studio chief Darryl Zanuck was so anxious to get her back on screen that he allowed her to reject over 30 scripts before settling on Fallen Angel. According to Faye biographer Jane Lenz Elder, Zanuck even let her choose her leading man. Dana Andrews hated the script, calling it "unbelievable" and "in bad taste," but did the film when he was threatened with suspension. He and Preminger also weren't thrilled to be assigned a musical star for this dark drama, but such was the clout of Faye's stardom.

Knowing that audiences expected to see Alice Faye sing, no matter the movie, Zanuck had composer David Raksin report to Faye to let her choose the melody for the song which would play a prominent role in the film. Raksin arrived on set one day with three or four tunes, played them for Faye, and she chose the one she liked best. Only then did Kermit Goell write the lyrics for the song "Slowly," which is heard on the cafe's jukebox over and over and is the Darnell character's favorite song. There was a sequence filmed where Andrews and Faye are driving and the song comes on the radio. Faye says "oh, that's my favorite song," and sings it aloud as they drive.

That scene was left on the cutting room floor. When Faye saw the movie at a studio screening, she was devastated that it had been cut - and that the rest of the film had been edited such that emphasis was given more to Linda Darnell. Faye was so angry and hurt that she marched out of the screening room, wrote a note to be delivered to Zanuck the next day, and immediately drove off the lot, not to return for 17 years. She never publicly revealed the contents of the note, telling an interviewer years later only that it was unprintable. "I was terribly upset. I felt the film had been ruined, and feeling utterly at a loss I left the studio. I didn't even go to my dressing room to collect my personal belongings." According to one source, Faye said that it was because Zanuck and Darnell were having an affair that Zanuck beefed up Darnell's part. Be that as it may, Faye would not appear in another movie until State Fair (1962).

Fox's DVD of Fallen Angel is clean and beautiful and comes with plenty of interesting extras. There are lots of stills, including several for a seemingly alternate ending. Joining Fox DVD regular Eddie Muller on his commentary track is Susan Andrews, daughter of Dana Andrews, and she adds much interest to the conversation. For instance, she recounts how her father hitchhiked from Texas to L.A. "with a fedora and a camel hair coat" - and a Texan accent, which he worked hard to lose. Over seven years he worked in L.A. as a bus driver, beekeeper, movie usher, accountant and gas station attendant, before hitting it big as an actor. No one ever wore a fedora better than Andrews, she says at one point. Truer words were never spoken.

Fox Film Noir will return in June, 2006, with Boomerang! (1947), House of Strangers (1949) and I Wake Up Screaming (1941).

For more information about Fallen Angel, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Fallen Angel, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold