Fallen Angel


We were born to tread the earth as angels, to seek out Heaven this side of the sky. But they who race above shall stumble in the dark and fall from grace. Then love alone can make the fallen angel rise. For only two together can enter Paradise.

Film noir is primarily an urban-based style of filmmaking, and derives many of its motifs from the faceless anonymity and frequently hostile isolation that characterize big city life. However, it would be a mistake to think that noir cannot exist outside of this particular environment. There are plenty of examples of the form to be found in a variety of settings – it’s this flexibility that is one of its strengths. While the metropolitan sprawl may well offer enhanced opportunities for portraying bleak, fatalistic tales, the small town, with all its attendant possibilities, represents another fertile setting. The more limited environment may not suggest the kind of impersonal alienation of larger urban surroundings, but the sense of community that exists (regardless of whether it’s shown in a positive or negative light) has its own claustrophobic atmosphere. Otto Preminger’s Fallen Angel (1945) occupies a kind of middle ground, with the majority of the action taking place in a small tightly knit settlement but also featuring short interludes in San Francisco.

The film actually opens at a sort of geographical mid-point, one could almost say the middle of nowhere. After the credits, inventively flashed up on screen as a series of road signs seen through the windshield of a bus speeding through the night, we’re introduced to Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews), and it’s immediately obvious that this is a down on his luck chancer. Not having enough money to ride the bus any further, Stanton finds himself tossed onto the road. With just a dollar in his pocket, he’s stranded in a small town, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s one of those sleepy little places where everybody knows each other and there’s not much to do. Stanton wanders into the local diner, right in the middle of what appears to be some kind of investigation. The owner, Pop (Percy Kilbride), is an anxious man – his waitress has apparently gone missing and he’s clearly distressed. A local cop and a former New York lawman, Judd (Charles Bickford), listen sympathetically and offers reassurance. As Stanton orders some food, the door of the diner opens and a weary but flashily dressed young woman strolls in. This is Stella (Linda Darnell), the source of all the panic a moment earlier. What’s immediately apparent is that Stella is arguably the hottest property in town; Pop is fawning and all puppy-dog eyes, Judd looks on with something approaching warmth, and Stanton too is unmistakably drawn to her. Stanton may be down to his last buck but he’s also the consummate opportunist. Spotting an advertisement for a visiting spiritualist, Stanton talks his way into acting as the promoter for the upcoming spook show. While Stanton might seem like the cat that always lands on its feet, this latest piece of maneuvering will actually drop him right into the centre of a maelstrom of passion lurking beneath the deceptively calm surface of the little coastal town. In falling for the insolent and sensual charms of Stella, he hits upon what he thinks is the perfect plan to win her over; Stella is no fool and wants a man who is willing and able to marry her and take her out of the dead-end job in this backwater. To this end, Stanton hatches a scheme to court and marry a rich heiress, June Mills (Alice Faye), divorce her and run off with Stella. However, it won’t be that easy. Too many men want Stella for themselves, June really falls for Stanton, and a murder will take place. I’m not going to reveal who dies or who did the deed, I’ll say only that Stanton becomes the prime suspect and he will have to unravel the tangled web of deceit and thwarted desire if he’s to have any chance of clearing his name.


Otto Preminger had made his mark with the highly successful Laura, and Fallen Angel can be seen as an effort to build on that, reuniting the director with Dana Andrews along with cameraman Joseph LaShelle and composer David Raksin. There are those who argue that Laura isn’t full-blown noir; while I wouldn’t necessarily go along with that assessment I can see where it’s coming from. With Fallen Angel, however, there can be no doubt about its categorization. The plot, themes, milieu and cinematography are all characteristically noir. In visual terms, this style of cinema is all about light and shadow – thematically, faith and despair are the key. Fallen Angel checks all the boxes on this score. Film noir concerns itself with dissatisfaction and the desire of individuals to escape their circumstances more than anything else. Escape is certainly the prime motivation of all the characters in this movie: we’re taken on a tour of a world populated by people desperate to break free of social constraints, unfulfilling relationships, financial difficulties, and just plain old bad luck. If you watch enough of these kinds of films then, time and again, you run across characters in the concrete jungles champing at the bit to return to the land or to emigrate, while those in the country yearn for the perceived glamor and excitement of brightly lit cities. This is very much the case with Fallen Angel – everybody in the picture has dreams and aspirations, and all of these inevitably descend into nightmare.

Preminger and LaShelle created some wonderful images on the screen, and drew a nice contrast between the small town, where the bulk of the action unfolds, and San Francisco. Contrary to what one might expect, it’s the scenes in the city that have a crisp, clear look whereas the little coastal settlement exists mainly in shadow, reflecting the moral ambiguities and hidden passions that lurk there. It’s also worth drawing attention to the skill and ease with which Preminger moves his camera around, at once building tension and drama, revealing secrets and objectifying characters. There’s one particular scene that illustrates what I’m talking about here, taking place on Stanton’s wedding night. Having slipped out of the house to meet with Stella, he quarrels with her and she storms off to keep her date with her current beau. As Stella strides away, Preminger pulls the camera back to show her getting into her lover’s car before tracking forward to focus briefly on Stanton’s scowling features. Instead of allowing the camera to remain there though, the director maintains the forward movement and passes by Stanton to come to rest on the shadowy background, out of which steps the new groom’s disappointed sister-in-law – a masterfully composed shot.


I’ve written at length about Dana Andrews’ abilities before and Fallen Angel proves yet again what a strong screen presence he had. He did some very memorable work throughout the 40s, and Preminger in particular seemed able to get the best out of him. The noir pictures they made together are all quality productions and all of them offered Andrews the opportunity to explore something different. While he had good support in this movie, his was the central role and he remains the main focus. What we have is an essentially insecure individual who cloaks his own recognized inadequacies with smart patter. It’s only relatively late in proceedings, when he’s on the run and panicked, that he reveals his true character. The nonchalant, worldly veneer that he employs to gloss over his fears and paranoia is stripped away and we get a glimpse of the real man, basically a frightened guy who’s been running from danger all his life. In a sense, the beauty of this film stems from the way Andrews’ character develops as a result of his interaction with two very different women. Of the two, Linda Darnell’s Stella is the one that catches the eye; sultry and seductive, Darnell might at first appear to be the fallen angel of the title but that’s not at all the case. Darnell was a genuine beauty and had an earthy charm that is highlighted in this film. All the main characters are stuck on her, but she flits round them all like a firefly, drawing the best and worst out of them. However, it’s Alice Faye’s June that exerts the most powerful influence on Andrews’ drifter. Darnell provokes the conflict among the men but Faye recognizes and draws forth the humanity and half-remembered decency in Andrews. Not being a fan of musicals, I have to admit that I’m not all that familiar with the work of Alice Faye. Nevertheless, I remain highly impressed with her performance in this film. I understand that a good deal of her role ended up on the cutting room floor, prompting her to walk off the Fox lot, but what we’re left with indicates that she had great dramatic potential. I could go on about the depth and talent involved in the supporting cast, but I’ll confine myself to a few words about Charles Bickford. His role here is a pivotal one, maybe as complex as that of the leads and he carries it off very effectively. For a variety of reasons I want to be brief here, so I’ll just say that Bickford does a marvelous job of conveying reassuring menace.

Back when Fox were running their noir line the choices for inclusion sometimes seemed a little arbitrary. Having said that, Fallen Angel is the real deal, a genuine slice of film noir. The R1 DVD is an excellent presentation of the film – it’s sharp, crisp and boasts very strong contrast that really shows off LaShelle’s cinematography. The extra features consist of a commentary track by Eddie Muller and Susan Andrews (the actor’s daughter), a series of galleries and brief liner notes. If one wanted to be critical, then I guess the plot could be viewed as rather contrived. Even so, the whole thing adds up to a highly polished and attractive package. I don’t believe Preminger ever made a poor noir picture, although I’ll have to qualify that by pointing out that I’ve yet to see The 13th Letter, and Fallen Angel must rate among the better ones. As a drama, a thriller, a film noir, or a kind of cock-eyed romance the movie comes highly recommended.


44 thoughts on “Fallen Angel

  1. This is an Otter Preminger film I’ve missed. That, plus Linda Darnell is in it, so it was a natural choice for me to vote on, Colin. Glad I did since your fine review will have me searching it out now. It seems to be another noir where the brunette (my heartthrob Linda) grabs all that sultry attention, but it’s the blonde who is the remedy for the protagonist. I look forward to checking this out. Thanks for this.


    • Yeah, that’s a pretty fair summation Michael. Darnell certainly grabs the attention but Faye represents salvation.
      The film is a good example of how both the femme fatale and the Girl Friday have separate yet vital roles to play in the world of noir.
      If you’re a fan of Darnell, then I think you’ll get a lot out of it – she’s really given the chance to shine.


    • Thanks Vinnie. It’s a first rate noir that hands great roles to all the leading players. Darnell, Andrews and Bickford are all as good as you would expect but Alice Faye was a revelation for me.


  2. Hello Colin. Your website is a place that I check out almost every day but I’ve never felt moved to leave a comment before now. FWIW I’ve always felt that the greatest Noirs are an interplay of light and shade and that the redemptive aspects of the genre are often overlooked. It’s not just about a white knuckle ride to oblivion.Many of the great Noir protagonists do find a kind of salvation, although sometimes only in death. I’ve just finished watching the new Olive Blu of the underestimated HELL’S HALF ACRE and that movie is a case in point.
    Arguably FALLEN ANGEL is the greatest of all the ‘redemptive Noirs’. The interplay of the Femme
    Fatale ( Linda Darnell) and what Jung might have called a positive anima figure (Alice Faye)
    on the psyche of the immature Dana Andrews character make for a gripping and rather moving dramatic tour-de-force. The scene in the tawdry neon-lit hotel room where Alice Faye recites the
    Fallen Angel speech (from Dante?) always blows me away. Great write up Colin. Keep up the good work. It’s important to keep talking about these pictures so they can find new audiences.


    • Well thank you! I think we can all too easily trick ourselves into believing that certain genres or styles of filmmaking must fit a particular template. As you say, that’s not at all the case and there’s room for variation. In fact, the variations are what add richness to the whole cinema experience. Obviously, film noir, by definition, needs to have a bleak aspect but it would be very one-note indeed if that’s all there were to it. By holding out the possibility of a kind of redemption – and sometimes granting it – the darker shadings are actually emphasized. I haven’t seen Hell’s Half Acre so the recommendation is appreciated.

      As for Faye’s recital, I like it a lot too and that’s why I used it as an opening for the piece. I haven’t been able to track down the source of it though – if anyone knows for sure I’d be delighted to hear.


  3. I haven’t seen FALLEN ANGEL in a long time and as usual, your great review makes me want to see it again. I’m glad you liked Alice Faye in an unusual role for her, though my recollection is her character is so quiet and good, she was completely overshadowed by Linda Darnell.
    Dana Andrews ,great as always.


    • Cheers! Darnell does steal the attention and her part, in addition to being the flashier one to begin with, appears to have been built up at the expense of Faye’s. Still and all, it’s Faye’s quiet goodness that ultimately makes a deeper impression on Andrews’ Stanton.


  4. Colin, so glad you reviewed this and that you like it so much – I was blown away by the film but a lot of reviews seem to be a bit lukewarm for some reason. I also love the scene in the motel with June reciting the poem. I’ve been looking up some background info on this film after seeing it in the last few days, and it seems as if nobody knows for sure where the quote came from – I get the impression it may well be original to the script rather than ‘from a book’, though it does sound vaguely Biblical.

    According to some of the articles I’ve been reading, the original story was written by Mary Holland, an aspiring author who was working as a typist at the studio – she took the male pen name ‘Marty’ Holland for her novels. (From her photo, she looked a bit like Alice Faye!) So I suppose the poetry could be from her novel, which looks impossible to get hold of.

    But equally it could be by the screenwriter, Henry Kleiner, who was a former student of Preminger’s and had a failed play on Broadway, ‘Skyfall’, staged in 1945 – it was about five paratroopers killed in the war returning as ghosts to see how their loved ones were faring, and ran for only a few days. I found an absolutely vitriolic review of it which sneered at the ‘blank verse dialogue’, so it sounds as if Kleiner had a poetic turn – he went on to a great career as a screenwriter, anyway, whatever that reviewer thought. Eli Wallach made his stage debut in the play btw.


    • Judy, I did some hunting around to try to establish the source of that quote too – not quite as much as you seem to have done though – and more or less drew a blank as well. Your digging does at least suggest that Kleiner, if he had a poetic bent, might well be the one who came up with it. That stuff about his play and Eli Wallach making his debut in it is news to me, but great to know. Thanks for sharing it.


  5. Terrific write-up Colin (but then I voted for it – how’s that for the culture of entitlement!) Preminger was at his best in Noir I think though I am one of those that would argue that LAURA doesn’t really qualify, whereas there is no doubt about this one and WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS


    • Thanks Sergio. I like Preminger’s noir pictures better than anything else he did too, although I’m fond enough of Anatomy of a Murder and Bunny Lake is Missing.

      As for Laura, I think there are a fair few people who share your view. I guess it probably is borderline noir but just about fits the bill for me – of course I tend to pretty inclusive when it comes to such things. Anyway, it’s a great movie regardless of how one chooses to categorize it.


      • Well exactly, whether its in or out, the category changes absolutely nothing – LAURA is fabulous and BUNNY and ANATOMY are pretty darn good too. Ever read Thomson’s novel SUSPECTS? It uses the Preminger movies to bind the story together


    • Good on you! If my review here prompted that then I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Either way, please pop back in when you’ve seen it again and let me know what you thought.


  6. Colin,

    Alice Faye received top-billing in ” Fallen Angel”, perhaps not surprising in light of the fact that she was voted one of the top box-office draws in the early 1940’s. Her retirement from movies, after her disappoinment with her trunicated role in this film, attracted quite an outpouring of emotion from fans and belated regret by studio head, Zanuck, who tried, unsuccessfully, to entice her back. Alice Faye did not return to the screen until she appeared in the 1962 version of “State Fair”.

    Both of my parents were avid fans of Faye and, in the late Fifties I managed to find a record, (no internet or CDs in those days), of her original performances in her most successful films. Needless to say, that record provided them with a great deal of enjoyment over the years. I still have it somewhere in my collection.


    • Yes, sometimes the billing in movies can look a little odd when viewed through modern eyes, or as a result of the genres we’re more familiar with. I have only a very sketchy knowledge of musicals as my interest never lay in that area. As such, Alice Faye’s name is one of those that I have heard but whose screen work is mostly unknown to me. It’s not the first time though that I’ve found myself impressed by the dramatic performances of those more famous for their lighter roles.


  7. The strange thing about Alice Faye’s disappointment over cuts to her role is that, as you and others have made clear, she does still come over so well in the film. She’s quite wonderful in it–and the hotel room scene is indeed a peak of the film. Is there any reason for actors to feel they are in some way against each other? They play different roles. As you say Dana Andrews is the center of this and he is, characteristically of his Preminger movies, superb–but Darnell and Faye both make the contributions needed to make the film what it is so are of no less value. The same for Bickford (and though I understand why you were reluctant to say more about his role I kind of wish you had); Charles Bickford was a great actor. For that matter, Percy Kilbride is great in this too.

    So I’m sorry that Faye took it as she did because this could have been a segue from musicals into other dramatic roles that she also would have done well. But I will add that we are only seeing the film as it is, and Faye knows the scenes she expected to be there so we’re not seeing it from her side. The scenes described by Chris Fujiwara in his Preminger book plainly would have been good scenes for Faye’s character. I feel June comes over with considerable dimension even so.

    As long as I’m here, I just have to add that Preminger’s staging, direction, and brilliant use of a moving camera in the diner scenes show him at his peak, Andrews and Bickford characteristically at opposite sides of the counter, Bickford’s character developing as he does little other than drink coffee, Andrews a fascinating and ambiguous figure as always, Darnell and Kilbride interaction getting things into play, Bickford playing the David Raksin song “Slowly” (“Slowly I open my eyes…”)
    as he leaves. I actually care less about the murder mystery in the film than simply enjoying watch all this unfold. One of my favorite Preminger movies.


    • Blake, to begin at the end of your comment: I’d agree that the mystery element here is not all that important. I guess this aspect does help to hook viewers on the first viewing but it’s only a small part of what makes the movie work. The various interactions and the development of the Andrews character is what it’s all about. In fact, once you know the identity of the murderer certain scenes (I’m thinking of the “interrogation” here) have to be viewed from a completely different perspective.

      I maybe should have said more about the supporting cast here. One of the biggest surprises for me on my first viewing years ago was the role of Percy Kilbride. Until then, I’d only ever seen him in the Ma and Pa Kettle films, and this was a bit of a revelation – there was real pathos in his performance.

      As for Alice Faye, I’ve no doubt she was justified in feeling aggrieved at the cuts. Even so, it does seem a pity she took it so badly when what remains proves what a future she had in dramatic roles.


  8. Colin, a most engaging review. What made it even more so was your explanation of film noir, particularly the line — “Film noir concerns itself with dissatisfaction and the desire of individuals to escape their circumstances more than anything else.” I suppose I can stretch that description to noir fiction as well. I have seen very few noir films and read many noir books but lack of clarity has dissuaded me from writing about either. I do need to see more noir films and that would include FALLEN ANGEL.


    • Thank you Prashant.
      Firstly, I think there’s obviously a lot of common ground between hard-boiled/noir writing and the film noir.

      Your comment about not writing anything on the subject is something I’ve come across before. I think a lot of people are discouraged from putting down their own thoughts due to the amount of jargon-heavy academic writing on the subject. That kind of writing can be difficult enough to read so it’s not altogether surprising that people feel a bit intimidated. Personally, I try to avoid that approach, and I’d encourage others, like yourself, to just go ahead and put down their impressions of a book or film.


      • Thanks, Colin. I like to have a fair amount of understanding of a genre or subject before writing about it. I expressed a similar sentiment about reviewing classic literature. I turned attention to noir films recently and, in fact, reviewed DETOUR last year. I found that I quite enjoyed writing about the film though I didn’t dissect the making of the film in the manner that you and Sergio do in your reviews. Your words are encouraging and I do hope to write about the next noir film I watch. I enjoy watching the films immensely and that’s a good point to start with!


        • Prashant, I’d go further than you have and say that enjoying the movies is the essential point.
          As for dissecting the the film for analysis, I’d argue that this is just one of many possible approaches, and all are valid enough in their own way. I honestly believe that if someone has something they wish to concentrate on or express about a movie then they ought to go ahead and do so. What I’m saying here is this: Don’t be put off by the thought that your take on a movie is coming at it from a different angle.


          • Colin, I was told much the same thing with regard to my reservations about reviewing classic literature. In either case, my point isn’t about approaching a book or film from a “different angle” as much as offering a fairly studied or intelligent piece as opposed to a mundane one. This may sound self-deprecating but I like to go by certain standards in whatever I write, as we all do, no doubt. That said, you have convinced me about expressing my views on noir films. Thanks again, Colin.


            • Yeah, I know what you mean. There are certain things which I feel a bit under-qualified to write about. Generally though, I find that if you focus on the aspects of a movie/book/whatever that work for you, or don’t work for that matter, then the chances are you do produce a piece of some worth.


  9. Sounds like a great noir that I need to seek out. I was nominated on Sunday, May 19 for the Super Sweet bloggers award and have now nominated your blog, among the “baker’s dozen”, that I like to read.


  10. Sorry for the very belated reply, Colin – as you know, things have been a bit crazy around my neck o’ the woods lately. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I read and very much enjoyed your review of this movie. I find the subgenre of the “small town” noir perhaps more to my taste than the usual urban variety. Even though it doesn’t probably qualify, I can’t help but think of BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK in this regard. FALLEN ANGEL sounds pretty interesting, and that cast is terrific. Thanks for continuing my noir education.


    • Knowing all the stresses and worries you’ve had to contend with lately Jeff, I very much appreciate your taking the time to drop in and leave a comment.

      I don’t feel that film noir needs to be locked into the big city – the small town, or even proper rural settings, can work equally well. Bad Day at Black Rock is an awkward movie to categorize. When I wrote about it I classed it as a modern western and, despite hearing from others who didn’t feel that was entirely accurate, I still think it can be viewed as such. Still, as you point out, there are noir characteristics there too. It’s a great movie though, regardless of how we choose to label it.


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  12. Mate, I’m catching up with you, finally watched Fallen Angel last night.
    I usually really like Dana Andrews but in this he was such a cold hearted bastard. I think it’s mostly his dead eyes and that disdainfully turned up lip… until the second half and I realised I wasn’t meant to like him! What a great actor.
    Spoilers ahead – I was sure at the end the killer was going to turn out to be June, which I think would’ve made for a devastating finale. The actual murderer seemed like a cop out to me. Other than that, a solid, elegant Film Noir.
    BTW do you consider Preminger’s Man With A Golden Arm noir? I think the only thing that holds it back is Sinatra should’ve probably been a trumpeter or piano player 😀 – and Kim Novak breaks my heart in that film (then, she always does)
    Cheers, Chris B


    • Chris, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed watching the film. Andrews, during his peak years, was an incredibly good actor and the more of his work you watch, the more apparent that becomes. Preminger always used him very well but there are great performances to be found throughout the 40s and 50s.

      Is The Man With the Golden Arm a film noir? My gut reaction is to say it’s probably not, although it flirts very close with the idea and I think you could probably construct an argument for its inclusion. A lot of Preminger’s work had some darker elements of course; that’s arguably why his full blown noir pictures are so interesting.


      • Thanks Colin. Man With the Golden Arm is a hard film to get a decent copy of. My original DVD was 4:3 ratio (Extra stuff top and bottom – is that open matte?), looked like a VHS dupe and it had a faint impression of a digital timer you could see all the way through – I think that’s what they meant when they said it was digitally remastered on the cover!
        I recently bought the Frank Sinatra collection WB edition (gold cover) which is widescreen, nice and crisp with good contrast and sound. I’d say the best it’s likely to look unless Twilight Time or Olive pick it up.


        • Hello Chris. I have the same WB release myself and I’m happy enough with it – streets ahead of the rotten PD copies that had been floating around for years.


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