A lost noir classic

The director Otto Preminger once told a reluctant actor, “You are not expected to understand. You just do what I tell you, and it’ll be all right.” In 1952’s Angel Face (newly out on DVD), Preminger agreed to a reduced budget in exchange for more directorial control. The result was a noir classic that you probably haven’t seen. It never achieved nearly the recognition of Preminger’s most celebrated films, including Laura and Anatomy of a Murder.

So why call your attention to Angel Face now? Because of Preminger.

Last night, when Hollywood gave Martin Scorsese an Oscar for Best Director, they were celebrating a remarkable craftsman with a tough, dark, idiosyncratic vision. Preminger paved the way. In Angel Face, he distilled the elements that worked in Laura — violence and obsession — down to an essence. He also had Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum slap the hell out of each other. The film sings. Pay attention. You’ll learn how to tell a story as fast as Simmons’s femme fatale can concoct a new one. This is a master at work.

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A lost noir classic