Starring: Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum, Mona Freeman
Director: Otto Preminger
Frank Jessup (Mitchum) bites off more than he can chew when he meets the beautiful and wealthy Diane Tremayne (Simmons). Charmed by her innocent face, he’s convinced to work as her families chauffeur, with the deal being that she’ll arrange an investment for him so he can race cars again. But when she oh-so-innocently gets his girlfriend to break up with him, moves him onto the property and involves him in a plot to kill her stepmother, he realises he’s in over his head, and can’t get out.
Film noir as a genre was well established by this time, with all its conventions of femme fatales, innocent men drawn into dark and hopeless plots, and the play of light and shadows over the screen. This film is a wonderful addition to the genre, with a doomed plot and two powerful leads.
While I really like the characterisation of Frank as being a guy who isn’t always that nice (he slaps Diane, is obviously interested in her money, he lies to his girlfriend), this film is really stolen by Jean Simmons. She really does have an angel face, so delicate and beautiful, she looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. What’s great about her is not just that she’s calculating and manipulative, but also that she has a desperate quality about her. It’s like she’s so spoiled that she thinks it’s OK to kill her stepmother to have her father all to herself again. And she’s so desperate to have the man she wants, but she tries to buy him to have him. She knows that though he wants her, she doesn’t really have him. There’s something about that contradiction of the coldness of murder and the heat of thwarted passion that’s really fascinating.
Like the plot of all film noirs, the path to victory is not smooth. This is one where there aren’t a lot of double crosses, like The Maltese Falcon, for example, but rather that the plans all fall apart once the end is almost in grasp, like The Postman Always Rings Twice. Crime doesn’t pay, and manipulation will never get you what honesty will. But perhaps the most important lesson of this film is that just because someone has the face of an angel does not mean that they don’t have a rotten core.
See It If: you love film noir’s, it’s a cracking plot. Also one to watch for Jean Simmons deliciously malicious performance.