My buddy Kelly Greene and I watched THE BLACK ANGEL (1946) this afternoon. It's a terrific little film noir that neither one of us had ever seen before.
Dan Duryea stars as Martin Blair, a drunken songwriter who tries to see his estranged wife Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) in her penthouse apartment one night. He wrote the song that made her a recording star but she'll have nothing to do with him. He can't gain access to the apartment house but he sees sinister nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre) go in. Later, an unknown man (Hobart Cavanaugh) who was having an affair with Mavis enters the only to find her dead, strangled with her monogrammed scarf. He of course leaves a trail of evidence, is eventually arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to death.
The trouble is, he's innocent and his beloved wife, Catherine (June Vincent) believes him and wants to save him from the gas chamber even though he was cheating on her. The police offer no help but she eventually hooks up with Blair who also wants to solve the murder of his ex-wife. They team up and follow a trail that leads to Lorre's nightclub where the two get a job as a piano player and lounge singer in order to find evidence in Lorre's possession. Duryea sobers up and begins to fall for Vincent. There's a suspenseful scene in the nightclub in which Vincent dares all to gain access to Lorre's inner sanctum but they soon discover they have the wrong man.
With her husband only hours away from execution, Vincent goes to visit him one last time in prison. While she's away, Duryea falls off of the wagon, having been spurned by Vincent when he declared his love for her. He eventually discovers the true identity of the murderer in a shocking, didn't-see-it-coming final twist.
THE BLACK ANGEL was originally a novel by the legendary Cornell Woolrich. Screenwriter Roy Chanslor does a good job of adapting the material while director Roy William Neill (who also produced the film), does a fine job of putting the solid cast through a never ending series of twists, turns and reversals of fortune. THE BLACK ANGEL was the last film Neill directed. He had previously helmed several of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce SHERLOCK HOLMES films at Universal as well as the first monster team-up film FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943).
THE BLACK ANGEL is a first rate film noir that you will enjoy whether you're an aficionado of the genre or just a lover of good movies. Highly recommended.