Written and Posted by Sarah
Universal's 1946 film noir, Black Angel, was Dan Duryea's seventeenth credited film. This was also the first time that the studio tried him in a starring sympathetic role. He had played a few supporting roles that gave him the chance to come across as a sympathetic character (as in the Humphrey Bogart film, Sahara), but those roles were not positively received by the fans. The public liked Duryea mean. In fact, the meaner he was on screen the more the public liked him.
Black Angel was the studio's build-up for Duryea in a sympathetic role. He plays Martin "Marty" Blair, a successful composer (and piano player), who has turned to the bottle since separating from his wife, Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling). The opening of the film alone is worth watching if you're a Dan D. fan! This movie is loaded with "hero shots" of Dan, and he got a lot of costume changes (not that that means as much for a guy!).
Don't read any farther if you haven't seen this film yet.
I'm not going to go into a synopsis of this film, so if you would like to see a blow-by-blow from TCM just CLICK HERE. I am just going to continue with notes about the film --- particularly as it relates to Dan Duryea.
June Vincent plays the wife of the man (only seen at the beginning of the film) who is convicted of murdering Dan's wife in the opening scenes. She does a decent job but lacks much enthusiasm. All together, she's the type that you can't really remember a couple days after seeing the movie. Peter Lorre plays the man-with-a-secret who owns a swanky nightclub. He is great, as always! Broderick Crawford plays the Police Detective.
Dan gets a lot of chances to "play" piano in this one. I don't know if he could actually play, but he is a good "faker" if he didn't. June Vincent (dubbed) sings a song, accompanied by Mr. D. on the piano, called "Time Will Tell". The words aren't great as far as content, but the tune is nice. Dan's character has a best-selling song called "Heartbreak". It makes its appearance throughout the film on a record, in the background and as a piece of sheet music. It's a shame that it wasn't actually released on a sheet --- it would have been nice to play at home on your own piano!
Mr. Duryea falls for June Vincent (who looks somewhat like Constance Dowling) as the two try to discover the murderer of his wife. He reforms from the bottle, cleans himself up and they get a job in Lorre's nightclub. This is a nice change from the sneering and beat-'em-up Duryea character that we're accustomed to in films like The Woman in the Window, Along Came Jones and Ball of Fire. He's rather soft-spoken and gentle in this role.
Because of the poor reception from audiences to the other sympathetic Duryea characters, the studio decided to turn Marty Blair into the character that everyone expected at the very end of the film. In the last ten minutes Dan finds that June Vincent doesn't love him ---she's staying true to her husband. So, Dan returns to his bottle for an all-night binge and suddenly remembers that he actually killed his wife. He returns to June's house and tells the truth in time to save her husband from the gas chamber.
It was a disappointing ending to such a sympathetic role and too predictable since you expect Duryea to play the guilty party. However, it's a fantastic piece of acting from him and supplies a lot of "hero" shots and scenes, so if you like Dan Duryea it's worth viewing once!