With time, it gets harder to locate those old noir films that are really good: there are a lot of mediocre ones! So, it’s always a pleasure to stumble on a real find – Black Angel (1946) is one. The title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the story – the angels are all blonde – but don’t let that bother you. And it starts with a fantastic shot that takes us up off the street and through the window of luxury apartment way up in the sky, but still down in the dirt, of course.
A beautiful singer is murdered; a man, her ex-lover, is seen leaving the apartment. He is caught and convicted, destined to fry in the chair, but he didn’t do it. Catherine (June Vincent), his beautiful wife, stands by him, even though she knows he was cheating on her. She is the model of middle-class suburban virtue.
Mavis Marlowe, the dead woman, was quite a dish (Constance Dowling), and a real piece of work too. She was blackmailing a few guys, including the one who is fingered for her death. He didn’t want his sweetie to know he had been philandering.
Martin (Dan Duryea), is her husband, obviously estranged. She won’t give him the time of day. They used to be a hit singer/songwriter/piano player team. Catherine enlists Martin in her quest to free her husband, and they present themselves as a nightclub act (she used to sing) to Mr. Marko (Peter Lorre) who might have something to do with Mavis’ death.
Marko is a sleazy guy, and he was being blackmailed by Mavis too. With that face, he must have done it.
He’s no fool, and very suspicious too, but he likes Catherine. Likes her act, which does great, and likes her, a lot. He even saves some champagne to share with her for a “special occasion”. She doesn’t look pleased at what’s coming, but a girl has to do what she can for her hubby on death row, and it might allow her to get into that safe in Marko’s office for some clues. She’s made quite a transformation from Mrs. Homemaker…
There are many plot twists in the story, and the ending is a bit contrived, depending on a convenient alcoholic blackout, but it is tremendously entertaining. All the actors are great. (Once Catherine gets more interesting so does Vincent’s performance). They all have things to hide, and the only one who is a straight-shooter turns out to be the criminal.