Fallen Angel (1945)

Drifter Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) had been hoping to get to San Francisco by bus, but when he gets thrown off the bus for not being able to cover the fare, he finds himself in small town Walton, California instead.  He stops into Pop’s Eats and overhears Pop talking to police about Stella (Linda Darnell), one of his waitresses, being missing.  Detective Mark Judd (Charles Bickford) isn’t too concerned and tells Pop that she’ll probably turn up sooner or later.  Luckily, he’s right, and Stella walks in while Eric is still there.  As soon as he sets eyes on her, he joins Stella’s big group of admirers, but she doesn’t fall for his charms so easily.  After leaving the diner, Eric needs a place to stay for the night.  When he sees that a psychic act is in town, he goes to the hotel and pretends to be a friend of the psychic’s to get into their room for the night.

Eric makes friends with the psychic’s assistant and the next day, he finds out that ticket sales for the psychic’s show have been slow due to Clara Mills (Anne Revere), the daughter of a former mayor, claiming the psychic is a fraud.  Eric decides to help him out and goes to see Clara to convince her to stop interfering with their show.  Clara doesn’t buy his smooth talk, but her sister June (Alice Faye) does and convinces Clara that they should give them a chance and go see their show.  Once word gets out that Clara and June are going to the show, Eric has no problem selling tickets.  But of course the act is a fraud and thanks to a little pre-show research, the psychic finds out that Clara and June had been conned out of much of their father’s inheritance, which gets mentioned in the show.  After the show, Eric continues to pursue Stella.  Stella makes it very clear that she’s looking to get married and settle down and Eric would need more money before he would able to do that.

Even though Eric had been offered a job with the psychic, he decides to stay in Walton because he’s got a plan to get the money he needs fast.  Although Clara and June had been swindled out of a lot of their money, they still have about $25,000 left.  So he starts seeing June and June quickly falls head over heels for him.  After a few dates, Eric brings June and Clara to San Francisco.  He tells them that they would be going to a concert, but really, he plans to marry June to get to her money.  Clara is skeptical, but June is thrilled to be married.  When they get back home that night, Eric sneaks out to tell Stella what he’s doing.  He explains that he will divorce her ASAP, but she is furious and goes out on a date with another man instead.

When he wakes up the next morning, he’s shocked to hear that Stella had been murdered.  Clara had followed Eric to his meeting and could have easily framed him for the murder, but instead she tries to cover for him when Detective Judd questions his whereabouts the previous night.  With Clara’s alibi, the prime suspect becomes another one of Stella’s boyfriends.  But then it turns out the other boyfriend has an air-tight alibi and the focus turns back to Eric.  Eric is afraid of being framed and he and June sneak off to San Francisco together.  Even an ordeal like this isn’t enough to shake June’s love of Eric and as the two of them hole up in a hotel room, they get to know each other better and Eric begins to really love June back.  When they leave the hotel so that June can get the $25,000 out of her safe deposit box, she is arrested and brought back to Walton.  But now Eric is more determined than ever to prove who the real killer is and, with a bit of research, is able to prove who left a vital clue at the scene of the crime.

Fallen Angel is one of those wonderful overlooked movie gems. I don’t hear it talked about much, but it really packed a punch.  It’s full of classic film noir cinematography, Otto Preminger’s direction was first-rate, Dana Andrews brought plenty of suave charm, Linda Darnell positively smoldered in her role, and Alice Faye totally hit it out of the park.  At first, you might think Alice Faye would be a little out of place here since she is so strongly associated with musicals, but she was excellent.  Unfortunately, many of Alice’s best scenes were cut from the film in favor of adding more of Linda Darnell, which prompted Alice to stop making movies for many years.  But despite having so many fine moments end up on the cutting room floor, Alice Faye still delivers big time.  Overall, it’s a first-rate noir that deserves more recognition.