Readers Write In #522: Classics on YouTube #6 – Fallen Angel (1945)

Posted on November 7, 2022


By ​Vijay Ramanathan

Note: YouTube’s vast repository includes a multitude of wonderful movies in many languages – some hidden gems, and some that are hard to find elsewhere. In this series of articles, I will share some of my favorite classic movies freely available on YouTube, along with a brief analysis. The videos are not posted by me, and I do not benefit from anyone viewing them.

There is a distinct lack of morality in the leading characters of Fallen Angel, a tense film noir by Otto Preminger, released a year after his marvelous Laura. The amorality is not masked under some guise of honor or nobility. It’s blatant. The movie drops us into this dubious world from the very first scene when the protagonist, who is trying to fake-sleep his way to his final destination despite having paid only a partial fare, is kicked off a bus late one night by the driver. 

The protagonist is Eric Stanton (a terrific Dana Andrews) who lands up in a small town in the middle of California and doesn’t really want to be there. He wants to go to San Francisco but doesn’t have the bus fare to get that far. Soon, we realize Stanton doesn’t mind tricking people, or partnering with tricksters, to make a fast buck and move on. He smoothly finds his way into helping a psychic act sell tickets in this skeptical small town. He convinces an influential pair of sisters, Clara (Anne Revere) and June (Alice Faye) to buy tickets to the show and that gets the rest of the town to follow suit. While this is happening, Stanton falls for a sultry waitress, Stella (a perfectly cast Linda Darnell), who’s got her own ambitions in life. She’s worldwise; she’ll casually steal some cash from the till at the restaurant where she works because she knows she can get away with it. She’s happy to date multiple men to see which one would give her a boost in life. Stanton wants to marry Stella and leave town but she won’t hear of it till he can assure her a stable and financially secure married life. We know she doesn’t quite care how it happens. This desire is what motivates Stanton to take his unscrupulous next steps. All through this, hanging around town is an ex-cop from New York, Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), who seems straight-laced at first but whose devious side makes an abrupt appearance during a criminal investigation. 

Moral deficit is the tissue that connects characters in this story and propels the narrative forward. There’s soon a murder which complicates Stanton’s plans. Judd is running the investigation. Stanton is convinced he needs to skip town to escape being implicated for the crime. It’s Alice’s companionship which holds Stanton back, and makes him consider that someone could be so trusting of him. 

The screenplay by Harry Kliener, adapted from a novel by Marty Holland, is mostly tight and dark. Characters are introduced very organically. Their motivations and traits are explained through the course of the narrative without clumsy exposition. The initial portions build up slowly before the murder thursts the characters into an electric final act. Stanton and Stella are tautly written and get the best lines. The character of Alice seems least convincing. We see that she craves to leave town, escape her sister’s shadow, and explore a more adventurous life, but it’s never quite clear why she sees Stanton as her ticket. She’s not naive; she knows he’s not being straight with her but she still chooses to trust and support him. This angle seems a bit undercooked. 

Preminger controls the flow brilliantly. He maintains the tension of the story without rushing through the plot. Andrews and Darnell get plenty of room to display their acting chops. The staging is innovative and engaging. There’s a scene in a crowded bar where Stanton is trying to lure Stella. They dance, and then sit down to have drinks. They chat for a bit, dance some more, kiss, and leave the bar. The whole scene is staged with just 4 cuts and that too just during the conversation part. The kiss is in the shadows. There’s another scene outside a bank where Alice is taken into a police car which takes a u-turn and drives past Stanton who’s standing across the street hiding his face behind a newspaper – all in one smooth shot. The filmmaking is uniformly top-notch. 

Preminger has made many riveting films in his Hollywood career, and Fallen Angel is right up there with his best ones. The direction and performances make this one a can’t-miss noir.

Fallen Angel is available for viewing on YouTube at