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Angels Over Broadway
THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Broadway's dark alleys and dingy bars used to be home to a desperate brand of character, a type of person that has their back up against the wall and no easy way out. Angels Over Broadway features four great actors as four desperate characters who form an unlikely team in an effort to run one last game. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. plays Bill O'Brien, a minor hood whose scam involves steering unlucky rubes into fixed mob poker games. Rita Hayworth plays Nina Barone, a Russian singer and dancer (although Hayworth doesn't even attempt an accent, probably a good decision) who hasn't even landed an audition in a long time. Thomas Mitchell plays Gene Gibbons, a noted playwright who has had a few flops in a row, is being sued for divorce, and finds his only solace in booze. And John Qualen plays Charles Engle, a small businessman who embezzled thousands from his partner for his wife, lost both the wife and money, and now has until dawn to return the cash.
Engle's dilemma sets the film in motion as O'Brien misinterprets his listless manner as the malaise of the unhappily wealthy and Gibbons becomes intrigued by the suicidal Engle's story. Gibbons goads O'Brien and Barone into helping his drunken crusade to help Engle get the cash he needs. The dialog crackles and the cinematography has the stark look of the era's films noir. The imagery is mostly simple and to-the-point, with a few sets and shots adding surprising eloquence, like an overhead shot of the poker game.
There is a dark pleasure in watching these characters try to manipulate each other. O'Brien treats Barone harshly. Gibbons practically forces the others to help. Even Engle gets to come alive when trying to deceive the mobsters that stand between his self-destruction and salvation. Even though the film's ending is a bit rushed, it is effective and hopeful, something that seems impossible in the darkness of the rest of the film.
The full-frame black-and-white image looks fine. The opening scenes display a lot of dirt and damage (and one moment of total black-out) but the rest of the film is acceptible. The image has nice contrast and, although it never looks pristine, it renders the film's dark images well.
The English 2.0 soundtrack is fine, if simple. Voices are clear and the film is mostly dialog-driven. A Portuguese track is also available, as are English, Spanish, French, Portuguese subtitles.
Only trailers for Gilda, On the Waterfront, and The Big Heat. The cost of this disc is ludicrously high considering what's on it.
Angels Over Broadway is a tight, engaging film from a pro-director (Ben Hecht) and a great cast. Fans of classic films will definitely be drawn into the characters and the story. The price tag on this disc is ridiculously high, however, considering that no restoration has been performed and there are no extras of note. Still, the movie itself is worth a look.
Email Gil Jawetz at [email protected]