BluRay/DVD Reviews

LOST ANGEL (WB Archive Collection) 1943

By • Jan 23rd, 2016 •

Share This:

DVD review by Roy Frumkes

James Craig appeared in 35 mostly uncredited roles until 1940. Several films later he distinguished himself in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER as Jabez Stone, the luckless farmer who sells his soul to Walter Huston’s chatty, persuasive Devil. I guess there was a slight resemblance to Clark Gable in Craig’s looks, at least that’s what IMDB claims was a motivating force in the studios’ interest in the epidermilly inelastic actor. And though I wish him, and his reasonable career, no ill, he does mitigate the vibe of this sweet, off-beat story, seemingly unable to rise to the emotional levels necessitated by the script. He later did a lot of westerns and TV, and that’s where he probably belonged from the beginning. His best moments in LOST ANGEL are handed to him on a gold platter by the script, and they occur whenever he calls his six-year-old female companion ‘professor.’ Charming, every single time he says it, but not because of his skill. It’s just an imperviously wonderful appellation to bestow upon a little girl.

Marsha Hunt – as the chanteuse who loves but distances herself emotionally from Craig because of his laconic attitudes toward career, romantic commitment, and life – is professional and pleasant, but also no brush-fire crowd-pleaser. Was the hiring of these two purposely meant to take a back seat to Ms. O’Brien? Or were more galvanic thesps unavailable. It was MGM, after all. Imagine William Powell opposite the diminutive heavy-weight. What a match! Anyway, Ms. Hunt is described in IMDB’s ‘trade mark’ section as being distinguished by her ‘voluptuous figure,’ which she certainly was not, since she didn’t have one. She did, however, come close to serving jail time for her refusal to testify in the Blacklist proceedings, and she graduated from the Horace Mann High School for Girls in NYC (1934) – aligned perhaps with the more current Horace Mann School which I attended in the 60’s when all the hanky-panky between teachers and their students (it was an all-boys school by then) occurred, later to scandalize the school and result in a recently published book, “Great Is the Truth” by Kamal & Elder.

Ms. O’Brien, unlike Craig & Hunt, is really remarkable. She’s a prescient child who I seriously doubt needed to be told too often what was needed of her dramatically. Not excessively pretty, but pure of features, she’s quite compelling. The camera loved her, and dwelt on her soft, velvet demeanor. Her eyes were intelligent. Her emotional range was wide. And this was a doozy of a role. She plays a foundling who is used by a group of scientists as an experiment to see what isolation from the world and intense intellectual tutoring might produce. The story falls just short of science-fiction, only because of where they chose to take it. If you close one eye, you can see the slight resemblance to recent screenplays such as EX MACHINA and HER. I’m glad that the screenplay and Ms. O’Brien found each other. There weren’t a lot of other options. I don’t think that Shirley Temple, for example, in her earlier days, would have been a good match for the material. She didn’t radiate intellectual capacity the way O’Brien does.

Director Roy Rowland had an interesting career trajectory, securing a script clerk job at MGM during the difficult days of the great depression, marrying a niece of Louis B. Mayer, then directing shorts such as THE COURTSHIP OF THE NEWT, and finally making his way into features. I’m not overly fond of his work – in fact I think his flaccid, clueless direction ruined the otherwise promisingly surreal THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T. But he doesn’t deep-six this one, and that’s something to be thankful for. Plus, he helmed Mickey Spillane’s answer to KISS ME DEADLY (a great noir that the author despised), the British THE GIRL HUNTERS, in which Spillane essayed the role of alter-ego Mike Hammer to show Robert Aldrich and company how his material really should be treated. Not a terrific film, certainly not up to Aldrich’s unique classic, but ripe with fascinating, fun scenes, and a bludgeoning, repetitive score.

The Archive DVD is excellent in quality. Robert Surtees provides fine, MGM cinematography, with an occasional shot that William Cameron Menzies would have been proud to design.

Share This Article: Digg it | | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)