Angels Over Broadway (Hecht, Garmes, 1940)

Torrential downpour in New York City often means a drastic shift in someone’s destiny, and it’s usually for the worse. As Angels Over Broadway opens, rain overwhelms both sidewalks and streets and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’s card shark/hustler Bill O’Brien takes in the show. He stands smugly under a glimmering lamp post admiring the locals as they scurry for cover. Bill is looking for a new pawn and as fate would have it, he gets involved with a cast of characters also looking to solve life’s disappointments with one easy score. Rita Hayworth shows up as Nina Barone, a lounge act who has a soft glaze about her but a dim wit and Thomas Mitchell shines as failed playwright Gene Gibbons. All involved end up trying to help a suicidal man named Engle (played by perennial John Ford player John Qualen) regain some owed money. Angels Over Broadway is that unique 40’s specimen – a cynical, post depression pre- WWII Film Noir/drama with a happy ending. Those exist? Apparently they do and this one’s a small, shining example of the classic character arc at it’s most contained and exuberant. With this one, it’s all about the screenplay. While completely theatrical in tone and pacing (the movie takes place during this one uber rainy night), Angels Over Broadway has a charming and fluid pacing within it’s Noir visual aesthetic and downtrodden characters. These people feel devoted to the cause in question, so it’s easier to forgive the contrivances of the story. Certain scenes flow beautifully. The opening act in a nightclub holds an excellent one-sided banter between Mitchell and Qualen which stands out above the rest. Why doesn’t Hollywood write scripts like this anymore? But the momentary danger felt toward the end never holds up to the rest of the whimsical journey. Angels Over Broadway ends up letting many of the characters off the hook in some unbelievable ways, but then again, it’s fantastical elements are what make it a grand slice of storytelling. I’d like to hope Martin Scrosese thought of this film and it’s themes of redemption while making his masterpiece After Hours, another beautiful example of New York City’s unique and wet [with rain and tears] nightlife.


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