Eureka Entertainment // 1957 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // August 18th, 2013
The Book They Said Could Never Be Filmed!
In The Tarnished Angels, reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson, All That Heaven Allows) begins following the exploits of Roger Schumann (Robert Stack, Written on the Wind), a former war hero who now makes a living racing planes in local air shows. Devlin finds himself drawn to Shumann's wife, LaVerne (Dorothy Malone, The Fast and the Furious). When he begins to witness her mistreatment at the hands of her husband, Devlin becomes inextricably linked to their increasingly seedy world.
The reassessment of director Douglas Sirk's work that took place following his departure from Hollywood has meant that his back catalogue of commercially successful, though critically derided, films have in many cases been lauded as masterpieces. While this may be true in some cases, the embracing of Sirk's 1957 melodrama The Tarnished Angels as anything other than a glossy, but ultimately lifeless, creation is hard to accept.
Having not read the William Faulkner novel, Pylon, on which The Tarnished Angels is based, I cannot assess how faithful George Zuckerman's screenplay is. However, what is in no doubt it that this is a story lacking any real purpose. The film opens with Hudson's reporter meeting Stack's Roger Shumman and his family for the first time. The lack of any real introduction for Devlin is problematic, in that we never really understand his motivation for investigating Shumman in the first place. The film suggests he finds the gypsy-like lifestyle of the former war hero fascinating, but had the film taken the time to explore this a little more, it may have made his interrogation into their lives more believable -- even if Shumann's acceptance of Devlin is suspect considering the guy is clearly angling for a shot at his wife. However, neither Sirk nor Zuckerman, or seemingly Faulkner, are interested in verisimilitude here. This is a film built on big emotions that are never truly earned. The overblown dialogue is the stuff of cheap pulp; "I need that plane like an alcoholic needs a drink," barks Stack at one point, with all the bluster he can manage. Indeed, each of the lead trio gets several chances to deliver over the top bursts of emotion, and each is as futile as the last.
It's difficult to be overly critical of the cast, with Hudson, Stack, and Malone delivering fine performances that are only undone by the lack of substance that blights each of their roles. Despite my criticisms of the overblown nature of the film's dialogue, I must confess that the equally overblown delivery does at least make the film bearable, if one is in the mood for an easygoing Sunday matinee. Likewise, Sirk's direction does at least ensure a handsome-looking picture. The plane races that inject a touch of action to proceedings are surprisingly well handled, and offer genuine thrills thanks to the fine work of the stuntmen involved. Yet there's no escaping that the feeling that such rich production values are wasted on such a vapid story.
Eureka Entertainment's release of The Tarnished Angels is a newcomer to Blu-ray that delivers an excellent 1080p transfer. The black-and-white image is crisp, with plenty of fine detail and little damage evident. The soundtrack features clean dialogue, with an unmemorable soundtrack only rarely coming to life.
As always, Eureka provides a solid set of extras. Film critic Adrian Martin provides a thoughtful commentary track that fans of Sirk will no doubt appreciate. In the "Talk About the Business" featurette, actor William Schallert discusses his time on the film. "Infernal Circle" is a short interview with film critic Bill Krohn. "Acting with Douglas Sirk" is a collection of interviews featuring the cast and Sirk himself. Also included is a theatrical trailer, isolated music and effects track, and a 40-page booklet.
The Tarnished Angels is a film guilty of stupidity on a frequent basis, and telegraphs major plot points far too easily. A fine example of this occurs during the film's final act, when a character's impending demise is made so obvious it beggars belief, and has to make you wonder just how dumb the filmmakers assumed their audience to be.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated