Thursday, December 24, 2015

Angel's Flight (1965) A Smoggy Bunker Hill Noir

This film along with 1964's The Glass Cage are quite possibly the last of the Film Noir to feature Los Angeles' seedy Bunker Hill neighborhood before it was wiped off the face of the earth forever by the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Originally a wealthy residential suburb with panoramic views of the Los Angeles River and the Los Angeles basin, Bunker Hill retained its high tone exclusivity up to the end of the First World War. As the city exploded in growth and with commuting made easy by an extensive streetcar network, the original inhabitants absconded for greener pastures leaving the absentee landlord, crumbling old Victorian and Queen Anne mansions to be sliced and diced, converted into low rent apartments, rat trap rooming houses, residence hotels, and flops for the lower income denizens. The two funiculars Angels Flight, and a few blocks further North the Court Flight (which went defunct in 1943) provided easy access up the steep slopes of the Bunker Hill escarpment. This film even more so than The Glass Cage is particularly anchored to the intersections and buildings above the Third Street Tunnel at the top of the Angels Flight at Third & Olive.

During the Classic Film Noir period, a shot or sequence featuring Angels Flight in Bunker Hill was a Los Angeles visual signifier of desperation, poverty, decadence, the abode of winos, addicts, degenerates and criminals. It functioned, much like the Third Avenue El would do for New York City based Noirs, or the el's of Chicago's Loop. What's really a bonus, in this particular film for geographical nerds like myself, is that you can really get a sense of the physical layout of the neighborhood, you see the four corners of the intersections, the street signs, the buildings in reverse angles, the layout of the land so to speak, that you don't get in the fleeting shots from other Film Noirs that used Bunker Hill (Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Losey’s remake of M, The Hollow Triumph, Act of Violence, Kiss Me Deadly and The Glass Cage). 

Angel's Flight was directed by Raymond Nassour and Kenneth W. Richardson. It was written by Dean Romano, and William Brownell. Cinematography was by Glen Gano, music by provided by Jaime Mendoza-Nava.  It stars Indus Archer as stripper Liz, William Thourlby (the original Marlboro Man) as alcoholic writer Ben Wiley, Michael Fox as Jake the Bartender, Rue McClanahan as B-girl Dolly.

Ex newspaper reporter and alcoholic Ben Wiley, scratches out a living typing out ten cents a word stories for pulp fiction rags. He drinks because he's trying to blot out the memory of his lost love who is dead. One night, while on a bender, as he stumbles his way in the dark back to his residence hotel he runs face to face into a fleeing woman who he calls an "Angel" a beautiful luminous blond who pushes him away and into some garbage cans hidden in the shadows. 

A loud clatter spills tin cans, bottles, and Ben himself off the curb and onto the pavement. His "Angel" looks back at him briefly before scurrying down an alley up a stairway. It's Liz a young troubled stripper who has just used a straight razor to slit the throat of a man who had the misfortune to pick her up. 

The loud crash is heard by the landlady of Ben's hotel. She sticks her kerchief and curler-covered head out of the window of her apartment and screams when she spots a dead man with his throat cut sitting on a bench under a pool of light. The landlady runs out of her apartment to the pay phone on the wall to call the police, passing in front of Liz who is just coming down the hallway.

Ben stumbling his way home

Ben runs into his "Angel" Liz

Ben in the Gutter

The next day we see Liz at the edge of Hill Street, crossing in front of the Third Street Tunnel. She then boards Angels Flight and rides to the top terminal at the intersection of Olive and Third. she appears to be in a daze. While she is in the car riding up, she attracts the notice of a man in a light linen suit and wearing a Panama Hat. Panama Hat pauses at the top to stoop over and get a drink of water from a public fountain, but he keeps his eye on Liz and watches as she crosses the street and enters the Angel's Flight Cafe/Bar kitty corner to the funicular.

At the cafe she is comforted by Jake the bartender a sort of surrogate father figure to Liz. He pours her a glass of orange juice and tells her to get out of the stripping business. You get the sense that he's told her this many times before to no avail. He also senses that something else is wrong. Panama Hat enters the cafe slides onto the stool next to liz and puts the moves on her. Jake is pissed off and tells him to scram, but Liz slips Panama Hat a book of matches to the Third Street Strip, the dive where she works. Liz heads out the door. Panama Hat taunts Jake flipping the match book up in the air and catching it a couple of time as he too leaves backing out the door.

That night at the Third Street Strip, Panama Hat sits at a table leering at Liz while she does her act, she's not very good at it, just going through the motions, but her attraction is her youth and innocent look. In a bit of experimental cinematography (that's actually done much better in The Glass Cage the year before), we see a close up of Liz's eyes that are then superimposed by the twin flashing lights of a police cruiser that then fades to another slashing murder scene where we see Panama Hat laying at the portal of the Third Street Tunnel. There are a few other examples of this experimental camerawork/editing in the film.

Liz at third Street Tunnel

Angel's Flight Hill Street Terminal

Looking up toward Olive Street about to cross over Clay Street at the top of the tunnel portal to the right.

The top terminal at Olive and Third Street Panama Hat follows Liz out of the car.

The top of the Angel's Flight Terminal (above center) where you see a water fountain, a 5 cents weight scale, and out of the frame to the left three phone booths. The building to the right is the Elk's Building which was converted to a residence hotel. In the reverse of this shot you see the Angel's Flight Cafe.

Jake at the Angel's Flight Cafe


Ben has sobered up and fallen in love with his vision when he finds out that Liz is a residence at the same hotel he approaches her. She is standoffish at first but they soon warm up into a relationship. While this is going on Ben's police detective friend offers him the opportunity to get back on track by helping with the slasher investigation, reasoning that he can use the story to get back to investigative reporting. The police want him to act as a decoy to see if he can attract the slasher who seems to only go after handsome men. 

There follows some humorous episodes where Ben approaches what he thinks is a hooker at a street corner only to be slapped in the face when she gets on the bus that stops to pick her up, and later at a bar a drunken B-Girl named Dolly (Rue McClanahan) causes a fight when she leaves the "date" she's with for what she thinks are greener pastures. A fight erupts and both Dolly's "date" and Dolly who is  kicking and screaming are hauled off in a police car.

Innocent lady waiting for the bus

Dolly (Rue McClanahan) see's Ben enter the bar
Ben & Dolly

While his decoy work is a bust, Ben makes progress with Liz but he is concerned about her because he discovers a series of portraits that she paints of the same face, a dark ominous man with a broken nose. Flipping through a True Crime magazine he comes across a photo of the same face done from a police description of a rapist. He finds out that Liz was raped near the Angel's Flight half a year ago and he now knows that she is the slasher, killing the rapist over and over again whenever a strange man approaches her.  Indus Arthur, is good in this film as the melancholy troubled young woman (it's her first film), the rest of the cast is adequate enough to be believable. 

The world depicted is the now lost world of the tobacco users and heavy drinkers, a time when sleazy women trolled dive bars for laughs and tricks. A low budget existence of greasy burgers and cheap beer, where you listened to torch singers, and strippers danced to live bands. It's Noirsville.


This film is a visual treat for Noiristas, it definitely needs a restoration, these screencaps are from the Youtube upload, there is a DVD available from  Pressplayhouse DVDs I'll be picking this up for sure and see if the picture quality is any better, a 7/10.


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