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USA 1958
Directed by
Douglas Sirk
91 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Tarnished Angels

The Tarnished Angels was Douglas Sirk's follow-up to Written on the Wind (1956) which also starred Robert Stack, Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone. It's based on William Faulkner's novel 'Pylon', which was in turn loosely based on the experiences of Faulkner 's own brother, Dean, who was a barnstorming pilot in the early 1930s.

In the Depression-ridden early 1930s Roger and LaVerne Shumann (Stack and Malone) eke out a living on the then-very-popular rural barnstorming circuit. Hudson is a local newspaper man who sees a great story in their dying (literally) profession and Jack Carson plays their homely mechanic, Jiggs. Everyone is in love with the delectable LaVerne and the resulting milieu is a hotbed of sexual desire, jealousy and testosterone.

The performances are effective with Malone making one of her best screen appearances in a role which perfectly suited her sexually-charged screen image (Sirk contrives to have her in a Marilyn-like upskirt shot when she performs her dare-devil act) and Robert Stack, an actor with a very distinctive and somewhat limited screen persona also being well-suited to the role of her alpha-male husband. Hudson, who was a Sirk regular by this time, shows commendable range as one of the men who falls for LaVerne and thereby into the mill of love.

Whilst dramatically the film is juiced up, even over-heated, as a production it feels somewhat under-developed. Whilst much in the dialogue is made of the social effects of the Depression in driving people to desperate acts, little of this is evident on screen and the redemptive ending of the film comes too easily and too quickly. Although one can feel the potential here, one also feels that it was probably sacrificed to the studio’s desire to quickly turn out a pulp action film for mass consumption.

FYI: For a jauntier take on the barnstorming phenomenon, check out George Roy Hill's The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).




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