Angel On My Shoulder (1946)
Reviewed on 2011 February 9
Old B&W gangster movie about a not-completely-bad bad guy, who thinks he makes a shrewd deal and ends up just making a mess for himself.
Eddie Kagel (Paul Muni) is a criminal who gets shot by Smiley, someone he thought of as an ally. The poor slob thinks he’s getting sprung from the state pen and winds up in a place that makes jail look like a high-roller suite in Caesar’s Palace: Hell. It takes a while for Eddie to figure out where he is; but when the light bulb goes off, you briefly see real fear on his face, probably for the first time in his pathetic life. That doesn’t stop him from focusing on getting revenge, and he makes a bargain with the devil (Claude Rains, eschewing the horns and claws and fangs for a posh accent and a spiffy black suit). If he’s freed from Hell long enough to whack Smiley, he’ll quietly drag his sorry self back to Hell once he has his revenge. Always up for more souls, the devil agrees and ups the ante by sending Eddie’s soul into the stubbornly pure Judge Fred Parker (Muni again), a long time target of Old Nick and the brass ring of souls. Neither of them expect Eddie to fall in love with Parker’s fiancee (Anne Baxter).
It’s an unusual plot, and despite the movie’s age the special effects are good. My favorite line was when the devil said he would be behind Eddie, whispering in his ear. It’s ironic because he’d been doing that all of Eddie’s life. I enjoyed Muni’s characterization of Eddie: he’s not a bright bulb but when he growls he “ain’t never been scared of nothin’ in all my life” he means it. This relied on the story and acting more than CGI or anything like that, and it shows. The insights into human nature are as funny now as they were in 1946, and while some of the bits towards the end were a bit heavy-handed, it’s a minor quibble.
Three chocolate morsels. It’s not even “dated” so much as “vintage”.