Angel Baby (1961)

“God gave her voice, and he said, ‘Angel Baby, you teach them scriptures with your voice!'”

Angel Baby Poster

Synopsis:
When a mute woman (Salome Jens) believes she’s been healed by a revivalist (George Hamilton), her faith in God is renewed, and she starts preaching. Soon she’s taken in by a crooked promoter (Roger Clark), who hopes to convince the public that “Angel Baby” can heal.

Genres:

Review:
This B-level Elmer Gantry remains an enjoyable look at backwoods evangelism and the power of faith to shape lives. Salome Jens is convincing in the lead role as a troubled woman who naively believes that God (working through handsome George Hamilton) has performed a miracle; equally compelling is Mercedes Cambridge as Hamilton’s devout older wife, who uses her faith as a sincere excuse to manipulate those around her. Indeed, it’s the role of faith as a manipulative ploy which drives the film’s narrative; then — as now — faith healers continue to dupe willing audiences, simply because of their desire to believe.

P.S. Angel Baby is also notable as Burt Reynolds’ screen debut.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Salome Jens as Angel Baby
    Salome
  • Mercedes McCambridge as “Sister Sarah”
    McCambridge
  • An effective portrayal of belief in faith healing
    Healing

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.

Links:

3 Responses to “Angel Baby (1961)”

  1. Not a must – but may very well leave you agog. It’s at least something of a guilty pleasure, even if it only slightly leans toward camp. It’s quite amazing to watch everyone keeping such a straight face.

    Speaking of which – that cast! In his early roles, it seems Hamilton really wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. His performance here is no exception; you almost buy it. Jones and Blondell make for a fun couple and they have an easy rapport. In this period of his career, Reynolds probably got whatever ne’er-do-well role James Caan turned down. Though she appeared more on tv than in film, Jens would go on to a more interesting performance in ‘Seconds’. She gets my ‘Nice Try Award’ for her work here, though; esp. toward the end.

    And what can be said about McCambridge?! Though she also should have had more of a big-screen life, I’ve never seen her bad. Even with rather sub-level material like this, MM gives it her subtextual all. Her best scene perhaps comes when she attempts to lure Hamilton into bed – when he finally runs off, she stands in the doorway…her back to the camera; the ends of her evening wear held wide open! Her overall fervor takes on particular meaning when you remember she supplied The Demon Voice for ‘The Exorcist’. It’s possible that most films featuring MM are musts.

  2. I was, unfortunately, less-than-impressed with Blondell in this film — normally I think she can do no wrong, but her performance here seems rather one-dimensional, “typical lush”. Jens convinced me that her character was real; she certainly does try incredibly hard here. In terms of McCambridge, I agree with your “?!” — she’s simply a league above everyone else. Her presence on screen is phenomenal; I love how she refers to Hamilton as “Husband” rather than by his name…

  3. I don’t recall Blondell ever having much in terms of range – since she played mostly stock, chum-type parts, I think. This role is rather like her turn in ‘Lizzie’. Occasionally she worked w/ a really good director (i.e., Kazan/’A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’) and we’d see a little something extra, perhaps.

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