Tarnished Angels, The (1957)

Tarnished Angels, The (1957)

“I need this plane — like an alcoholic needs his drink.”

A boozy reporter (Rock Hudson) covering a carnival barnstorming event falls for the sexy wife (Dorothy Malone) of a daredevil pilot (Robert Stack), and quickly becomes enmeshed in their lives and marital drama — including rumors that their mechanic (Jack Carson) may be the father of their son (Christopher Olsen), and attempts by Stack to bribe an airplane owner (Robert Middleton) into letting him use his questionably functional plane.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Carnivals and Circuses
  • Dorothy Malone Films
  • Douglas Sirk Films
  • Jack Carson Films
  • Journalists
  • Marital Problems
  • Robert Stack Films
  • Rock Hudson Films

Douglas Sirk’s adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1935 novel Pylon reunited the stars of his previous melodrama — Written on the Wind (1956) — for yet another potboiler about fiery-tempered individuals living life at the extremes. Sexy Malone serves as the emotional core of the story, sucking Hudson into her sad saga without necessarily meaning to, while Stack is presented as a flying addict whose need for aerial freedom trumps all else (including the sanctity of his marriage), and Carson simply waits in the wings to provide support in whatever way he can. While the cinematography is beautiful and the performances are fine, I can’t recommend this as must-see for anyone other than Sirk fans — who consider it among his best.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone as the conflicted but loving stunt couple
  • Exciting aerial sequences

  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, though Sirk fans will of course want to check it out. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


3 thoughts on “Tarnished Angels, The (1957)

  1. A once-must, for Sirk’s direction and for the main performances. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “The party’s next door. And that’s the way it’s always been: next door.”

    ‘The Tarnished Angels’ (1957): Part of Douglas Sirk’s intermission from glossy technicolor sudsers like ‘Magnificent Obsession’, ‘All That Heaven Allows’ and ‘Written on the Wind’ was this bold return to black-and-white. But then, William Faulkner is more of a black-and-white kind of guy – and this flick was based on one of his books; what’s largely considered one of his worst (‘Pylon’). Reportedly, after seeing this film version, Faulkner told Sirk it was the best film adaptation of any of his work… the kind of thing an author might say to help sales of one of his worst books. But let’s be generous: let’s say Faulkner was simply telling the truth. (I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been able to read Faulkner without feeling I was needlessly tormenting myself.)

    At any rate, this could possibly be Sirk’s most underrated film. It tells the 1930s story of a New Orleans reporter (Rock Hudson) who is keen to do a story on an ex-WWI flying ace (Robert Stack) – who he discovers has been reduced to struggling through cheap aerobatics for a local thrill show. As Hudson gets details, he learns about the odd ménage involving Stack, his wife (Dorothy Malone) and their mechanic (Jack Carson). They’re in dire straits – the kind of emotional cyclone that Sirk is perfectly comfy in.

    If you watch Hudson closely for the first half of the film, you’ll notice he doesn’t seem at all to be attracted to or falling for Malone. In fact, it’s easy to start to think ‘Is he playing a gay guy?! He seems to be doing it rather well and he looks so comfortable! ‘My Ántonia’ is among his favorite books!’ 😉 But then commercial Hollywood filmmaking comes crashing in, so Hudson suddenly (not all that believably) makes a play for DM. What’s odd about the shift is that the ‘passion’ eventually ebbs and Hudson returns to being his old, sensitive, deeply understanding, possibly-gay (or bi) character. At least it reads that way; something seeps through because it’s Hudson in the role.

    I’m rather fond of this film – but, while I’m taken with all 4 of the main characters (the angst is infectious), I’m especially drawn to Malone. She had just won on Oscar the year before for ‘Written on the Wind’ but her role in that was not nearly as difficult; it’s sassy and amusing to watch but it’s not that hard to play a spoiled rich girl who can dance like a banshee. In ‘Tarnished Angels’, she draws from a much-deeper well.

    ’50s critics did not seem accepting, but critics in more-recent years have taken to it warmly. I’m with *them*.

  2. I’ve come to accept that Sirk films weren’t “made for me”.

    While I admire many elements of them (including and most especially his framing and overall artistic sensibilities), I tend to find myself at somewhat of a remove emotionally from the stories. Not sure why.

  3. I took at look at Sirk’s filmography at IMDb and realized there are some I haven’t seen that I may try to hunt down. But I think I like ‘The Tarnished Angels’ more than his more-famous, glitzier ones; it just appeals more to my character. I also like ‘All I Desire’ (1953; Stanwyck) which I feel Peary overlooked.

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