Last November, I participated in Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s Second Annual Claude Rains Blogathon. My contribution was a review of the 1963 movie, Twilight of Honor, which I thought was ok. I also recognize the film was released outside of the Breen Code era. This year, I will write about the 1946 film, Angel on My Shoulder. I chose to review this title for two reasons. The first is my curiosity in seeing how a film from the Breen Code era would address topics such as the afterlife and the devil. The second is how the story’s basic concept reminded me of the animated film, All Dogs Go To Heaven. As I mentioned in my Twilight of Honor review, I have seen some of Claude Rains’ films. Since Angel on My Shoulder is the sixth movie of his I have watched, I knew what to expect from him as an actor!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Because Claude Rains is one of the reasons why I chose to review this movie, I’ll talk about his performance first. His role as Nick, the devil, was very different from his other roles I’ve seen. In Angel on My Shoulder, Claude carried himself with a kind of confidence that one would expect from a villainous character. Nick was an arrogant person. However, Claude made this component work by keeping his performance consistent. Another consistent performance came from Paul Muni! Throughout the movie, Eddie was on the edge of his seat, unsure of who to trust. This was an interesting quality for Paul to add to his character, as gangsters in movies sometimes deal with untrust-worthy people. Eddie also tells things as they are, another piece of his personality that Paul pulls off! Anne Baxter did a good job portraying Barbara Foster! In her performance, she utilized emotion, especially through her eyes, to make her character believable. When Eddie, as Judge Frederick Parker, interacts with Barbara for the first time, it is clear she is very uncomfortable with the way her fiancée is behaving. She pushes him away and attempts to walk away from the situation, showing her displeasure the entire time.
The depiction of Hell: Like I said in the introduction, I was curious to see how a Breen Code film would approach the subject of Hell and the devil. The way Hell is depicted in Angel on My Shoulder evokes fear into audience members who support good winning over evil. The underworld is a dark environment that only uses fire as its source of light. Shadows were cast over the characters, with light only being shown over the characters’ eyes. In entertainment media that features the devil, he will sometimes appear as an other-worldly creature. In Angel on My Shoulder, Nick, the name the devil goes by, appears as a human. This shows the reality of how someone can turn to the dark side.
The dialogue: Since Angel on My Shoulder was released during the Breen Code era, any talk of Hell or the devil needed to meet Breen Code standards. Within the story, the word “hell” is never spoken. Nick is not called “the devil”, but Mephistopheles instead. The script does feature subtle references to who Nick is that respects the intelligence of the audience. One scene shows Eddie and Nick riding in a plane. When Eddie notices how Nick appears uncomfortable, he asks Nick if he is ok. Nick tells Eddie that he likes being near the ground more than in the sky.
What I didn’t like about the film:
A limited use of music: Music in film can help set a tone for a particular scene. One example is when suspenseful music is played during a scene that is more intense. Without music, the scene would be missing an emotional component. Angel on My Shoulder is an hour and forty-minute film. In that amount of time, about seven scenes feature music. To me, this seems disproportionate to the movie’s run-time. It also forbids certain moments in the film from having a more emotional impact.
A mostly static character: In a story like Angel on My Shoulder, it’s common for the audience to witness the protagonist grow as an individual over the course of the movie. While we do see Eddie change his ways, the transformation doesn’t happen until sometime between an hour and eleven to twenty-three minutes into the film. Beforehand, Eddie remains the same as he did before he died. He even refuses to act more like Judge Frederick Parker in an attempt to avoid suspicion from those around him. Breen Code era movies typically feature a core lesson or message for the audience to take away. Even though Angel on My Shoulder does have a good message, it takes quite some time to get there.
A meandering story: Angel on My Shoulder is about a recently deceased gangster who works with Nick, the devil, to satisfy a favor. As I mentioned in the introduction, this concept reminded me of All Dogs Go To Heaven. But where Angel on My Shoulder failed is not having a sense of urgency. Because of this decision, the majority of the movie is spent showing Eddie reliving his life as Judge Frederick Parker. Any course of action for Nick and Eddie’s plan doesn’t appear in the story until an hour and eleven minutes into the movie. For me, I was waiting for something interesting to happen instead of actually watching something interesting happen.
My overall impression:
Angel on My Shoulder is a painfully average film. Because the movie placed more emphasis on showing Eddie reliving his life as someone else, it took almost the entire story just to get to the intended point. I liked seeing how this film addressed subjects such as the afterlife, Hell, and the devil in the time of the Breen Code era. But, personally, it should have been included in a stronger script. There were aspects of this movie I did like. The acting was enjoyable to watch and the script was intelligently written. But when I find myself checking the time on multiple occasions in order to see when this film would end, my unenjoyment of the overall project overshadows its strengths. If you’d like to watch a movie with a similar concept to Angel on My Shoulder, I would recommend All Dogs Go To Heaven. In my opinion, that movie did a better job executing almost the same idea.
Overall score: 5.5 out of 10
Have you seen Claude Rains’ films? If so, which one is your favorite? Comment below in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!