A little known masterpiece. And the last straw for Alice Faye (right).

But what a boost for Linda Darnell (left).

That’s because Darnell got her big break playing a seductive hash slinger in an off-the-highway Northern California cafe, who rattles the libido of any man she meets including Dana Andrews as an impoverished grifter out for the fastest buck possible.

Alice Faye, then on her way out the door as 20th Century Fox’s reigning screen diva, plays the woman-of-means June Mills, the town most respectable figure who takes a fancy to the on-the-make grifter. The catch: the grifter, who doesn’t reciprocate, must think of a way to dispose of the the Mills woman while absconding with the proceeeds of her fortune to escape the claustrophobic small town with his true amour, Stella the waitress.

1946’s Fallen Angel was a film noir directed by Otto Preminger, one of his most interesting outings. Take a look and appreciate the hardbitten performance of the gorgeous Darnell and the earnest yet appealing turn by Faye in the twilight of her big time movie career.

Some might say in retrospect that Darnell’s life off-camera often was far more interesting than many of the movies she made — Fallen Angel notably excepted..

Gorgeous from birth (in Dallas, Texas), Monetta Eloyse Darnell was relentlessly pushed by an aggressive stage mother – tap dance classes at five, talent competitions at 11, beauty contests at 14 (she developed early) and an RKO screen test at 16.

But a 20th Century Fox talent scout had brought her out to Hollywood a year before.  The studio realizing she was just 14 sent her home to age a bit.  When Fox’s Darryl Zanuck discovered she was about to sign with RKO he exercised his prior claim.  She was still underage but appeared quite mature and Zanuck launched her career in a starring role (with co star billing)–opposite Tyrone Power.  She starred opposite him again in The Mark of Zorro and Blood and Sand.

She was Zanuck’s favorite until she angered him by marrying a man old enough to be her father. After that he cast her in supporting roles.

But it turned out in addition to being virginal she could be sultry.

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Her career spanned some 50 films. Summer Storm,( Danish-born director Douglas Sirk’s second Hollywood film, an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Shooting Party), showcased Darnell’s smoldering gaze and sexy physique in the role of a cunning, illiterate peasant girl who catches the eye of none other than George Sanders. (Summer Storm recently was reissued on DVD.)

She was superb in Hangover Square and, as mentioned, The Fallen Angel. She wasn’t a bad comedienne (see A Letter To Three Wives or Unfaithfully Yours). All four of these are classics.

Darnell had a torrid affair with Three Wives director Joe Mankiewicz,  which ruined her marriage.  After her Fox contract lapsed in the 1950’s, she appeared in an eclectic mix of American and European films. Darnell, who had problems with alcohol abuse, married and divorced three times Then she had to work in summer stock and dinner theatre to earn a living. Her comeback film was Black Spurs, a 1965 western released by Paramount and costarring Rory Calhoun and Scott Brady.

She might have had a career in character parts.  But tragedy struck.

While visiting her former secretary in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, a fire burned through the apartment while Darnell was sleeping. She died of burns at Cook County hospital in April 1965.  She was only 41.

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