Angel Heart (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs way up.

Scoop's notes in white:

Mickey Rourke has taken some grief in the past for his performances in roles that just seemed wrong for him, but I think he's terrific when he gets the right part, and he sure got it here. In 1955, Harry Angel, a lower-class stumblebum detective from Brooklyn, who is no NASA candidate, is hired by a stranger to find a singer missing since the war. The singer is believed to have breached a contract with the mysterious stranger.

Along the way to this ostensibly simple assignment, Rourke finds a trail of grisly murders, confusing clues, beatings, black magic, and plenty of atmosphere in New Orleans, Harlem, and Coney Island. As time goes on, both he and we discover that he is searching for something else besides a singer - something sinister and somehow related to the detective himself.

It's a combination horror movie and detective film noir, and it's terrific, although the plot is incredibly complicated and confusing. What was the significance of the nuns? Why do those black guys keep chasing him in Harlem? As the genre requires, Angel gets beat up about every ten minutes, and neither he nor we are exactly sure why in some cases.

What we do know is that Mr. Johnny Favorite, the missing singer, was one serious sleazebag who engaged in some blasphemously evil practices.

At one time I tried to figure out some of these unexplained details, so I read the prize-winning book upon which the film is based, then lent it to a friend to read. Between the two of us, we had no more clue after reading and discussing the book than before we started it. I think you have to just accept that it is some dark evil stuff, and forget about trying to tie it down too tight. I can't say much more because the mystery is much more fun if you try to solve it along with Harry Angel.


Charlotte Rampling is seen topless when she is dead.

Lisa Bonet is first seen in a see-through blouse, then dancing in an open shirt which does little to keep her breasts covered, then in a sex scene with Rourke.

Elizabeth Whitcraft is seen topless in a sex scene with Rourke.

There is virtually no lower body nudity, except for Rourke's buns when he is on top in the sex scene.

Director Alan Parker really did an exceptional job on the atmospheric touches that keep the mystery mysterious and the horror horrible. The rusty mechanisms in Angel's recurring half-memories, the decaying hospital, the seedy offices and apartments, the shanties of Algiers, Louisiana, the various haunts and artifacts of black magic, the heart-beat background score - all combine to give us a creepy, spooky, feeling of incomprehension, matching what is going through the head of the simple detective.

DVD info from Amazon

Good transfer, with nice clear images, albeit a bit darker than it should be. Widescreen anamorphic enhanced for 16x9 screens.

No complaints about the film, but there isn't much else. Just cheesy bios, a trailer, and a short featurette.

Book info from Amazon

The name of the book is Falling Angel, and it was written in 1978, nearly a decade before the movie was released. It is available as an inexpensive paperback.

There is a crazy scene on Coney Island between Rourke and a carnival geek who has an entire box of nose shields. This one of the oddest and most memorable conversations ever recorded on film.

In addition to the atmospheric direction, there is some interesting casting to support Rourke.

  • Former Cosby kid Lisa Bonet took the most un-Cosby role she could find, showing her breasts constantly as Rourke's lover and daughter. Their sex scene was hot enough that it had to be trimmed for the R rating. Bonet showed more than flesh. She also demonstrated some talent. She was quite natural and sexy as hell, but her career fizzled into nothingness. (Rumor is that she was not an easy person to work with, to state it mildly.)
  • Robert DeNiro holds down the other lead, as the mysterious client, speaking with a refinement not usually found in his range, and all the while doing a very odd impersonation of his good friend Marty Scorsese.
I love this movie, so I don't want to get all anal-retentive on its ass, but you'll notice that the street scene below has some sloppy and obvious anachronisms. In the two circles you will see (a) a vehicle that did not exist in the mid 50s, and (b) traffic signals that did not exist then.

If I gave star ratings, this would be a near-miss for four stars, finishing at 3.5 (the same rating Roger Ebert gave it). I like the movie enough to give it four and recommend it heartily, but I have to remind myself that it is a genre film without universal appeal, and it has some flaws related to confusion, detail-orientation, and continuity. But I love it nonetheless.
Tuna's thoughts in yellow:

Angel Heart (1987) is a better than average horror/mystery/thriller. Mickey Rourke is believable as an unwashed and mostly unemployed private eye in New York, who suddenly is contacted by a rich but very strange client (Robert De Niro), and asked to find a missing person. De Niro claims his only interest is to find out if the man is alive or dead. The missing man was a well known crooner before WW II, but was horribly disfigured during the war, and hospitalized with amnesia. The client had regular reports from a hospital that he was there, condition unchanged, but the last report didn't arrive. Rourke checks with the hospital, and finds that the missing man has actually been gone for twelve years, but a doctor was paid a large sum of money to make people think he was still at the hospital.

With a little help from his reporter girlfriend, Elizabeth Whitcraft, the detective eventually figures out that New Orleans is the place to look. As he gets closer to the truth, a hefty body count is building, including an ex-girlfriend of the missing man, a psychic played by Charlotte Rampling. The more he learns, the more frightened and uneasy Rourke becomes. One of the more pleasant parts of his investigation is Lisa Bonet, who is the daughter of one of the women he wanted to track down. As I strongly recommend this to those who haven't seen it, I will leave the plot there.

Whitcraft shows breasts in a pre sex scene with Rourke, Rampling shows one breast after having had her heart cut out, and Bonet shows her breasts in several scenes, including a see through while washing her hair, a bathtub scene, a voodoo chicken execution dance, and a lengthy sex scene with Rourke that really sizzles. It is an unusual film that is strong with the critics, and also with general viewing audiences. This film is a B-.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, BBC 5/5,


The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it a near-classic at 7.0
  • With their dollars ... it did okay - $17 million domestic gross
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Tuna says B-. Scoop says "C+ by our system. It's one of my favorite films, a genre masterpiece, but the graphic sex and violence probably keeps it from being a crossover possibility. If I rate it based solely on how much I like it, then B+. One of my all-time Top 100. I wish I had never seen it, so I could watch it again without knowing the solution."

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