Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Tarnished Angels (1957)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Tarnished Angels (1957)

In Douglas Sirk's stylized and expressionistic, black and white, bleak and pessimistic Depression-Era melodrama, an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel Pylon - about a group of restless barnstorming, air-show performers and a developing love triangle in New Orleans (during Mardi Gras) in early 1932:

  • the daredevil barnstorming pilot Roger Shumann (Robert Stack) - a disillusioned WWI flying ace and war hero who performed stunt aerobatics and raced around pylons in traveling carnival air-shows, accompanied by his pretty, adoring and devoted stunt-parachuting wife LaVerne (Dorothy Malone), and aided by his dim-witted, elderly, longtime faithful friend and mechanic Jiggs (Jack Carson) - perpetually love-sick for LaVerne
  • the love triangle that began to develop between local alcoholic New Orleans newspaper reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson) and Shumann's neglected wife LaVerne, after they sat up all night and talked
  • the determination of Devlin to write about the group of air-show gypsies, claiming it would be "the best human interest yarn" ever - he urged his city editor in the newspaper office: "Would it be if four visitors from a strange, faraway planet were to land in the city?...Listen to me. Those flying Gypsies look like you and me, but they're not human beings. They couldn't turn those pylons like they do if they had human blood, and they wouldn't dare if they had any human brains. Burn them, and they don't even holler. Scratch one, it's not even blood they bleed. They're a strange race of people, without any blood in their veins at all. Just crankcase oil"; he raged at his editor who wanted him to write a different story: "Why, you lousy reformed drunk! You know what you've got in your veins? Embalming fluid, that's what! Embalming fluid!" - after storming out of the office, Devlin was promptly fired
  • the film's first race - resulting in a mid-air collision and spectacular crash of Shumann's plane, and the death of cocky 24 year-old pilot Frank Burnham (Troy Donahue) in a second fiery crash - his body was tossed toward the camera from the wreckage
  • the manipulative, cold and heartless bartering of Shumann - who mistreated his wife by begging her to prostitute herself with his bitter greedy rival Matt Ord (Robert Middleton), in exchange for flying Ord's plane to compete in the next race (now that his own plane was damaged): "Would you go to Matt Ord?...Look, I need this plane, like, like an alcoholic needs his drink" - although LaVerne was willing: "Where will I find Mr. Ord?" - Jiggs tried to dissuade her: "What's happened to us? What the hell have we done to you?"; Shumann persisted and assured Jiggs: "She can take care of herself"; however, shortly later, Devlin intervened and convinced Ord to let Shumann fly his plane
  • the scene of the developing romance between Devlin and LaVerne, as they hugged and kissed, and next-door where a Mardi Gras party was behind held by noisy revelers, one of its participants (wearing a scary death-mask) barged in on them and broke them apart from fright
  • before a second air race sequence, Shumann confessed his true love for LaVerne, kissed her, and promised her that he would win the prize money and start a new life with her; after she wished him "good luck," he responded: "This is the last time you'll have to say that. I'm kissing the pylons goodbye...You, me and Jack will take the prize money and make a new start somewhere. All right with you?" - she confessed: "Roger, don't make any promises or do anything you don't want to. Burke got the plane. I never went to Matt Ord, believe me" - he added: "I begged for this plane. Now I'm begging for your forgiveness. I love you, LaVerne"
  • the amazing cross-cut camera-work during the exciting air race around the pylons, when death-defying, adrenalin-addicted Shumann in his smoking, about-to-crash plane was juxtaposed with a view of his 9 year-old son Jack (Chris Olsen) trapped on an airplane carnival ride and screaming: ("Let me out! Let me out!") - both were traveling in counter-clockwise circles; to avoid crashing into the crowds or stands, Roger steered his plane away to crash in the ocean, where he perished
  • in the denouement, Devlin convinced LaVerne to return to her Iowa hometown with young Jack, rather than accept a job working for Ord


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