Friday, November 11, 2022

Angela Lansbury Noir: A Life at Stake (1955) and Please Murder Me! (1956)

It was only with her passing last month that I found out Dame Angela Lansbury had made a couple of low budget films noir during her long, storied career. I was aware, of course, that she had played some memorably unpleasant female characters over the years. There was Nancy, Ingrid Bergman's devious maid in Gaslight (1944), Lansbury's first film performance, and one for which she was Oscar-nominated. Then, two years later she portrayed the spiteful dance-hall queen, Em, nemesis of Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls (1946). Between those films, though, she had been Elizabeth Taylor's wholesome older sister, Edwina, in National Velvet (1945), and had, in a lovely Oscar-nominated turn, played the heartbreaking tavern singer, Sibyl Vane, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). It would’ve been difficult to predict then, judging from the level of talent and range she displayed in her early performances for MGM, that Angela Lansbury would someday venture into down-and-dirty film noir from a neighborhood south of Poverty Row. There may have been a hint in one of her final films under her MGM contract, though. Just before she left MGM and her career began to languish, Lansbury appeared in Kind Lady (1951). Ethel Barrymore starred as a wealthy art collector in this notable and noirish suspense thriller. Lansbury appeared as a member of a gang of malicious thieves set on taking over the woman’s life, fleecing her of all she has and then killing her.