Angel on My Shoulder: Classic Fantasy

DATELINE: Devilish Fun.

he's no angel  He’s no angel (Muni with Rains).

Harry Segall was the trifecta leader in Hollywood in the 1940s. You may confuse his three movies about death and the hereafter for their formulaic plots.

He loved the devil/angel angles and used them in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait (original story), and Angel on My Shoulder. He worked at all the major studios and wrote exactly the heavenly tale requested.

Almost always it featured the wry, sly Claude Rains (one-time Invisible Man) as the spiritual or demonic force. He did these lighter films between a series of Warner Brothers epics with either Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart.

He was always the scene-stealing costar.

In Angel on My Shoulder, he reverses course and plays the devil. Indeed, the opening twenty minutes of the film is delightful in its cynical and diabolic presentation of Hell. And, Rains runs his  corporation with a hot hand. He quotes doggerel poetry to great effect.

Without makeup, Paul Muni is the lug this time: it’s either a boxer or a gangster from the shady side with a blue-collar, ghetto demeanor. He is always saved by a beautiful, wholesome girl (this time Anne Baxter before she went to seed in All About Eve).  Muni foregoes playing a historical figure to be a contemporary crook for once.

One you leave the netherworld and return to the Big City of 1946, you have the usual stereotypic gangster idiots with recognizable faces from a dozen other films. Of course, he takes over his Doppleganger’s body (the virtuous Judge Parker).

All the bad guys are shocked by the change in the Judge to newly acquired thuggish lexicon –“Let me case the joint,” he requests.

He has been dispatched by a traitor fellow crook, Smiley, when he asks for his old gat and receives four slugs. “Let me have it,” is exactly the mantra used.

Of course, the love of a good woman changes everything, though the gangster cannot remain in the body he doesn’t own—and more deals with the devil are required.

Special effects are simple and kept to a minimum, mostly walking through doors.

Rains always transcended the material, and he does so here too.