Thursday, September 4, 2008

Angel (Robert Vincent O'Neill, 1984)

Even though its residents compare it to a toilet bowl–the urine-stained water choking the life out of all things decent and pure–there's no denying that the Hollywood Blvd. of the early eighties had a kind of squalid charm about it. Well, the wonderfully sleazy neighbourhood acts as the uncouth backdrop for what I consider to be the epitome of first-class exploitation. The Switchblade Sisters, if you will, of teenage prostitution movies, Angel (a.k.a. Angel - Straße ohne Ende) is teeming with a refined brand of seediness–you know, the type you can't find in most stores. The manner in which writer-director Robert Vincent O'Neill's camera lurked amidst the colourful freaks that inhabited this rough and unglamorous universe gave the film a documentary feel at times. So much so, that you can literally see the character's broken dreams crumbling before our very eyes. The film follows the disagreeable mischief-making of one Molly "Angel" Stewart: Pigtail-sporting honour student by day, underage strumpet by night. The majority of movies with a set up like that would generally play out in the most sordid fashion possible, but not Angel. Believe or not, there's a surprising amount of depth to this film.

Sure, there's plenty of material to keep erection and secretion fans happy (a gratuitous shower scene and enough lingering leg shots to satisfy even the most ardent of deviants), but I was genuinely surprised by the calibre of the storytelling. Now, and I don't know if this was accidental or not, but the filmmakers actually made me care about the titular streetwalker as she juggled homework with trying her darnedest not to get killed by John Diehl, a necrophilic serial killer.

It also helped that Angel was surrounded by a large circle of interesting friends. One or two would have been fine, but this adolescent prostitute has five. These friends gave Angel a real kick in the crotch in terms of humour and semblance. My favourites being: Kit Carson (Rory Calhoun), an old-timey western star who is reduced to performing pistol tricks on the strip; Susan Tyrrell's Solly Mosler, Angel's aggressively sapphic (she's open lesbian), art-loving landlord; and Mae (Dick Shawn), the feather boa-wearing transgnder father figure she never had. All three of these actors give marvelous performances that are essential to the film's success. The lovely Graem McGavin (Weekend Pass) is no slouch either as Lana, Angel's doomed hooker gal pal.

My highest praise, however, has to be reserved for Donna Wilkes, who saturates the screen with uncomfortable sex appeal as Molly/Angel. I can't emphasize enough how naturalistic Donna felt in this role. And by saying that I don't mean to apply that she looked like an abused slut. It's just that she had a real hardened quality to it (much like a real hooker). Besides, I don't think anyone has ever looked as becoming as Donna does whilst sporting a short skirt, or, for that matter, chasing down a double-dealing Hare Krishna in high heels.

In closing, Miss Wilkes, and everyone involved with this production, should be proud of what they have done here. They have created a rare beast: An '80s era exploitation picture with heart, and, not to mention, buckets of appealing sleaze.


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