Comfortable and Furious

Memorable Movie Scenes: Part 44

Movie: Angel Heart

Despite depicting one of the most animalistic sex scenes committed to celluloid, and a plethora of visual motifs on constant loop, Angel Heart is not remembered for any visual artistry. Impassioned tributes to any such moment of striking photography don’t typically litter the web for such titles. It did, however, feature its good share of verbal sparring between its heavyweight lead duo, De Niro and Rourke. Based on William Hjortsberg’s supernatural noir novel Falling Angel, Alan Parker’s seedy renditions of run-down milieus are overlaid with occultist themes and macabre subject matter. Visually, its palette leans closer to restraint and uniformity than a dazzling virtuosity, with nearly all its showmanship brimming with remarkable dialog instead of a recognizable visual flair. Cynicism, banter, flirtation, mockery, and irreverent quips are the domain of Harry Angel, a jaded Brooklynite private investigator who finds himself on the trail of Johnny Favorite, a 1940s crooner who disappeared during the War.

Contracted by the acting giant in the role of Loius Cyphre, a mysterious benefactor searching for Favorite, Angel, meets his match in wits…and then some, as his client’s identity comes into view. Whenever Angel’s resolve weakens with the next near brush with death, Cyphre smirks and sneers in response. Whenever roadblocks manifest in Angel’s path, Cyphre stimulates his material greed with an outrageous sum. In total, they’d meet only four times; first before the assignment, twice to touch base on progress (it’s always minimal) and one final time during the film’s chilling showdown. And as these meet-ups take us from New York to New Orleans, Parker splits them evenly between the two locales and spreads them out at equal intervals.

They are also more than just A meets B and C at XYZ time or place. And they are more than how retorts and snappy remarks read on the script they were inked on. It’s not the utterance of lines verbatim, rather, what they entail in the growing distrust for a contractor fed up with the one-sided flow of information. Whatever lead Angel uncovers, Cypher withholds the meaning of its discovery and how that piece may fit into the puzzle. The first encounter established only that it’s a missing person’s case and that the nature of the client’s relationship with the subject was obscured behind a dense shroud of constant mystery. Whereas Cypher adopts an evasive stance up to the scene in question, Angel’s annoyance morphs from courteous professionalism into a state where decorum is chucked out the window along with the full ashtray of his rental (apparently, those existed in the 40s).

Here, sacrilege and vulgarity twine elegantly to embody the streetwise, defiant cynicism in the face of exasperation that only a big city upbringing could muster in the speaker. And whether it’s the Big Apple or the Big Easy, no occasion is too big, no venue too hallowed, for a well-timed profanity-laden outburst than for one spewed out with a festering animosity on the seat of a cathedral’s pew. Within the earshot of the choir and a congregation of two in the front rows. People who, despite burning with the urge to do so, wouldn’t utter the four choice words spoken nearby in an entire lifetime. Where applicable, artful desecration of the sacred and holy ought to be celebrated for not only its logic, but its verbose precision. And here, the writing by Hjortsberg and Parker and the interpretation of Rourke and de Niro combine in a beautiful synergy of said irreverence.