Following the publication of his 1978 novel Falling Angel, William Hjortsberg began working on turning it into a film. His friend, production designer Richard Sylbert (Dick Tracy, The Cotton Club) took the book to Robert Evans, who was running Paramount and was ready to make the film with John Frankenheimer set to direct and Dustin Hoffman in the lead.
That option expired, as did another attempt to get the movie made with Robert Redford. Years later, producer Elliott Kastner met with Alan Parker (Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, Fame, Pink Floyd: The Wall, The Commitments) to discuss him writing the screenplay. Parker also helped get the movie funded by Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna as part of Carolco Pictures, as long as he was given creative control.
Parker made several changes from the novel, retitling the story Angel Heart, including moving the second half of the tale to New Orleans and moving the time forward four years to 1955, so the story feels like it belongs more to the 40’s than the coming 60’s. He also worked toward making Harry Angel more sympathetic and Louis Cyphre more realistic.
Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a New York City private investigator who has been hired by Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro) to track down a singer named Johnny Favorite, who has been dealing with PTSD from World War II. Even the upstate hospital where Favorite was staying can’t find him, as his release was facilitated by two mysterious people and a doctor was convinced to change his records.
Cyphre offers Angel a large sum of money to continue hunting for Favorite. The trail leads him to Favorite’s fiancee Margaret Krusemark (Charlotte Rampling) and the discovery that he had sired a daughter named Epiphany Proudfoot (Lisa Bonet) with an ex-lover.
Everyone that gives Angel info — guitarist Toots Suite (blues musician Brownie McGhee), Margaret, the doctor — dies horribly. This causes Margaret’s father to demand that he leave town, but of course, he goes back to his hotel room and has rough sex with Epiphany while visions of blood drip down the walls.
So — follow me on this — Margaret and her dad were the ones who took Favorite out of the hospital. And the former singer was a sorcerer who sold his soul to the Devil to be famous, but tried to get out of the deal by kidnapping a soldier in Times Square and eating his heart to take the boy’s soul. Now in that soldier’s body, he went overseas and suffering facial injuries and amnesia during some fighting.
If you haven’t realized it yet, our protagonist and Johnny Favorite are the same people and the none-so-cleverly named Louis Cypher is the devil himself. And everyone dead in the movie? Yeah, our so-called hero killed them all and then had sex with his granddaughter. Gulp.
Although initially supportive of Bonet’s decision to make this movie, America’s one-time dad Bill Cosby dismissed the results as “a movie made by white America that cast a black girl, gave her voodoo things to do and have sex”. How did that all work out?
De Niro’s performance as Louis Cyphere is supposed to be based on his friend and frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese. For what it’s worth, it so unnerved Parker that he avoided him during his scenes and let him direct himself.
You know, before The Wrestler, so many people forgot just how good Mickey Rourke can be. You should discover that for yourself by going back and watching this for yourself.