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Descending Angel (1990)

I first saw this HBO cable TV production when it hit video shelves back in the early 1990’s. Liked it then and liked it upon a long over due revisit thanks to recently picking up a discarded DVD in a second hand shop.I was hooked once again thanks to the commanding presence of George C. Scott as a one time Nazi collaborator looking to bury his past in Grand Rapids, Michigan, within a secret society of Nazi sympathizers.

Like any cable movie of it’s era, we’ll start off with some passionate fornicating over the credits. That’s Eric Roberts and Diane Lane working up a sweat in case you don’t recognize them by their heaving torso’s. Turns out they’re on an overnight train ride to Michigan where Roberts is to meet his future father-in-law. A very powerful man in the Romanian community who also happens to be an antiques dealer.

From the outset, Scott, likes the man his daughter has brought home to meet him. Still, he’s an outsider and not of the old country. He’ll have to bend to Scott’s wishes where tradition and the courting of his daughter, Lane, is concerned. Time to meet the family and Jan Rubes as the Bishop and protector of the faith who will be conducting the eventual wedding ceremony. Now as far as Roberts is concerned, Scott, is a Holocaust survivor from occupied Romania minus any telling numbers tattooed on his wrist. A heavy doubt is soon to be cast on that belief when another Holocaust survivor played by Mark Margolis begins to follow Roberts on his morning jogs and accuses Scott of helping the Nazi’s and being the Commander of a massacre involving over 300 Romanian peasants.

Scott freely tells his side of the story to Roberts to clear up any suspicions he may harbor. Even Bishop Rubes will confidentially back up Scott’s story to the young man with an FBI report exonerating Scott of any wrong doing. He’ll also subtly warn Roberts of Scott’s far reaching power, “Don”t cross him.”

There’s still mystery in the air and Roberts begins digging for the truth without Lane’s knowledge. There’s the mysterious disappearance of her Mother when she was a child. With more pressure coming from Margolis to find the truth he’s off to the library to research Scott’s past which leads him to the reporter who wrote many articles on Scott’s past played by Ken Jenkins. A writer who is now bitter over the story and wheelchair bound. Though never spoken, it would appear as if he was the victim of Scott’s reach in a hit and run. According to Ken, Scott was a member of the “Iron Guard” and working alongside the Nazis.

“There was only those who killed and those who were killed.”

While this isn’t an outright horror film it has a creepy element to it. Considering the subject material I guess that’s not much of a surprise. I’d rather not play spoiler but would encourage you to find this one as I think it deserves an audience. Scott once again delivers an electrifying performance as the one time Nazi collaborator looking for redemption and forgiveness from his daughter but who isn’t about to give up his secrets to an outsider freely. He has the money and the muscle to keep things status quo.

Perhaps this title gets lumped together with the seemingly thousands of Eric Roberts movies that would turn up twice weekly on video store shelves. At present his IMDB acting credits list 569 roles. YES I did just say 569. Is that possible? Perhaps you know of a couple good flicks starring Roberts that have been pushed aside and forgotten. Another that comes to mind that I’d recommend is a thriller he did with Lance Henriksen called Nature of the Beast. But then I’ll watch most anything with Lance who himself clocks in currently at a healthy 251 acting credits to his name.

As Scott’s daughter, Diane Lane, notches a good role as that of a young woman trying to decide between her father’s plea of innocence and the one being presented to her of guilt by the man she intends to marry. As this was a cable production, I have to wonder if a bit of needless nudity was required on her part? Yes it is a cable production and looks it. With all due respect to Roberts, I have a feeling that if the producers had scored a bigger name for the lead, maybe a Tom Cruise, coupled with a few rewrites, this could have ended up as a theatrical release keeping Lane and Scott along for the twists and turns. Not that Eric isn’t good here, it’s just that he isn’t a box office attraction.

Joining Ken (Scrubs) Jenkins on camera is another actor with the same last name, Richard Jenkins, who over the last couple decades has become one of Hollywood’s leading character actors. Richard plays a detective in this production who Roberts turns to for help has been seen in films ranging from Step Brothers to Bone Tomahawk and Jack Reacher to an Oscar nominated turns in The Visitor and The Shape of Water.

By the time Descending Angel hit cable, George C. Scott was mostly playing in telefilms though he did star in The Exorcist III the same year as this release. Scott would continue acting up until his death in 1999. His final appearance coming opposite Jack Lemmon in another rendition of Inherit The Wind. Jeremy Kagan served as the director on this HBO assignment. Mainly a TV director on shows ranging from Columbo to Picket Fences, he did have a run of theatrical films including The Sting II, Heroes and The Big Fix.

Again if you’re looking to catch up with this George C. Scott thriller, keep your eyes peeled in the second hand shops for your very own DVD copy.

4 Comments »

  1. It’s too bad the title is somewhat bland and cable-ish…makes me think it’s a teleplay taken from a Jackie Collins novel. But the tag line on the poster is awesome! And dear lord, 569 roles for Roberts…I’ll have to go check that out on IMDb, and find out how many I’ve seen!

    • 569! Must be a record or closing in on one. Guy must live in hotel rooms his entire life and greasy spoon breakfasts. In the end I like this one and it’s got the Scott factor going for it.

  2. I haven’t seen this in years although I did have a VHS copy of it at one time but with no VHS player any longer it went with the others to Goodwill. I could see it as a theatrical release with a bit more polish and I see what you’re saying about Eric Roberts though at the time he was a much bigger star than he is now. His Oscar nomination was not that far away when this was made.

    Both he and Diane Lane are very good here but it’s George C. Scott’s movie. His intensity balanced with his subtlety are perfect fits for his role and he is commanding.

    Eric Roberts is apparently a machine. How is that number of credits even possible? One very fine film and the best (although atypical) performance I’ve ever seen him give was in the 1996 film It’s My Party where he plays a young man dying of AIDS who decides to kill himself rather than fade away and throws a big farewell party beforehand. It was written and directed by Randal Kleiser who helmed Grease based on his personal experience and thanks to his connections the cast is loaded with familiar faces-Olivia Newton-John, Margaret Cho, Lee Grant (also a standout), Marlee Matlin, George Segal, Bruce Davison, Roddy McDowell, Gregory Harrison and on and on. It’s funny in parts but also heartbreakingly sad in others but worth the view.

    • When isn’t George intense? Such a presence that he demands one’s attention even back to his earlier roles like that in The Hustler. Thanks for the tip on It’s My Party. Quite the cast joining Eric on that one. And when isn’t Lee Grant a standout?

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