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A pretty waitress is given a shot at the big time by a handsome
impresario. She grabs her chance with alacrity, but Fate has plotted a
different course for her ...
Bruce Humberstone directs this attractive early noir with a strong sense of visual style. His Director of Photography, Edward Cronjager, works wonders with elongated shadows and labyrinths of lattice.
Victor Mature looks good as Frankie Christopher, the romantic lead. Always a fairly limited actor, he never the less captures his character's ambivalence sufficiently well for the viewer to be kept wondering about him until the final reel. But for all Mature's efforts, Frankie remains a lightweight. He spends more time onscreen than anyone else, but remains in the viewer's memory less successfully than the other three leads.
After almost a decade in films, Betty Grable was 25 years old in 1941 and already an established star when she took on the role of Jill Lynne. Her character has psychological depth, and Grable does justice to the part. Jill is the slightly staid older sister of Vicky the glamour girl. While Vicky gives free rein to her every whim, Jill suppresses her id, but her yearnings are simmering just below the surface.
Of course, those legendary Grable legs have to be put on display, and we get three glimpses of Hollywood's most-insured thighs - first when the two sisters flounce around in robes, discussing the letter, then when Jill accompanies Frankie to the Lido Plunge, and finally when she is tottering up firescapes and over rooftops in her high heels.
Inspector Ed Cornell is a figure of stature, apparently a good guy, but one who fills the viewer with a sense of uneasy foreboding. Laird Cregar captures brilliantly the bleakness and creepiness of Cornell, the cop who starts the movie as a silent shadow, but who grows inexorably to dominate the proceedings. The moment when Jill meets Cornell for the first time is a very dramatic one, just as Vicky's first encounter with the eerie detective was disturbing. Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) breaks down under interrogation, and Cornell's stillness as the suspect sobs is rather unsettling. "You're not a cop looking for a murderer," Cornell is told, and we become increasingly aware that this repressed man is conducting some kind of unhealthy personal crusade. It is only at the very end of the film that Cornell displays any emotion, and then the floodgates open.
Carole Landis, the ill-starred actress who plays Vicky Lynne, deserves a special mention. Like her character, whose fictional tragedy she paralleled in her own life, Landis was a victim of her own beauty. A tough but brittle radiance, total self-absorption and an impatience with the trappings of success ("I've got about as much privacy as a lingerie mannequin!") are Vicky's salient attributes, but could be said to apply to Landis herself. She gives a confident performance and sings beautifully. Like Vicky, she shot to instant fame but never found love, and died in her 20's. Thus does Life imitate Art.
The film contains some errors and improbabilities, but these do not seriously detract from the viewer's enjoyment. Cornell gathers evidence (such as discarded cigarette butts) with blatant disregard for preservation and continuity. That Harry should pack Jill's things, ready for her to move out, is just plain weird. The Assistant DA (played by Morris Ankrum) rides Cornell far too hard, given the detective's peerless reputation - and would the lawyer have direct operational command over a detective anyway? Frankie is allowed to compound felonies, and threaten cops, with impunity. Unbelievably, the police grant him the freedom to crack the case, even though he is the main suspect.
Music is used effectively throughout. "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (the hit from the recent 'Wizard Of Oz') is Frankie and Jill's love theme. Vicky's signature tune is a wonderfully decadent jazz melody, brassily scored. Plot points are nicely underlined by discords in the incidental music, and during Cornell's final speech, Vicky's theme is reprised with great poignance and beauty on a muted trumpet.
We do not normally associate film noir with humour, but this one uses jokes well, both to punctuate the plot and to add a little light to the shade. Watch for gentle little gags involving latch keys, a Tootsie Roll, the girl at the Lido Plunge and a fold-away bed.
"You've got a heart made out of rock candy," Vicky is told, and in life the hard young woman is an unsympathetic character. Death transforms her, and she haunts the remainder of the film like a sort of ghost, her photograph adorning walls and bedside tables, more appealing in reverie than she ever was in the flesh. There is no help for it, Vicky is gone for ever. The question is whether those who loved her can continue to live without hope. "It can be done," intones the nihilistic Cornell.
Just for the record, though two characters are startled out of sleep by bedroom intruders, nobody in "I Wake Up Screaming" wakes up screaming.
Evocatively directed by Bruce Humberstone, this absorbing early film noir contains a surface sheen, polished elegance, and haunting ambiguity that anticipate similar noirs by Otto Preminger. Its cast of unusual actors and all-time greats is uniformly excellent. Betty Grable is quite revealing and capable of expressing a genuine human emotion in the rare dramatic role of Jill Lynn, the sister of the slain victim Vicky (Carole Landis). Victor Mature looks suitable for his part. Laird Cregar (who would later play the Devil in Lubitsch's "Heaven Can Wait") may be the most memorable character in the film; he is truly scary as the corrupt detective investigating the murder case. Director Humberstone's way of handling the two disjointed flashback structures in the beginning, narrated by Mature & Grable in their two separate rooms is quite intriguing and masterful. The film has a way of surprising us with its captivating twists and revelations, never failing to arouse the viewer's imagination. One of the most enjoyable noirs of the 40s.
There's a lot to like about this Film Noir: excellent use of shadows (some spectacular patterns), Victor Mature's best acting role, Carole Landis' (who's both a better actress & prettier than Betty Grable) juicy part, Laird Cregar in one of the best scary roles of his too short career, & a strong plot. For cheesecake fans: yes, you do get to see Betty's great legs in a swimming pool scene that seems to have been incorporated into this film for just that purpose. For beefcake fans: yes, you do get to see Victor's chest in the same swimming pool scene. So everyone should have something to be happy about. There's lots of suspects here (five solid ones) to choose from, & I got it wrong, so the film gets an extra point for that. I rate it 9/10.
I've seen this many times over the years and never tire of it. The plot
is a little bit predictable. But the details are what count.
It's like an Edward Hopper painting with dialogue, motion, and fabulously garish musical effects. Everything about it is seamy. Yes, the creepy plot but what a cast! Victor Mature and Betty Grable: These two were a couple to identify with? Not on a bet. They are as weird as Elisha Cook, always a pleasure to find in a movie, and the similarly excellent and mondo bizarro Laird Craiger. Carole Landis, a very likable performer who met a sad end in real life, was not exactly a wholesome beauty either. A beauty for sure but no sweet little thing.
The rest of the cast is great too. Alan Mowbry is icky in an understated way that is also as glaring as the theatrical lights blaring out the title at its opening.
And -- to be circumspect and give noting away: the shrine. The shrine will wake you up in days and years to come. Screams of horror; screams of laughter; screams of astonished appreciation for this one-of-a-kind cubic zirconium of a rare and unique gem.
Victor Mature, Betty Grable, and Carole Landis had all been in movies
together (mostly musicals) in various combinations, but I WAKE UP
SCREAMING (IWUS) was the first film noir all three of them starred in.
Maybe that's why IWUS still feels so fresh; everyone in it and
everything about it brims with verve and brio, as if all concerned were
eager to start filming. Though the movie begins in a NYC police
interrogation room (an effective change from the novel's Hollywood
setting), IWUS's plot starts more like PYGMALION/MY FAIR LADY than
pulse-pounding crime fiction like the Steve Fisher novel the movie's
based on. Flashbacks show how promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor
Mature), newspaper columnist Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn), and veteran
actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) grab a bite at a Times Square eatery and
end up betting they can turn their tart-tongued but beautiful waitress,
Vicky Lynn (the incandescent Carole Landis), from a hash slinger to a
headliner by getting her name in the papers and her face plastered all
over town. It works *too* well: dazzled by her own success, Vicky
snares a Hollywood screen test and contract right under her shocked
benefactors' noses, only to be murdered on the eve of her Tinseltown
departure. Jill finds Frankie standing over Vicky's body, swearing he
found her that way. Hotshot Police Inspector Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar)
insists Frankie's lying. 15-year veteran Cornell has never been wrong,
and he's obsessed with making an example out of hapless Frankie. But
does justice alone explain Cornell's zeal, or does he have a hidden
agenda? The cat and mouse game is afoot between Frankie, determined to
prove his innocence, and Cornell, a smoothly sinister behemoth of a
man, ready, willing, and able to go to any lengths to railroad Frankie.
Undeterred by the lack of a search warrant, Cornell even sneaks into
Frankie's bedroom to watch him while he sleeps ("Someday you're gonna
talk in your sleep, and when that day comes, I wanna be around."),
doing his damndest to wear Frankie down with smilingly delivered
threats and manipulation. With wily Cornell's festering resentment of
Frankie, you can't tell what he'll pull next. A formidable, menacing
presence, Cregar rocks in the role. His silky voice and charming smile
somehow make him even scarier; no wonder IWUS put him on the map.
Victor Mature's Frankie is a great match for Cregar's Cornell, with his
outer charm and inner toughness. Always an appealing presence, Mature
was a better actor than he got credit for, making it look easy. He was
hot, too; no wonder Cornell sneeringly calls Frankie "Handsome Harry!"
:-) Elisha Cook Jr. is fine as Harry Williams, the oddball switchboard
operator and original suspect. (Fun Fact on film historian Eddie
Muller's commentary track: Cook filmed his role as THE MALTESE FALCON's
Wilmer at the same time he filmed IWUS.)
Things heat up as Jill and Frankie acknowledge what sharp Vicky had already realized: they're in love and eager to protect each other. It's cute and typical of the era to see Jill get starry-eyed when Frankie wants to marry her. It's even cuter when Frankie reveals his original surname as Jill dreamily sighs, "Mrs. Botticelli." Vicky's whirlwind trajectory from waitress to glamour girl to corpse plunges Jill into a world of murder, terror, and obsession, propelling her to flee with the man she loves, dogged by Cornell at every turn. When the plucky Grable's wholesome sexiness meets Mature's playful yet virile allure, it's Chemistry City! Dwight Taylor's screenplay tightens Fisher's sprawling novel almost to the point of claustrophobia (in a good way), with sharp, witty dialogue and comic relief balancing the nerve-racking tension. Taylor's dialogue is snappy, suspenseful, and poignant in all the right places. Loved that "key" exchange early on! Edward Cronjager's lush, expressionistic black-and-white photography is a thing of shadowy beauty, used especially well in Cregar's early scenes as combinations of heavy shadows and bright interrogation lights hide him from view.
Even with studio sets, IWUS evokes early 1940s NYC, even the rooftops. When Frankie shows Jill his old East Side neighborhood, it's fun as both a getting-to-know-you scene and a mini-travelogue of the non-touristy places where native New Yorkers go. This continues when the lovers become fugitives and Frankie shows Jill where to hide in the big city, including the library and a 24-hour grindhouse. Even the swimming pool scene has that spirit; sure, it's there primarily to show off sex symbols Mature and Grable in their swimsuits, but it reminded me of the city's neighborhood pools at their best. One ironic-in-retrospect bit, considering IWUS came out before the U.S. entered World War 2: incensed upon spotting Frankie and Jill dancing so soon after Vicky's murder, Larry calls in a blind item about them, snapping, "Scrap the stuff about the Japanese spy with the Kodak and run this!" Apparent nods to Fisher's pulp roots: 1.) Frankie takes Jill to The Pegasus Club, possibly a shout-out to the novel's narrator/writer hero, nicknamed "Pegasus," a.k.a. "Peg." 2.) During a Cornell/Frankie confrontation, a newsstand features Black Mask Magazine. (This scene gets my vote for cleverest use of a Tootsie Roll.) Finally, according to Muller's commentary, Cornell was named after Fisher's pal and fellow pulpster Cornell Woolrich.
Nice, quirky use of music, too, particularly "Over the Rainbow." Fans of vintage movie music will notice that the opening credits music is the same theme, Alfred Newman's "Manhattan Street Scene," also used in THE DARK CORNER. When Jill brings Frankie home to show him an incriminating letter, listen carefully: in the background, "Over the Rainbow" and "Manhattan Street Scene" cross-pollinate into a sinister new theme, courtesy of music arranger Cyril Mockridge. Ironically, although Mature and Joslyn each have scenes where they awaken with a start, nobody in I WAKE UP SCREAMING ever actually wakes up screaming! How could you wake up to find a huge cop staring at you and *not* scream? :-)
Despite Victor Mature's claim that he never 'acted' in any of his films, he does well enough here. Full of shadows, sly humour and a storyline which keeps you guessing, plus that wonderful soundtrack (including snatches of Over The Rainbow), this stands as a monument to film noir - Betty Grable could clearly handle a non-musical role, Elisha Cook Jnr displays his twitchy vulnerability as he would in so many 40s thrillers. The real-life early deaths of Landis (playing Vicki here in a manner which reminded me of Vivien Leigh's Blanche Dubois, all flirty giggles) and Cregar (superb here as the corrupt detective gliding and purring in that unusual voice like a huge cat) do affect viewings of this film and give the proceedings a hint of sadness. This aside, there is much to enjoy, particularly in the supporting characters of Mature's actor and columnist friends. One niggle though, given the plot dependence on various people letting themselves into other people's apartments, how come Vicki got herself locked out?
I Wake Up Screaming is an odd and oddly satisfying film. It is in the noir mold but it's a little earlier than most. The studio that made it was not noted for making thrillers, and the stars,--Victor Mature, Betty Grable and Carole Landis--were not the types one would expect to find in this sort of dark movie. Yet it is fun from the start to finish, and at times creepy, thanks mostly to the presence of Laird Cregar as a cop determined to nail Mature for the murder of a heartless showgirl that he, Cregar, was himself infatuated with. The studio New York of the film is much less intimidating than one might expect in a mystery, and overall the tone is bright and bouncy,--call it noir light. But it's Mr. Cregar who makes the film work. He dominates the picture as soon as he enters it with an authority and sense of himself that most actors would kill for. Cregar was, in short, a genius. The supporting cast, which includes Allyn Joslyn and Alan Mowbray, make the best of their lines, which are often quite witty, and the script is, overall, far better than average.
WWII pin-up gal Betty Grable took her first dramatic part as the sister of a
murdered model in Bruce Humberstone's I Wake Up Screaming, based on a
serialized novel by Steve Fisher. It sounds like second billing, but the
victim's role as coffee-shop hostess turned toast of Manhattan Vicky Lynn
remains curiously understated (and played by Carole Landis).
Landis is discovered by publicist Victor Mature and falls under his benevolent spell, which launches her onto magazine covers and ultimately to a Hollywood contract. She proves ungrateful and winds up strangled. Mature, among other suspects, comes under the scrutiny of the police, particularly of a dogged detective whose interest in the case borders on the obsessive. Portrayed by the immense but oddly vulnerable Laird Cregar, the detective becomes Mature's nemesis (in one scene, Mature wakes up to find Cregar watching him, hoping he'll incriminate himself by talking in his sleep). Cregar's ominous bulk makes for a number of looming shadows skulking through nighttime New York.
I Wake Up Screaming, which appeared very early in the noir cycle, certainly displays the dark look and fragmented structure of its successors, but its tone remains ambiguous. Basically, it's a high-style, `sophisticated' murder mystery, a precursor to the more famous and accomplished Laura. But, unlike Laura, it found many of the implications of the story perhaps too grim for wartime audiences the theme of obsession gets played down, for instance. But it's a key work in the developing noir cycle, released the same year as Johnny Eager, The Glass Key and This Gun For Hire.
Eleven years later, the releasing studio, 20th Century Fox, remade the film as Vicki. Though changes for the most part were minimal, the title role was enlarged (and taken by Jean Peters) while Mature's part was weakened by routine casting. The most interesting change was engaging the young Richard Boone for the Cregar part, who delivers a more brutal portrayal and thus underscores the theme of sexual obsession. It could be argued that the remake, despite lapses in casting and direction, remains the more intriguing version.
Model Vicky Lynn is found murdered in her apartment and the police question the logical suspect, promoter (and slight love interest) Frankie Christopher who was the primary force who got Vicky her status. Vicky was a waitress in a diner who was noticed by Frankie (and two of his buddies- columnist Larry Evans and ham actor Robin Ray) and given the right contacts in the modeling and ad industry and was set to leave for Hollywood (and dump Frankie in the process) right before she was killed. Jill, Vicky's sister, is also questioned and while she seems to be protecting Frankie for some reason, she claims a large foreboding man was stalking her only to find out it's Ed Cornell, the police inspector, who becomes obsessed with the case and getting Frankie in the electric chair for some strange reason. Jill eventually begins to fall for Frankie and gives him a letter he wrote to Vicky in a fit of anger which Cornell swipes from him, but Jill helps Frankie escape. Frankie now tries to hide himself in New York from the police (especially Cornell) while trying with Jill to uncover Vicky's murderer. Great movie highlighted by the show stealing performance by Cregar (in probably his best role) as the sadistic and crazed Cornell. Mature, Grable, and Landis all give standout performances for their careers in this film as well. Humberstone's directing is the best it ever was with plenty of odd camera angles and surprises which the screenwriters gave plenty of. I still wonder why pieces of Over the Rainbow were used in the score. Great twist ending. Rating, 9.
When the model Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) is found murdered in her
apartment in New York, the promoter of sports Frankie Christopher
(Victor Mature) becomes the prime suspect of Inspector Ed Cornell
(Laird Cregar) and is brought to the precinct for interrogatory.
Christopher discloses how he promoted the career of Vicky when she was
a waitress after making a bet with his friends Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray)
and Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn). After reaching the stardom, Vicky tells
Christopher that she would leave him to go to Hollywood and on the next
day, she was killed. Ed Cornell insists that Christopher is the killer
and frames him, and Christopher can only have the support of Vicky's
sister, Jill Lynn (Betty Grable), who has fallen in love with him. Who
"I Wake Up Screaming" is a film-noir with a story of unrequited love and obsession and "Over the Rainbow" as the music theme (after "The Wizard of Oz" of two years before). Laird Cregar is scary in the role of Inspector Ed Cornell and the final twist surprises and is well resolved. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Quem Matou Vicki?" ("Who Killed Vicki")
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