I Wake Up Screaming (1941) Poster

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"Why Should I Go On Slinging Hash, When I Can Sling Other Things?"
stryker-510 July 2000
A pretty waitress is given a shot at the big time by a handsome sports 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.
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Powerhouse Cast Makes Fox's First Film Noir Sizzle
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? :-)
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Excellent Film Noir
wrbtu19 May 2003
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.
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Absorbing, Ambiguous Noir
Kalaman28 January 2004
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.
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Lurid and Unforgettable
David (Handlinghandel)1 January 2006
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.
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nifty sleeper
telegonus2 April 2001
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.
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intriguing ...
didi-525 January 2003
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?
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Who Killed Vicki?
Claudio Carvalho2 October 2013
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 Killed Vicki?

"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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Story of obsession, murder key movie in developing noir cycle
bmacv31 March 2002
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.
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Nobody Wakes Up Screaming In This Film
Mike-7645 January 2005
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.
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A Gateway Noir
mgtbltp4 January 2016
The biggest problem of some critics and chroniclers of Noir with the film I Wake Up Screaming is that they don't know how to categorize it. It doesn't fit the carefully crafted "German Expressionism" influence scenario that they have worked out as the origin of Noir. It's Director H. Bruce Humberstone, never made another Noir, it's brilliant cinematographer, Edward Cronjager, never filmed another Noir so conceptually and visually it's a one off, one of a kind, sui generis.

I'm calling it a seminal "Gateway Noir" because the film serves the same purpose as a gateway drug, it functions as a sort of gateway to Noir for those unfamiliar, at that point in time, with what eventually came to be known stylistically, and hard boiled narratively, as Films Noir.

Look at the film in chronological context, only Stranger On The Third Floor (1940) approaches it in Noir visual stylistics, while The Maltese Falcon (1941) released only twenty eight days ahead of it on October 3, has the hard boiled story by Dashiell Hammett, but barely any of the signature visual stylistics. I Wake up Screaming not only was based on the hard boiled novel by Steve Fisher and also has the brilliant Noir stylistics in abundance but it has much much more. You can say that the film has dissociative identity, multiple genres if you will. It's also a bit of a Screwball Comedy, a Romantic Drama, and almost a Musical. This seamless genre bending provides the "gateway" for Comedy, Romance, and Musical audiences at that time into the films that eventually will be pigeonholed into the future Noir cycle.

My assertion is that if you've screened I Wake Up Screaming after the various other Noirs it will seem a strange hybrid indeed, because of the conceptions you've already amassed. But, experiencing it as audiences did in 1941 it would probably seem fresh and innovative.

The credits flash against a Noir New York Skyline the titles are written in marquee lights and we hear a the musical equivalent of a shrill klaxon horn blasting out a danger warning. It segues into Street Scene one of the signature New York City themes. Street Scene was used by 20th Century Fox for the films Street Scene, Cry of the City, Kiss of Death, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Dark Corner, and as the overture to How to Marry a Millionaire. The story even actually starts with a street scene a newsboy hawking the murder of a model. We then cut to a dark police interrogation room bright spot lights are sweating a suspect, classic Noir. Professional promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is being grilled, surrounded by shadowy figures barking questions.

Frankie then begins to relate the story, and in a flashback we are transported to a Times Square restaurant and we are brightly lit again and into screwball comedy mode. Frankie and his two pals, over the hill actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) and gossip columnist Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn) flirt with hash slinger Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis). In a nod to Pygmalion Frankie makes a bet that he can transform Vicky into a celebrity inside of six weeks. Cut again to a classy nightclub where Frankie introduces Vicky, now dressed in evening gown and sable, to café-society. Throughout the film the sequences that feature Vicky or are in some way connected to her also have the Street Scene theme in various arrangements jazz, muted trumpet, etc., it becomes her leitmotif, and suggests the Musical genre. In a later sequence in a police projection room we see Vicky singing on her screen test.

We cut back to the police station, back to the present, and back into Noirsville. We now see Jill Lynn (Betty Grable) being questioned in the dimly lit squad room. As Jill tells her story we again go into flashback. She tells us how Vicky came home that first night and told Jill that she was through slinging hash and that from now on she had other things to sling. She had offers for modeling, commercials etc., etc. Jill tells her it's just easy money "your picture is on a magazine one day and in the ash can the next." Vicky is unfazed she snaps back that she knows what she wants and how to get it..

The weeks pass and Jill finds herself falling in love with Frankie. Every time Jill and Frankie are together Over the Rainbow plays in one form or another as their "love" leitmotif another nod to musicals. Street Scene is not only Vicky's leitmotif but also it represents the New York, anything goes, sophisticate. The juxtaposition between it and Over The Rainbow which also brings to mind innocence is interesting for this Noir.

During another session with the cops Jill remembers a stranger she saw staring at Vicky through the window of the restaurant one night. It turns out to be Lt. Cornell (the name a nod to Cornell Woolrich) who is unhealthily obsessed with Vicky Lynn. Cornell also has a moody, sinister leitmotif.

Cornell is trying hard to pin the murder on Frankie, going as far as withholding and planting evidence. Elisha Cook Jr. is Harry Williams the nervous Nellie desk clerk at the residence hotel where Vicky and Jill have their apartment.

We get another Screwball Comedy sequence when Vicky tells her three "creators" that she's signed a long term contract for Hollywood and that she's leaving for the West Coast. We see Frankie, Robin, and Larry are seated on bar stools drowning their sorrows and taking pop shots at one another.

The cat and mouse game between Frankie and Cornell plays out to the end with some nice interesting twists. The screen-caps are from the Fox Film Noir DVD. The film is like an early flyover of Noirsville 9/10.
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The under-rated Laird Cregar
swingman31 October 1998
Being a fan of old movies, I must say that Cregar's performance in this film interested me a great deal. Having only been in his mid 20's at production, he is able to come off as a man who has indeed been on the force for some years. I've enjoyed his work in other movies, and wonder while watching his work what might have been had he lived beyond the young age of 28.
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Moody thriller with plenty going for it including one memorable performance...
Nazi_Fighter_David14 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Tough policemen do not spend all their time slapping the villains around… Sometimes they are ruthless and crooked too in more subtle ways…

Such a cop is the character in "I Wake Up Screaming." The story is that of a detective who conceives a hopeless passion for a waitress – hopeless because she, not even knowing he is a policeman, is terrified of him from the beginning… He murders her, then uses his police force influence to shift the blame on to the hero…

Laird Cregar played the detective – a magnificently sinister performance, though how the New York police department allowed a detective as overweight as Cregar to remain on the strength, passes belief…

The film was remade, in 1953, as "Vicki," and the detective was more believable because he was played by Richard Boone, that awkward, fleshy-nosed heavy who did not become an actor until after leaving the U. S. Navy at the end of World War II, but who has developed into one of the best menaces in the business…
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Cregar is genuinely frightening
Nicholas Rhodes13 May 2002
An excellent american thriller of the forties with a good plot and superb character performances. The spectator is kept on his or her toes throughout the film and Cregar's "presence" is genuinely frightening and certainly not for the faint hearted. Picture quality is unfortunately rather mediocre and the film doesn't seem to be available anywhere on DVD
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Nothing To Do With The Title
ccthemovieman-112 October 2006
Yes, I did, too, after my hemorrhoid operation. That was brutal, but has nothing to do with the title of this movie. Come to think of it, the title of this movie has nothing to do with the story of it, either.

There is no screaming in here, and almost no suspense. However, Laird Cregar, Elisha Cook Jr. and a couple of pretty ladies from the '40s (Betty Grable and Carole Landis) still make this interesting to view.

Cregar is creepy, thanks to his voice and some good film-noir camera angles. This is billed as film noir, but it's really a "whodunnit" melodrama and it drags in spots, hence the "fair" rating.

Overall "decent" but it doesn't live up to its wild title.
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Among the Earliest "Gritty" Noirs, A Film That Paved The Way For Later, Better Movies
gftbiloxi3 February 2008
As it originally emerged, Film Noir was as glossy as it was tough, a genre photographed in a remarkable visual style of light and shadow and offering cynical and often witty tales of slick anti-heroes and dangerous dames--and films like THE MALTESE FALCON, THIS GUN FOR HIRE, MILDRED PIERCE, THE BLUE DAHLIA, and DOUBLE INDEMNITY remain great classics of their kind. At the same time, however, 20th Century Fox was releasing a stream of "pulp" crime dramas. Often overlooked or flatly dismissed by critics, they would pave the way for the shift in Noir style that came in 1948 with the "true crime," gritty style of NAKED CITY.

The first of these 20th Century Fox films, based on a novel by Steve Fisher, was I WAKE UP SCREAMING. Jill and Vicky Lynn (Betty Grable and Carole Landis) are two sisters living in New York; Vicky is working as a waitress when she is noticed by promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature), who is soon convinced he can turn her into a star. But Vicky proves perfidious: once success is within her grasp she drops Frankie to pursue a career in Hollywood. Her career never comes to pass: she is found dead in her apartment, Frankie standing over her. And police inspector Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) makes it clear that he intends to nail Frankie for Vicky's murder.

Although the dialogue is clunky, the film structure is intriguing, often telling the story through flashbacks in a way upon the 1944 LAURA would improve. But the real power of the film is the sharp edge with which director H. Bruce Humberstone endows the film--and the truly memorable photography by Edward Cronjager, a truly gifted cinematographer who would receive no fewer than seven Oscar nominations during his long career. And then there are two powerhouse performances that drive the film: Carole Landis and Laird Cregar.

Originally from Wisconsin, Carole Landis began her career playing bit parts in such films as A DAY AT THE RACES--but in 1940 she had a major breakthrough in the film ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. In hindsight, it is obvious that Landis was a competent if slightly limited actress; at the time, however, she was generally dismissed by critics as just another pretty girl without significant talents. In a very real sense, I WAKE UP SCREAMING would be the high-water mark of her career; she was thereafter generally overlooked by the studio and often miscast. By 1948 her career was over, and she took her own life.

Laird Cregar, however, was a different matter, immediately recognized for his gifts. But Cregar was an extremely large man, weighing in at 300 pounds. It was a fact that limited his career, and although he appeared to tremendous effect in such films as THIS GUN FOR HIRE, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, and the exceptional THE LODGER, leading man status eluded him. Determined to cross the line, Cregar went on a crash diet and dropped over 100 pounds. It got him the lead in HANGOVER SQUARE, which many regard as his best film--but it also strained his health to the breaking point, and he died of heart failure in 1945.

In spite of its innovations, the fiery performances of Landis and Cregar, and an unexpected plot twist that can still drop jaws today, I WAKE UP SCREAMING is a slightly awkward film, largely due to the flippant nature of its dialogue and the "goody goody" quality of the role assigned to Betty Grable, who reads here as somewhat saccharine. Nonetheless, this is a film that fans of Film Noir cannot afford to miss, for it points the way to the new style. The quality of the picture is a bit hit and miss, but the DVD has a surprising number of bonuses--including a memorable audio commentary by film historian Eddie Muller. In comparison to such contemporary films as THE MALTESE FALCON and the slightly later LAURA, it is pretty mild stuff--but the film has a historical importance in terms of the Noir movement, and fans of the genre will find it indispensable. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Neat little early film noir with some offbeat casting...
Neil Doyle30 December 2006
BETTY GRABLE and VICTOR MATURE were not the likeliest contenders back in the early '40s to be appearing in a creepy film noir sort of tale dished out by Fox. Usually, they could be counted on for much lighter stuff--particularly Grable, who usually starred in Fox's gaudy Technicolor musicals. Mature only came into noir by '47 with KISS OF DEATH.

But no matter. It's really LAIRD CREGAR who gets the spotlight here as a detective relentlessly pursuing Victor Mature as the killer--hoping to snag him in his net--if he can convince anyone that Mature is the real killer. Mature's only relationship to the dead girl (CAROLE LANDIS) is that he's the one who was closest to her at time of death, being that he was her agent trying to get her a Hollywood career rather than letting her remain in obscurity.

So, it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse and full of plot twists and the kind of deception that easily turns up in any film noir or mystery of this kind. And the deception appears to be obvious, at first. But--well, you have to see the film to see how the worm turns.

It's nothing really special but it does provide a few shivers along the way. Some of the Grable/Mature romantic moments go on a little too long (especially at the swimming pool) and once in awhile the plot drags. But by the time it winds up, it's been a pretty smooth ride into noir territory, thanks largely to LAIRD CREGAR and the dark shadow he casts over the whole story.
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Smart Cop Gone Berserk
theowinthrop6 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Laird Cregar's performances in motion pictures were small in number (a bit over twenty films), but large in ability to hold audience attention and in sheer artistry. Whether Jack The Ripper, George Bone, Clive Oxford, Willard Gates, Sir Henry Morgan, or whoever, Cregar dominates his films, and usually each performance is unique in itself.

He is usually considered a movie villain. It's true that violence plays a heavy part in his films, but his "Lodger" is driven mad by sorrow at the loss of his talented brother due to a prostitute; his Gates is in over his head, due to the demands of his evil boss (Tully Marshall) and the target of his actions (a deadly Alan Ladd); his Bone is suffering from a mental disease, but trying to compose the concerto that will give him immortality. In short, most of his villains have something in their background that makes them pitiful if frightening. Occasionally he plays a run-of-the-mill lowlife. In BLOOD AND SAND, his bullfighting critic "Curo" (which means a Bull's rectum) is a self-important parasite on bullfighters like J. Carroll Naish and Tyrone Power, whom he builds up, lives off of, and then throws aside when they no longer make large salaries.

But in his catalog of roles, possibly his most frightening one is his New York City master police inspector Ed Cornell. Not in fancy clothes or make-up, Cornell is mostly fierce attention and an ever-parked fedora hat on his head. He is the perfect realization of ability, brains, and retribution. For Ed Cornell misuses his badge to destroy promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature). In playing the ultimately dangerous cop, Cregar actually played the scariest villain in his career (even more frightening in his way than "the Lodger" or Bone).

Vicki Lynn (Carole Landis) was a promising model whose career was being pushed by Christopher. Mature plays Christopher realistically - a friendly but pushy type who is a wire puller through his contacts, like actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) and Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn). Christopher hoped to get Lynn into acting and a fancier career. But she is found murdered. Circumstances are not settled in any direction, but when Cornell enters the case, and starts examining Christopher, he starts making veiled insinuations about the latter's actions and motives and activities on the night of the murder - insinuations that suggest a remarkably subtle detective intelligence - but also an inexplicable hostility. It soon becomes evident that Cornell is not simply trying to solve a murder. He is trying to definitely prove Christopher is guilty - or is he trying to frame Christopher?

Ed Cornell is Cregar's model (unwittingly and unintentionally) for Orson Welles' later Hank Quinlan. Both men are incredibly adept at their work, but both become incredibly corrupt at it. Quinlan's corruption carries on too long and too far. Cornell's, as we learn, is concentrated on this case - but it goes far enough to establish his own evil as memorable.

Being Cregar he varies his menace towards Mature with some lighter moments. Please note the intellectual story about the rare butterflies that he mentions when talking to his superior about laying a trap. He does show a human side eventually as well. But it is the evil that he does that dominates in this film, making it one of the first great film noir of the 1940s.
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One of the earliest and best film noirs
aromatic-225 February 2000
What a psychological thriller! In many ways, this movie does more than the Maltese Falcon to presage the really dark psychological elements of the film noir era. Betty Grable is terrific in a straight dramatic role. Victor Mature, Allyn Joslyn, and Allan Mowbray are magnificent, deftly blending fear, sarcasm, and dark humour. And, Elisha Cook, Jr. helped build his credentials as a noir staple here. But, it is Cregar who steals the show. A must see.
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Early Brooding Film Noir with a Great Performance by Laird Cregar
romanorum120 August 2015
"Beautiful Model Found Murdered" screams the headline in the New York Daily Call. Prominent sports promoter Frankie Christopher (nee Botticelli, Victor Mature) is grilled by detectives who suspect him for the murder of model Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) at 76th Street in the city.

In flashback Frankie explains how he discovered Vicky – a waitress at the time – and their subsequent business connection. Because of a lack of physical evidence, Frankie is not arrested although menacing detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) insists that he is the killer. In fact Cornell becomes overly obsessed with pinning the crime on Frankie even to the point of overlooking several obvious suspects, like strange switchboard operator Harry Williams and callous gossip columnist Larry Evans. What is Cornell's agenda? In any case, Vicky's sister Jill (Betty Grable), who initially disliked Frankie, gives her perspective in flashback to the police of the time of her sister's business split with Frankie. Vicky had told Frankie that – despite his advancement of her career – she was leaving (for Hollywood) as she has just signed a long-term acting contract after passing a screen test. The next day Jill found Vicky's prostrate body with Frankie hovering above it in the sisters' shared apartment.

Cornell trails Frankie around town in a disconcerting manner. From his sleep in his bedroom Frankie awakens to find the sinister detective staring at him. The investigator had hoped that he would talk in his sleep! Another time, after Frankie gave him a ride, Cornell taunts the promoter with a miniature hangman's noose. Still another time Cornell sneakily works his way into Jill's apartment. When Cornell plants brass knuckles in Frankie's apartment to implicate him in Vicky's murder, Frankie goes on the lam. But Frankie will use a Tootsie Roll to good advantage!

Meanwhile Frankie and Jill begin to date and eventually fall in love. He tells her that his real last name is Botticelli. "Mrs. Botticelli?" utters Jill. The couple has to play sleuths to get down to the bottom of the mystery. There is a nice scene where Jill sneaks outside her building via the fire escape, never slipping despite prowling around in her high heels. We see even more of her famous legs at the Lido plunge. Anyway, the two learn that someone has been sending flowers on Vicky's grave every day. Then Frankie discovers that detective Cornell has set up a shrine to Vicky in his apartment. So who killed her?

Victor Mature, Betty Grable, and Carole Landis act wonderfully and are good-looking, but this has to be Laird Cregar's movie. See his shadow early on when, like the creep he is, he stalks the dining room where Landis works. Cregar, porcine at six feet three inches and 300 pounds, is one terrifying crooked cop. An interesting contrast is with beefy Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil" (1958). Catch Cregar in "The Lodger" (1944) and "Hangover Square" (1945). The former movie is about Jack the Ripper while in the latter Cregar is a classic composer who plays his piano while a building goes down in flames all around him. Three years after "I Wake up Screaming" he was dead at age 31. Lovely Carole Landis never made it to age 30, although, as she had some success in real life, she fared better than her screen persona Vicky who does not make it to Tinseltown. At the end Landis was four times married and her career bottomed out. Of course Betty Grable would become a famous World War II pinup gal. She had already acted in "Million Dollar Legs" (1939) and "Down Argentine Way" (1940). Mature had already starred in "One Million BC" (with Landis) in 1940; he would also act in "My Darling Clementine" (1946), the underrated "Cry of the City" (1948), and many others. He had better range than he himself realized, for he played several important and diverse historical figures: Samson, Crazy Horse, Doc Holliday, and Hannibal.

By the way, despite the title, no one wakes up screaming!
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Topnotch Film Noir
dougandwin27 July 2004
Now this was a really excellent film noir movie released in the early Forties - "I Wake Up Screaming" or "Hot Spot" as it was called in some countries held the interest all the way through, and the surprising performance in my book, came from Betty Grable - not that she had to do a hard acting job, but having been very much a musical comedy-type this was a most off-beat role for her. The real stars were Laird Cregar and the Music -both were brilliant adding so much to the suspense and drama. There were the usual support actors like Allyn Joslin, Elisha Cook Jnr. and William Gargan who all added to the enjoyment of a fine who-dunnit. A good movie to revisit.
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A Superb Early Film Noir
seymourblack-19 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Considering its recognised status as one of the very earliest film noirs, it's remarkable how many characteristics of the classic style are featured in "I Wake Up Screaming" (aka "Hot Spot"). Themes including sexual obsession, betrayal and entrapment are very prominent and its big city setting, numerous flashbacks and witty dialogue are all used to great effect. A portrait of a beautiful woman is a standard noir motif which was due to become more frequently used in later years and the expressionistic cinematography in this movie is both aesthetically pleasing and incredibly effective in establishing the mood of the piece.

Well known New York City sports promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is at a restaurant one night with actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) and gossip columnist Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn) who are both very impressed with good-looking waitress, Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis). Much to the amusement of his friends, Frankie claims that he could successfully promote Vicky and make her a star and soon starts to introduce her to some influential people. Vicky subsequently achieves some success as a model and one day announces to a surprised Frankie that she's had a screen test and is leaving for Hollywood without him. Shortly after this act of betrayal, Vicky is found dead and Frankie becomes the prime suspect.

Frankie is subjected to some aggressive questioning by a group of detectives in an interrogation room and one of them, Detective Inspector Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar), is especially menacing. He has a reputation for never losing a case and openly threatens Frankie with the electric chair (aka the hot spot). Due to a lack of hard evidence, Frankie is eventually released but although Vicky's sister Jill (Betty Grable), Frankie's friends (Ray and Evans) and a switchboard operator at Vicky's apartment house, Harry Williams (Elisha Cook Jr.) are all considered as suspects at various points in the investigation, Cornell continues to pursue Frankie relentlessly.

Jill and Frankie fall in love and soon realise that the only way they'll be able to have any future together will be if they can find the real killer. When the culprit is caught, however, further interesting revelations follow.

This movie is a visual treat with a whole series of clever compositions of light and shadow being used to enhance the atmosphere and two sequences are particularly impressive. Initially, the interrogation room which is bathed in darkness with the intense spotlight being pointed directly in Frankie's face emphasises how trapped this innocent man is and later, on the staircase in Vicky's apartment building, when he stands covered in a huge grid of shadow, it reinforces his status as a person who's been framed.

Ed Cornell is the character that makes the strongest impression in this movie as not only is he physically imposing but also, with his soft voice and creepy behaviour, everything he does seems so calculated and sinister. His habit of turning up in people's rooms unexpectedly is particularly disconcerting and he also puts psychological pressure on certain suspects by trying to get into their heads. Laird Cregar is ideally cast as Cornell and provides the film's standout performance. Victor Mature and Betty Grable also excel in their roles.

"I Wake Up Screaming" with its terrific pace, great one-liners and some neat twists, is extremely entertaining and a superb example of early noir.
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A confused, gorgeous looking film
futures-123 November 2007
An odd comedy of a serious crime drama… it was difficult to decide what they were trying to DO with the film… a score made of bits and pieces of popular music from the last couple of years, used repeatedly like cut pieces of fabric in a quilt… a script that kept slipping into witty and funny although nothing of the plot asked for it… Betty Grable, Victor Mature, and Carol Landis starred along with lots of character actors you'll probably recognize.. This film did eventually offer up a solution, but kept its oddball character. The one GREAT thing about this film was the photography – highly intelligent compositions with some of the best Noir lighting and angles of all time. I was in a near-constant state of admiration for the "look" of this film (which once again did NOT support the idea of ANY comedic moments!).
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smashing film noir...and bravo cregar and landis!
fresh-43 November 2000
a deliciously dark thriller..feverish and intense. in addition to its incredibly vivid camerawork, and a wonderful 'broadway melody' type score, it also features some of the finest work of two remarkable performers, carole landis and laird cregar...both of whom died tragically young. ms. landis, a beautiful, husky voiced blonde projected an interesting mix of haughtiness, innocence, intelligence and sexuality..very much ahead of her time, and hated by the studio heads for her independent spirit. this was one of her best performances, and presaged her tragic suicide at the age of 29. cregar, the hulking, obsessive detective, also died in his late 20's and creates a complex and pathetic character here.

great performances, great cinematography, a ripping score, and a plot full of surprises...best of all is that title..it rocks!
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