|Page 5 of 8:||       |
|Index||75 reviews in total|
I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
Elements of Noir, with Pulled Punches
This looks like a film noir, with Edward Cronjager behind the camera (a seasoned Fox cinematographer). The plot reads like one, with a good woman, a so-called bad woman, and a good man caught between. The nighttime New York setting is pure noir, nightclubs and all. And it has perfect actors for the job--Victor Mature as a fight promoter, Laird Cregar as an ominous cop, and Elisha Cook Jr. as creepy and afraid as ever. As a true film noir, it's about as early as they come, a prototype, really, before WWII has hit the U.S. directly and the final elements of the approach take form.
Though completely enjoyable, and an important film in the evolution of the genre, I Wake Up Screaming is not as intense or moody as it could have been. Director H. Bruce Humberstone, a veteran of Charlie Chan movies and later some weak Tarzan flicks, pulls a lot punches here. Dark moods lurk, but layered with lightheartedness. One reason is the lead actress, Betty Grable, a sweet, girl-next-door type, utterly likable but somehow oversimplified. And very blonde--that is, he works with stereotypes and doesn't dig beyond them (partly the screen writing at fault, though the actual dialog is good). (Grable is famous as the war's number one pinup girl, and Humberstone did a musical starring Grable three years later called Pin Up Girl.) And there is a steady stream of improbable or even absurd details (or mistakes) to mar our getting absorbed--the most jarring might be when the cop disappears into the swinging bed and the camera watches long enough so we laugh, just when we are meant to be tense and afraid. Slapstick? As well, a couple of bit-part actors take on clichéd roles in comic relief, which makes the film a bit undecided.
In a way, the movie has fun with the caricatures it's been dealt. It refuses to get serious and disturbing because it's so purely out to entertain. That might be a fault, but it might also be a matter of taste. At the time, the strategy may have paid off in ticket sales. Even so, people must have wondered really why the murderer wanted to kill the girl, or why the sister wasn't more upset about it, or why the fight promoter could so cheerfully run around as both crime-solver and main suspect.
The country was swept with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" fever a year before this was filmed, and the song infects this movie to a fault--it is used so often for the Grable character's signature music, and yet it's so linked to the Wizard of Oz in our heads, it strikes you as false. And the last thing a moody crime film needs is a superficial falseness. But Humberstone also packs some wallop in many of the scenes, often with the help of hard light and slicing shadows, or with characters sneaking into people's apartments with alarming ease. And there is the steady sympathy aroused by the underrated Mature, who helps hold it all together.
Young rising actress Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) is found murdered.
Immediately under suspicion is her former press agent Frankie
Christopher (Victor Mature) who she dumped cruelly. Vicky's sister Jill
(Betty Grable) is positive he didn't do it while Police Inspector
Cornell (Laird Cregar) is positive he did do it. Jill and Frankie try
to find the real murderer while Cornell tries to trap them...
Exciting, well-made, low-budget thriller. It moves quickly, has good acting (especially by Cregar and Grable) and is never dull. It has its debits though--the score is repetitious and heard again and again and AGAIN during the movie and there's an unnecessary romance between Mature and Grable worked in (although it DOES show them off in their bathing suits at one point). Still these are minor quibbles. Also a chance to see Landis and Cregar--two fine actors who died well before their time. Recommended.
I taped this off UK Channel 4 on 11th April 1987 and it still plays
perfectly - just how long are video tapes meant to last?! After a gap
of nearly half a decade unwatched I find IWUS still fresh, hackneyed in
places especially when Victor Mature's large eyebrows beetle, but very
effective in the depiction of the loony by looming Laird Cregar. Also
refreshing was a straight, although maybe played too serious role by
ultra-demure Betty Grable who after being in so many lightweight
musicals exuded just the right amount of ordinary helplessness when
faced with a possible stalking pervert who may also be a murderer. My
daughter pointed out that maybe the stalker was supposed to be slightly
bi as well because he kept dogging Mature around obsessively.
Nowadays of course the sleaze angle would amplified to the point of plot exclusion with graphic sexual violence cheerfully applauded to the skies as Art. But that's Progress for you. Back then they trod a fine line with the Production Code, and even if it was very silly at times for the makers and the watchers it was discipline that's sadly lacking now. To me, this movie is another link in the chain of good and great '40's film noirs, with some twee moments as in the all-night swimming hall and the incessant Over the Rainbow muzak, but overall making up for it with flashy camera work with lovely smoky moody nitrate visuals, plenty of flashbacks, fine terse performances and a seedy storyline expertly handled.
I hope my video outlasts me, for back in '87 they showed a great print that can't be bettered on DVD now and I love going back to it even if at the rate of twice a decade.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Premature noir that seems to have been blended with a 1930's MGM
musical. There's the classic noir lighting and composition, but there's
swanky bejeweled affairs filmed in opulent, soundstage-filling sets.
There's polite, wealthy gentlemen with faux British accents, a
convention from the '30s, really more at home in something like 'My Man
Godfrey.' And there's a feeble love story between Grable and Mature,
two of the stranger pieces of noir casting. The resolution of the plot
is a bizarre and weak cop-out, and raises more questions than it
answers. The ending makes this seem like a Laura rip-off before the
fact. The incidental music (it cannot really be termed a score) is two
songs: "Street Scene" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow" (!? MGM again)
two years after the Wizard of Oz, applied arbitrarily, and repeated ad
nauseum until you have a headache. This music director does not
understand the difference between developing a motif and annoying an
audience. Carole Landis has a strange bony face that is not flattered
by the photography.
It feels like lazy, B-grade noir. The theme 'Street Symphony' was also used in "The Dark Corner" and the hardware store here, where Grable saws the handcuffs off Mature, is the gun store set from the opening seconds of Gun Crazy.
It was the dynamic title that drove me to this oddity. Then there was
also the cast, Betty Grable in a noir drama? She's very pleasing in her
early strait role (was that magnificent blond hair truly real?) Victor
Mature demonstrates his increasingly nervous discomfort throughout the
progress of this story via his iconic facial expressions, belying his
characters over-confident exterior. The cause of this discomfort comes
in the form of a creepy Laid Cregar, a strange detective who is
determined to nail Mature for a serious crime. An interesting scene has
him wake to the sense of an ominous presence in his apartment that
would have had me screaming too - I can't too readily recall another
actor that could signal fear, with just one instant facial expression.
Carole Landis, who tragically took her own life at only 29, following a scandalous affair with married philanderer Rex Harrison, is OK in the part of Grable's sister. With so many others in the support cast also being noteworthy, this just had to be seen.
The Director; Bruce Humberstone, whom I had associated more with comedies, musicals, and outdoor actioners (Tazan and westerns) seems to be in his element with this fast moving crime story by prolific writer; Steve Fisher ("Lady in the Lake" '46) Good one liners come rapidly and often.
It gets off to a cracking opening with striking sets by multi award winning Thomas Little; "Grapes of Wrath" '40 ~ "Razors Edge" '46 ~ Viva Zapata" '52. With Art Direction by two up and coming directors, Richard Day, and Nathan Juran. Another veteran, Director of Photography; Edward Cronjager, "Roberta" '35 ~ "House by the River" '50 ~ "Relentless" '48 ~ "Beneath the 12 mile Reef" '53, all combine to assure this film a stylish look and feel.
It may not always work as well as you might like, but it keeps you watching and guessing to the end. The biggest draw back for me was the musical direction by English born Cyril J. Mockridge. He must have been given only a few days to prepare a score and I don't think he wrote a note of original music. Instead, he uses music tracks from the library of popular standards. The best of these is Alfred Newman's "Street Scene" put to good use under the opening credits. Another is Harold Arlen's immortal "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Both these melodies keep popping up at the most unnecessary moments during the story, so much so, that by the time the end title arrives you may well wake up screaming too...
Not great, but still good entertainment.
This soft who-dun-it melodrama works effectively with a perfectly
matched cast. The dialog isn't very clever at times (lines like "You're
the Mona Lisa type I can spot 'em a mile away), but is entertaining
just the same. It's nice to see Grable in a setting besides the
predictable musicals she would soon be typecast in for the rest of the
decade. Betty wasn't much of an actress, but she was so easy on the
eyes that it didn't matter. In fact, the cast has its share of
"lookers" from the dapper Victor Mature to the voluptuous and stacked
Carole Landis (a tragic figure who took her own life just 7 years
later). There are moments in this flick that even seem comical, such as
the character actors in the final scene. (It also has Grable and Mature
as the new Mr. & Mrs. Bottachelli - that surname alone is something you
can't take too seriously!)
There's more music in this type of movie that would be expected. Landis (with someone ghosting her voice) croons "The Things I Love" a pretty new melody written for this 1941 caper. The hit "Over the Rainbow" does appear briefly at times, but it's Lionel Newman's superb, haunting 1931 theme "Street Scene" that pops up repeatedly in the excellent film soundtrack. A quick orchestral variation of "What'll I Do" is also heard if you listen close enough.
On the print I saw of "I Wake Up Screaming," the closing credits included a plug to buy war bonds. It must have been quickly added to subsequent prints, since this movie was released three weeks prior to Pearl Harbor when we entered the war.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'I Wake Up Screaming' came out around the time 'The Maltese Falcon',
which is considered the first true film noir. 'Screaming' has some
noirish elements including some dark lighting, a femme fatale of sorts
and a man falsely accused of murder but it can't make up its mind
whether its appeal is slanted toward the lover of a good mystery or
romance. Indeed, the occasionally insufferable soundtrack features one
too many tidbits of 'Over the Rainbow', occasionally ruining the dark
atmosphere of menace that a true film noir should engender.
'I Wake Up Screaming' disappoints on many levels. First there's the murder victim herself, Vicky Lynn (played by Carole Landis, who tragically took her own life approximately seven years after this film's first release). Vicky is a waitress turned would-be actress, after being discovered by sports promoter, Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature). One wonders why these high society types (who are friends of Christopher), fall head over heels for the unconnected Vicky, who has nothing to offer except maybe her looks. The way they fawn over this unproven neophyte is truly embarrassing. Not all actresses at that time got ahead simply because of their looksthere was something also called 'personality' but unfortunately the films' scenarists here chose to present the requisite go-getter as a generic bimbo.
Maybe this is the reason why Vicky's sister, Jill (Betty Grable), along with Christopher, fail to emote when they learn of Vicky's murder. Yes, this bothered me but then again, when you intentionally create such generic characters, it stands to follow that real emotions will invariably not end up on display. I also found Victor Mature to be hopelessly miscast as Christopher, who should be a more hardened, streetwise character. Mature is simply too much of a 'nice guy' to play a tough guy sports promoter. Betty Grable is more fitting as the goody two shoes sister but too much time is taken up with Grable and Mature canoodling, and taking us away from the aforementioned atmosphere of dread (it should be noted that the DVD extras feature a song that Grable sings that was cut from the final print; that only goes to show the mindset of the films' producers before they decided to turn 'I Wake Up Screaming' into something a tad bit more grittier).
The 'Screaming' plot is really nothing to write home about. Yes there's a nice little twist when Jill recognizes creepy Detective Ed Cornell (menacingly and finely played by Laird Cregar who also met a sad demise at an early age), as the guy who had stalked Vicky earlier, while she was working as a waitress. Cornell is the bad cop who breaks into Christopher's apartment, misappropriates evidence without a warrant and ultimately still attempts to arrest Christopher, even though he has already obtained a confession from the real killer. We get the idea early on that Cornell is both a bad guy and pushy to boot but things really fall apart at the climax when it's revealed he's a pathetic sad sack stalker, who has pictures of Vicky plastered all over his apartment. Instead of killing Christopher (which of course would not have worked well for a 1941 audience but would have been a better ending todayI'm thinking of John Houston in 'Chinatown', the real bad guy pedophile who gets away with it), Cornell, sheepishly and pathetically, takes his own life.
The real killer turns out to be a big let down: Harry Williams, the bellhop, whose obsession with Vicky was even worse than Cornell's (Elisha Cook Jr. provides the proper histrionics, as the noted 'B' actor was always good at playing neurotics and petty criminals).
Oh yes, there are two other characters, an over the hill actor and cynical Broadway columnist, who are the 'red herrings' designed to distract you from figuring out who the real killer is. Again, when we do find out that Harry Williams did Vicky in, he just seems so tangential to the main story, as if it were an aside in a play (also, please clue me in how the police can call Harry a "suspect", simply because he went missing for a day or twolater they discover the was visiting relatives in Brooklyn, and have to let him go).
The 'I Wake Up Screaming' denouement is wholly appropriate, as we find the two lovebirds, Jill and Christopher, once again canoodling in the 'ritzy' night club which both sisters found so exciting. The lightweight ending might be good for the family friendly aficionados who dig the happy endings and the silly romance, but film noir has clearly taken a back seat, in this puppy love, pseudo-thriller.
This was the first movie I saw of Betty Grable when she wasn't showing
her million dollar legs....(albeit, she and Mature did go swimming in a
scene). No dancing, no singing....who'd thought!
I was also a fan of Carol Landis....I remember her, she did a movie with band leader Kay Kaiser....about a haunted house. Landis gets murdered and comes back as a ghost. I love those genre movies.....entertaining without being nasty.
I have this long-time wish to know the name of the theme music in "I Wake Up Screaming". It was also used as the background music in "Kiss of Death".....also starring Victor Mature.
I'm sure it was a piece that probably had a New York City title...I always felt it pictured the city streets in a solemn, somber way. Unfortunately they never played it through its entire length to any degree. I am probably wrong, but it was probably composed by one of the Newmans.
When singing sensation Jill Lilly is murdered, police suspicion falls
heavily onto the agent who brought her quickly up from being a waitress
- Frankie Christopher. Police Inspector Cornell in particular goes
after him for the murder. As they sweat him in the cell he recounts how
he met and raised up Jill to be 'somebody'. Meanwhile his girlfriend's
sister begins to reveal more of her true feelings for Frankie.
I had never heard of this film before I watched it but the cast itself is enough of a draw to justify watching. The plot starts with the murder and builds the back-story through interviews and flashbacks, it is dark from the start but it gets progressively darker as the film goes on. The corrupt Inspector becomes more imposing as the story goes, while Vicky hurts herself by falling for the man who is suspected of her sister's murder. Meanwhile Frankie blames himself for Jill's death and suffers guilt as a result. This all works well woven into the story even if it isn't as harsh as the source material (which greatly increased the reasons for Cornell's bitterness) it still is dark for the period.
The cast are all good. Grable is a great lead and was well cast here. Mature is always a rock and he plays his collapse into guilt very well. Landis is good but it is Cregar who steals the film - his character veers from deadly to sinister to pathetic; and each is as convincing as the last.
It is the director that makes the film. The use of shadow is fantastic and sets the atmosphere perfectly. The quality of the film stock must have deteriorated over the years as the copy I saw was almost yellow rather than black and white - but that may be deliberate, I found it to add a sickly hue to everything that improved the atmosphere a touch. Overall this is a great little bit of noir with a great cast and a strong story that is darker the more you think about it.
For those looking for a sleeper film, this is it. Fans of film noir genre will be pleasantly surprised by this outing. I believe it was later remade several times, but this one featuring the gorgeous gams of pinup girl Betty Grable, and the macho-ism of Victor Mature, really is one of the quintessential noir films of all time. There are also some great performances by two actors who in real life met tragically short careers. Both of whom were wreaked with depression over not landing meatier roles, and in both instances because of their physical appearance. In the first case, Carol Landis is an incredible beauty, but because of this couldn't find the kind of vampish roles that would later become popular with actors like Lauren Bacall. Landis had a sexy desirable quality, that at the time didn't play well, audiences or Hollywood at the time preferred the wholesomeness of actors like Grable. In the later instance, Laird Cregar was a deeply devoted actor that self trained in the desperate hopes of becoming a leading man. However his enormous weight, and looming frame of 6 feet three inches made this unlikely. His performance in this film highlights what could have been, had the studios been more forward thinking. Only a few years later, an actor in similar stature sky rocketed to the top; Orson Welles. Proving that it's the performance and not the look that's important. Tragically both these stars died too young, but in this film we are given a glimpse of what could have been. I find it amazing that Landis was only 21 or 22 when this picture was produced. She looks like a very mature woman. Va va va voom. There's a murder of a young starlet, the lead detective is sweating out his prime suspect, who goes on the lamb with the sister of the deceased. It all wraps up a little too conveniently, but then again, there are no perfect films. The performances more than make up for this narrow flaw.
|Page 5 of 8:||       |
|Plot summary||Plot synopsis||Ratings|
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|