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A musician has a nightmare in which he killed a man. When he wakes up he finds evidence that the crime really took place and tries to find the truth with the help of his brother-in-law who is a police officer. Written by
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"Nightmare" is Maxwell Shane's 1956 remake of his own "Fear in the Night" (1947). According to various commentators, the 1956 version is the better, partly because of the music, the cast and the locales used. Never having viewed "Fear in the Night" I can only judge "Nightmare" on its own merits, which are modest, but definite.
First off, this is a faithful adaptation of Cornell Woolrich, based on a story (not a 'novel', as the movie's credits indicate) that has a true Woolrich feeling when it is read. In fact it is highly recommendable, if you want to try some Woolrich and have not yet done so. You can read the story ('Nightmare') in less than one hour.
The film has a good cast to say the least--Edward G. Robinson, Kevin McCarthy, Virginia Christine, Gage Clark, Rhys Williams, Marian Carr, and Connie Russell, along with several of those highly recognizable character/supporters.
Kevin McCarthy is SUPERB in this film. He must have been at the top his game. "Nightmare" is contemporary with "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"(Don Siegel), which is itself one hell of a well-realized nightmare. Poor Kevin must have had a heavy-duty 1956. The handsome actor conveys a palpable combination of obsession and stark fear--he MUST find his way out of his horrible situation: framed for a murder that he dreams he committed, evidence mounting against him. Worst of all is his detective brother-in-law Rene (Robinson) who relentlessly dogs him about his involvement in the crime.
There are a few memorable visual touches: the opening credit/nightmare sequence, hallucinatory and disturbing, with intoxicating jazz-inflected score by Hershel Burke Gilbert; a strange episode in which a rain-soaked picnic party 'happens' upon an empty house: McCarthy seems to know the house as if it were his own! How can this be?! It's quite unnerving for several minutes; another good sequence concerns a character on the ledge of a tall building. "Nightmare" benefits from a LOT of New Orleans locales. The locations add a good deal of welcome visual variety and a slightly exotic flavor
Most interesting of all about "Nightmare"--the music. Bandleader Billy May and legendary New Orleans pianist Meade Lux Lewis make noteworthy appearances. May, in fact, plays a character in the drama and leads his orchestra in some very jumping numbers. Also on hand is Connie Russell, a fair actress and fine singer who seems not to have made records, but comes across very well in her three vocal performances. All the above is tied together very nicely by Gilbert's score. Based on a brief motif that saxophonist McCarthy hears in his opening nightmare, the music is heard in varying instrumental combinations and is molded to support the drama at every turn. This may be the only film, or film noir, in which a character desperately tries to discover the origin of a tune, as if his life depended upon it (it does).
Give this one a shot.
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