I Wake Up Screaming

Released Oct. 31, 1941: I WAKE UP SCREAMING, starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, and Laird Cregar. Directed by Bruce Humberstone (Charlie Chan at the Opera, Tall, Dark and Handsome, Within These Walls). IWakeUpScreamingMature is a New York sports promoter, who on a whim, decides to transform a beautiful coffee shop waitress (Carole Landis) into a hot new celebrity simply by introducing her to the right people and generating media exposure. His scheme is wildly successful and everything goes according to plan, until one day, Landis announces she’s abandoning Mature to pursue a film career in Hollywood. The next day, she’s found murdered in her apartment and Mature is the obvious suspect. He claims he’s innocent, and indeed, there’s no hard evidence to implicate him, but one detective (Laird Cregar) ignores all the facts and is convinced beyond any doubt that Mature is guilty. The film opens with Mature and the victim’s sister (Betty Grable) both being questioned by police in separate interrogation rooms. They each tell their story in flashbacks that are cleverly interwoven to create a continuous narrative of events leading up to Landis’ murder. Once the flashbacks catch up to the present, the story continues with Cregar relentlessly pursuing Mature, while everyone else looks elsewhere to find the killer. It’s a satisfying mystery that includes several unexpected plot twists. The performances by Mature, Grable, and Landis are top notch, but it’s Laird Cregar who steals the show. His controlled portrayal of the obsessive detective is disturbingly creepy in all the right ways. He moves through the film with an unflappable demeanor that is both unnerving and intriguing. It’s a memorable performance that will stay with you long after the film is over. This is an early noir, made when the noir style was still being forged. Most scenes are shot in a conventional manner, but when things get dark, they get really dark. Humberstone, who is not known as a noir director, uses darkness to great effect in several scenes, such as when Mature and another suspect (Alan Mowbray) are led into a pitch black room at the police station, or when Mature wakes up in the middle of the night to find Cregar sitting in darkness at the foot of his bed. Visually, this film feels like a bridge between old style 1930s Hollywood and the new developing noir sensibilities. We give I Wake Up Screaming 4 out of 5 fedoras.

4 Fedoras

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