I Wake Up Screaming H. Bruce Humberstone

Press hound Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is being railroaded for the murder of an actress, Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis), whom he and his showbiz friends "discovered” while she was waiting on them in a diner. The inspector in charge, Ed Cornell (Laird Cregan), disregards the victim’s sister Jill (Betty Grable), who insists that Christopher did not do it. Cornell’s monomaniacal pursuit of Frankie Christopher seems personally motivated and amidst a blossoming romance, Christopher and Jill pursue the truth about Vicky’s death. Despite the title, nobody seems to sleep in this film, let alone wake up. In its thrifty 82 minutes, Victor Mature shows off the eyelids of Sylvester Stallone, the lips of Melanie Griffith and a tale told by an idiot. Mature’s charm and elegance aid him in fabricating a portrait of a PR sleaze (imagine Night and the City’s Widmark keeping in check zany laughter and desperate pleas). The pin-up Grable is serviceable as working girl Jill, who shares some sweet and romantic scenes with Mature, notably an encounter in a community swimming pool. Bit player Elisha Cook Jr. steals his scenes from both of them. The dialogue, when in the production’s less-capable hands, comes out stiff and staged. Grable, who kept the soldiers abroad happy with candid snapshots, here straddles a fear of verbal or physical extrapolation. Worst is the score — crudely re-orchestrated amalgams of "Rhapsody in Blue” and "Over the Rainbow” drown out voices, cheapening the shadowy atmosphere through poor execution. As bullying police inspector Cornell, Laird Cregan creates one of the monumental performances in film noir, a performance deserving of a much better film. He enters an interrogation room as a Sidney Greenstreet, imposing, hard-nosed and suspicious, presupposing Welles in Touch of Evil, his soft-spoken snarls seeming adlibbed. Cregan would die at age 30 of a heart attack related to rapid weight loss, but in his short career he managed memorable parts in small films by directors the likes of Henry Hathaway and Ernst Lubitsch. Cregan’s promise here is evident in his sense of guile and menace. The story is perfectly suited to that cynical fatalism of noir, but late in the film a misstep occurs. When it finds a chance to make a powerful statement about the world of packaged celebrity, the script regresses into childish character devolution, handing the audience an unnecessary and repellent melodramatic speech so as to render its sadist not only sympathetic, but to transform him into a representation of the everyman. This acts as a counter to the other evils of the film, but not a counter to the seemingly stout hearted Mature, for whom the apprehension of a mournful and apologetic killer brings absolution without self-perception. The DVD features several stills galleries, a deleted scene, featuring Grable singing cutesy throwaways — something Humberstone would later inflict on audiences with Grable’s The Pin-Up Girl — and a commentary track by Eddie Muller, whose noir study, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, might please fans. (Fox)