I WAKE UP SCREAMING (aka: Hot Spot)
(director: H. Bruce Humberstone; screenwriters: Dwight Taylor/from serialized in Photoplay-Movie Mirror; cinematographer: Edward J. Cronjager; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: Betty Grable (Jill Lynn), Victor Mature (Frankie Christopher), Carole Landis (Vicky Lynn), Laird Cregar (Ed Cornell), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Harry Williams), William Gargan (Jerry McDonald), Alan Mowbray (Robin Ray), Allyn Joslyn (Larry Evans), Morris Ankrum (Assistant District Attorney), Forbes Murray (Mr. Handel), Chick Chandler (Reporter), Cyril Ring (Reporter); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Milton Sperling; 20th Century Fox; 1942)
“Marvelously sinister performance by Laird Cregar.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Veteran Fox studio director H. Bruce Humberstone (“Charlie Chan at the Opera”/”Sun Valley Serenade”), whose films ranged from Charlie Chan to Tarzan, puts forth his best effort in this thrilling film noir. I Wake Up Screaming was remade in 1953 as Vicki. Dwight Taylor bases his screenplay on the book by pulp writer Steve Fisher. In a jarring move that works in an odd way, ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ is the soundtrack that can be heard throughout. This early film noir, shot in a naturalistic style, showed how dark photography can increase a brooding mood and make the film more tense.
When not so nice fashion model and wannabe actress Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) is found murdered her career discoverer, prominent New York sports promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature), becomes the prime suspect even though he maintains his innocence under police questioning. In a flashback, Frankie traces how he first met Vicky when she first arrived in the city and was a hash-slinger, and he set out on a dare to prove he could make the unknown good looker into a somebody by a devious promotional campaign. The PR whiz is aided by has-been ham actor Robin Ray and ruthless gossip columnist Larry Evans.
It soon becomes evident that Frankie is being framed for the murder by obese detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar), who is relentless in pursuit of his prey–even to the point of overlooking other obvious suspects like the creepy switchboard operator (Elisha Cook, Jr) in Vicky’s hotel. In one startling scene, Frankie wakes up screaming as the shadowy figure of the spooky detective is hovering over his bed and in a soft-spoken but chilling voice threatens him with the electric chair. Vicky’s sweet sister Jill (Betty Grable) believes Frankie is innocent and helps him escape from the arresting officer, and then helps him try to catch the real killer. A romance develops between the two amateur sleuths that softens the film noir plot, in a film that could have been far more intense if it followed the storyline through the perverse supporting characters it introduced instead of spending so much time on the sweet romance.
The conclusion is filled with plot twists and surprise character revelations, as the marvelously sinister performance by Laird Cregar as the sicko detective dominates the screen.
REVIEWED ON 12/20/2004 GRADE: B