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SLEEP, MY LOVE(director: Douglas Sirk; screenwriters: from the book by Leo Rosten/Leo Rosten Decla Dunning/Cy Endfield/St. Clair McKelway; cinematographer: Joseph Valentine; editor: Lynn Harrison; music: Rudy Schrager; cast: Claudette Colbert (Alison Courtland), Robert Cummings (Bruce Elcott), Don Ameche (Richard Courtland), Rita Johnson (Barby), Hazel Brooks (Daphne), George Coulouris (Charles Vernay), Raymond Burr (Sgt. Strake), Queenie Smith (Mrs. Grace Vernay/Mrs. Tomlinson), Keye Luke (Jimmie Lin), Maria San Marco (Jeannie Lin), Ralph Morgan (Dr. Rhinehart); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ralph Cohn/Charles R. Rogers/Mary Pickford; United Artists; 1948)
“The plot becomes increasingly too absurd to be believed.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Douglas Sirk’s minor film noir thriller, produced by Mary Pickford and her husband Buddy Rogers, is much like Gaslight in plot (hubby tries to convince his wife she’s going nuts), but ultimately the narrative sinks because the plot becomes increasingly too absurd to be believed. It’s adapted from the novel by Leo Rosten. Cy Endfield contributed the Chinatown wedding scene, which was wonderful but added nothing to the story except a chance to introduce Keye Luke into the plot–his presence alone makes the film look much like a Charlie Chan episode.

The film’s most startling scene is the opening one when wealthy Sutton Place housewife Alison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) wakes up screaming on a train that left New York’s Grand Central Station for Boston. The doctor who treats her on the train says it could just be a nightmare. Alison has no idea how she got on the train, and why she had a gun in her purse. She’s assisted by an elderly woman, who gives her name as Mrs. Tomlinson (later we learn she’s the dopey innocent wife of Charles Vernay). When Alison reaches Boston and calls her architect hubby Richard (Don Ameche), he tells her he had notified the police that she was missing. Sergeant Strake (Raymond Burr), who is present when Alison calls, contacts the Boston police, and she’s accompanied to the airport by a policeman to make sure she boards the plane. Alison’s friend from boarding school, Barby, is there to accompany her charming friend Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings) to the airport, where he’s to go on alone to New York to attend the wedding of his Chinese blood-brother Jimmie Lin (Keye Luke). The brash friend of the friend is on the same flight as Alison and tries to get romantic with her. She’s charmed by Bruce, and easily treats him as a trusted friend–inviting him to visit her Sutton Place digs.

At home, Alison’s apparently loving hubby tells her she threatened him with a gun last night, even giving him a superficial wound. Richard then convinces her to see the psychiatrist Dr. Rhinehart. But the shrink, who frightens Alison during his home visit by his creepy stares, is a phony who is part of hubby’s evil scheme to drive his wife crazy so she will either commit suicide or be committed to an insane asylum and he’ll inherit her fortune and live happily ever after with his floozy icy-hearted model mistress Daphne (Hazel Brooks). The bogus shrink is a struggling photographer named Charles Vernay (George Coulouris), whom Richard dug up off the gutter so he can help induce Alison through hypnosis to follow hubby’s orders. Part of the plan is for hubby to every evening spike Alison’s hot chocolate with a drug, then the half-drugged victim becomes vulnerable to hubby’s control as he gives her strange orders.

When Bruce spots Alison one night ready to jump off her balcony, he shines a light in her eyes getting her quickly out of the trance. After rescuing her, he investigates Richard and suspects her hubby is behind these incidents when he discovers several things about him don’t check out. Jimmie takes time out from his honeymoon to do some serious sleuthing with the concerned Bruce, who is worried that Alison is in grave danger.

Even Douglas Sirk (“Tarnished Angels”/”Written on the Wind”/”Shockproof”) dismissed the film as a failure. It’s certainly not up to his better works, but it’s not that bad–it even does a good job evoking a nightmarish scenario of insanity (thanks in a large part to the expressionist photography of Joseph Valentine). The creepy Coulouris lurking around the spacious darkened house with the winding staircase provides the chills to go along with the spooky atmosphere.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”