(director: Harry Horner; screenwriter: from the novel “I Wake Up Screaming” by Steve Fisher/Dwight Taylor; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Jeanne Crain (Jill Lynn), Jean Peters (Vicki Lynn), Elliot Reid (Steve Christopher), Richard Boone (Lt. Ed Cornell), Casey Adams (Larry Evans), Alexander D’Arcy (Robin Ray), Carl Betz (Det. McDonald), Aaron Spelling (Harry Williams), John Dehner (Captain Donald); Runtime: 85; 20th Century Fox; 1953)

“Vicki is a film noir remake of the 1941 murder story I Wake Up Screaming.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vicki is a film noir remake of the 1941 murder story I Wake Up Screaming. It uses the flashback technique to tell the murder story of a glamorous New York model, Vicki Lynn (Peters).

A haggard and overworked detective Lt. Ed Cornell (Boone) interrupts his vacation to head the investigation of the murdered model Vicki Lynn, an investigation he is personally interested in since he knew the victim. There are four suspects brought in for questioning: Steve Christopher (Reid) a PR man who discovered her; Robin Ray (D’Arcy) an actor she dated; Larry Evans (Adams) a gossip columnist who was friendly with her; and, her roommate sister Jill (Crain) who is a stenographer.

Cornell is obsessed with pinning the crime on Steve, and by the process of grilling him with no lawyer present and a light shining in his face he gets him to tell how he met Vicki in the cafeteria where she worked as a waitress. But can’t get him to confess. Through flashback it is revealed how Steve was attracted to her youth and beauty, and how he promoted her to get her face on the covers of magazines and on billboards, and he even got her a job as a singer. Vicki became ambitious and encouraged men to pursue her who could help her career. She went behind Steve’s back and was set to go to Hollywood on the day she was murdered, something that Steve was upset about because she double-crossed him.

Cornell’s partner McDonald (Betz) questions Jill and learns that Cornell used to leer at Vicki in the cafeteria’s window, and she unflatteringly called him “The Vulture.” Jill believes the cop killed her sister. But Cornell, a cop who has a nose for always getting the right man, accuses Jill of covering up for Steve because she’s fond of him.

Captain Donald informs Cornell that the police have arrested the switchboard clerk at the sister’s hotel, Harry Williams (Spelling). But after questioning, he’s released.

Warning: spoiler in all the following paragraphs.

There’s a surprise ending, as the killer is uncovered when Steve and MacDonald trick the killer into confessing. It turns out that Cornell knew who the killer was all along, but fell desperately in love with Vicki and blamed Steve for taking her away from him. In his sickened state of mind he let the killer go, holding Steve morally responsible for why he lost Vicki and therefore was more responsible in his eyes for the crime. In the film’s last shot, a look at Cornell’s apartment, it shows a shrine he created to Vicki — an apartment filled with her pictures, flowers, and candles. She became someone he idolized but someone always out of his reach.

There was not one main character by the film’s end who warranted the viewer’s concern. Vicki was a user, who dropped those who helped her without even so much as a thank you. Cornell was a ruthless cop, whose madness reached criminal proportions. Larry Evans got to know people only for how they can help his column. Steve’s motives for promoting the talentless Vicki are questionable. The egotistical Robin could only think of himself. Jill made a play for her sister’s boyfriend. The killer was a frustrated young man. His motive is based on being rejected by Vicki.

The result is a competent character study and the creation of a cynical noir world that contrasts the showbiz glamor with the humdrum existence of the ordinary citizen.

Vicki Poster