I Wake Up Screaming (1941) an early noir from Fox was a vehicle for the headline stars Betty Grable, Victor Mature, and Carol Landis, but the most interesting character is a repressed psychotic cop played by Laird Cregar. For reasons I won’t disclose Cregar’s cop works hard to frame Mature for the murder of a young model played by Landis, and his massive bulk is an oppressive presence that darkens every scene he is in. His vengeful quest is the noir counterpoint to a light almost screwball romance between Mature and Grable, the murdered girl’s sister. Elisha Cook Jr in a minor but pivotal role is memorable.
The taut direction and imaginative mis-en-scene from Bruce Humberstone, and arresting expressionist cinematography from Edward Cronjager, both second-rank film-makers, integrate with an evocative score from Cyril J. Mockridge, to create a moody noir world that transcends the film’s set-bound constraints. The creative talents of the writer Steve Fisher and scenarist Dwight Taylor underpin an intriguing and suspenseful story alloyed with intelligent and razor-sharp dialog.
The early scenes in a police-station where Mature is accused of the murder are as noir as they come with deep shadows and key lighting establishing a nether world of entrapment. Cregar in his first scene is shown in shadowy profile and only his voice is clearly discernible. There follows later a brilliant scene when during questioning the camera pans left from the dark interrogation room across a hallway to a detective’s office, where the victim’s sister is being interviewed, with steel-bars and cyclone-wire screens in every frame, and we then follow her eyes as she looks out the open door across the hall back to Mature in the interrogation room. While at the end of the movie the denouement scene is filmed flat, it feels strangely dream-like as the camera keeps an alienating distance against an eerie musical motif. Throughout low-angle shots and off-kilter framing reinforce the unsettling sense of entrapment and malevolence.
A fascinating noir with a gestalt that transcends its melodrama origins in fashioning a dark city landscape where sexual obsession weaves a disturbing web of entrapment and bizarre transference.
I hope this trailer I have made conveys the dark mood…