Movie Critique – I Wake Up Screaming

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A journey into the human mind through the noir filmography with subtle shades of humor around the morbid core of murder and crime.

I Wake Up Screaming is a 1941 film noir based on the novel of the same name by Steve Fisher, a prolific pulp writer. It stars Betty Grable, Victor Mature and Carole Landis in the lead cast. Steve also wrote screenplay for the film along-side Dwight Taylor.

The primary plot involves investigation into the murder of Vicky Lynn, a young actress who rose to fame quickly. Her promoter, Frankie Christopher, becomes the primary suspect. And he has to do everything in his power to prove the cops are wrong.

This movie is considered the first film noir although many still lean towards Humphrey Bogart's 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon, which was released few months prior to this film. This was also Betty Grable's first film in which she portrays a fully dramatic role compared to her other films where she had a song and dance role. And so also a first for Victor Mature, but he continued on to portray many other film noir roles since this film. 

This perhaps being the only kind of movie made by Director H. Bruce Humberstone, that it missed the mark to be recognized as the first film noir of Hollywood.  However, with the lighting and camera angles used by the Cinematographer, Edward Cronjager, in the film it is hard to be not noticed as a noir filmography. 

It was originally titled "Hot Spot", as an euphemism to police interrogations in the film.  It's first release on Halloween in 1941 with "Hot Spot" as title tanked the movie as viewers were confused with Betty Gable's role vs the expectation the title gave them.

The filmmakers then changed the title back to the original title, and re-released it in January of 1942, with ad campaigns reflecting the film's darker tones. But in the re-release they removed the song and dance scene of Grable. I looked for that deleted scene but couldn’t find it anywhere.

Contrary to many murder movies, the film opens directly with the police interrogation of Frankie Christopher, Vicky's promoter. You can even see one of the investigators using the words "Hot Spot" in his line, alluding to the first title of the film. 

"Listen, Brother, You don’t seem to get idea at all. You're gonna fry for this. It means the Hot Spot."

Writer Vera Caspary had mentioned several times that this film had inspired her to write the book Laura in 1943, which later on became a film in 1944. I remember watching the movie and posting a review of it here.

One of the interesting tidbit I found was that the Inspector Ed Cornell's name in the film was intended to be a homage to the author Cornell Woolrich, a colleague of Steve Fisher

Sadly enough the film had stars that in real-life had ended their lives soon - actress Carol Landis portraying the role of Vicky Lynn, committed suicide at age 29 after her lover Rex Harrison, another British actor, had ended their affair; 

And actor Laird Cregar, who portrayed the role of Inspector Ed Cornell, had died soon after undergoing a crash diet to reduce his weight, so he can get a leading man's role. 

All through the film we get to hear two famous melodies, Alfred Newman's theme from the 1931 film Street Scene; and Somewhere Over the Rainbow tune from the 1939 The Wizard of Oz. The latter was used more than the former. And I couldn’t find a reason why the film makers did so. Although "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" still gets picked by modern movies and singers all the time.

The director takes the viewers into the dark tunnels of human mind, shedding light on how some kind of qualities can be so harmful. A brilliant plot that gives the viewers sudden surprises and at the same time humor to lighten the morbid. 

Excellent noir film that has all elements done to the point. If you get a chance do watch it, it's on YouTube. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. Victor Mature had just come-off his role as Tumak in the 1940 fantasy film One Million B.C. where he had sported animal skins as opposed to sharp suits in this film. Another movie in the list to be watched for me. 

b. This film was remade in 1953 as Vicki. 

2. Sub-Plots:

a. The trailer unfortunately gives away most of the movie. So don’t watch it of you want to see the actual film.

3. Character / Location / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. Some of the goofs that we can spot in the movie:

i. In the night club scene where Frankie is introducing Vicky to famous people, in the beginning we don’t see any price tag on the glove of her right arm. However in a subsequent scene Frankie snatches off a price tag from the glove. 

Look at the arm of the girl, no tag there.
Look at the arm of the girl, no tag there.
And the very next scene you can see the tag now on her arm.
And the very next scene you can see the tag now on her arm.

ii. Jill Lynn's new address has "Ap. F" n the police notepad. But when Ed Cornell, the inspector, arrives, the door says "3B".

iii. In the Lido Plunge swimming pool scene, Frankie has a cigarette in his right hand. But when the shot moves closer it miraculously moves to his left hand. 


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