Movie Critique - Fear

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A very cheap film noir with a very unexpected ending, conveying everything they can in that one-word title of the film, is not a bad noir. It still has its noir elements to satisfy all those fans. Watch it if there is nothing else to watch, and you will still be entertained reasonably.

Fear is a 1946 American film noir starring Peter Cookson, Warren William and Anne Gwynne in the lead cast. This low budget film was produced by Lindsay Parsons, Directed by Alfred Zeisler and distributed by Monogram Pictures. The primary plot is loosely based on 1866 Russian novel Crime and Punishment by author Fyodor Dostoevsky.

A medical student on scholarship, Lawrence "Larry" Crain (portrayed by Peter Cookson), is in debt to Professor Stanley (portrayed by Francis Pierlot) as he had pawned his things for money. When his scholarship is cancelled, in a desperate attempt to get more money, he kills Professor Stanley. Then string of events happen after which leave Crain in a state of constant fear, doggedly pursued by Police Captain Burke (portrayed by Warren William); and finally his conscious beating at him to the point of driving him crazy.

Having not read Crime and Punishment, I don’t know if the film was completely based on the book. However the central plot definitely resembles the summary of the novel - mental anguish and moral dilemma of one who committed a crime in desperate need. Would the ends justify the means? The constant fight with conscious is well captured.

Screenplay provided by Dennis Cooper and Alfred Zeisler was in no way original though as publicized then. They certainly took one thread from the entire saga to make this film which is a mere 68 minutes showcasing the massive novel, as deconstructed as it could come. Although the ending seemed different than the book, and a very pleasant and surprising one. 

Crime and Punishment, the novel, on the other hand has been adapted atleast 20 times by Hollywood for either film or later for tv as needed, suffice to say that many versions of the novel exist. Most famous of them was the 1935 adaptation released by Columbia Pictures with the same name as the book starring Peter Lorne in the lead role of Rodion Raskolnikov. 

The open credits are played on the silhouette of a cigarette-bearing man looking down at his gun, which ends zooming on the gun he is holding.

This is the first time I am watching a film starring Peter Cookson, but he comes across with a Cary Grant-ish persona in the film. Cookson and his second wife Beatrice Straight were two of the founding members of Actors Studio.

Warren William portraying the role of Police Captain Burke is most memorably remembered for his role as Philo Vance in the movies that followed William Powell's Philo Vance series. He was also the first one on film to be cast for Erle Stanley Gardner's famous defense attorney Perry Mason. I remember watching one of his films, the 1935 The Case of the Curious Bride. William was dubbed as King of Pre-Code for the humongous amount of films he acted in 1930s.

William was also an avid inventor and held patents for several of his inventions, including the lawnmower vacuum cleaner which is a standard in everyone's home now. This was his penultimate film. His last film was The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947, after which he passed away because of multiple myeloma at a young age of 53. 

Anne Gwynne portraying the role of Eileen Stevens is pretty as she comes, and with loads of conscience to fight with Cookson's Crain. She continued to be a prominent actress in a long string of Western and Horror films with Universal Studios. Aptly known as one of the first "Scream Queens" on screen due to those horror film roles. She is also the grandmother of actor Chris Pine.

Despite the film being low budget it did have some superior film making. Excellent usage of light and shadow creating the sinister feeling where needed. It comes with several elements of film noir - close-ups with severe emotions; nightmare of fighting with one's conscious; your own self becomes your femme fatale. Only thing it was missing was a fit ending to the crime committed. 

A very cheap film noir with a very unexpected ending, conveying everything they can in that one-word title of the film, is not a bad noir. It still has its noir elements to satisfy all those fans. Watch it if there is nothing else to watch, and you will still be entertained reasonably.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. When the students knock on the Professor's door, Larry goes to the door to hear them, and you can see that the chain latch is closed. But when he returns to his desk to pick his stuff and then goes back to the door the chain latch is already open now.

b. When Larry and his friends are celebrating Larry's success at the paper, in the long shot you can see that one of them taking the cigarette out his friend's ear. But in closeup shot his hand is again closer to the ear pulling the cigarette again. 

c. Larry is seen wearing a dark colored hat in the beginning of the film, but for the rest of the film it is tan colored hat. But nowhere in the movie it is shown that his wardrobe in his apartment came with multiple hats. 

d. Larry is seen smoking a cigarette in the beginning of the film, and little into half of the movie as well. Then when he is called into Captain Burke's office again, he is shown smoking a pipe. But in the very next scene he is smoking a cigarette again. Typically people who smoke a pipe don’t smoke cigarettes and vice versa. A man doesn’t indulge in both types of smoking. 

e. Larry's article is published in his pen name. How did the dean at his college know it was his article?


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