For Reel

I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
September 5, 2016, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
3.5 Stars
I Wake Up ScreamingThis unusual genre hybrid is the missing link in marking the chronological development of film noir. Many critics cite 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor as the launching-off point in that it fully embraced the aesthetic of German expressionism, whereas The Maltese Falcon included a hard-boiled detective and wartime disillusionment but didn’t share many of the visual motifs associated with the genre. I Wake Up Screaming, released shortly after the aforementioned Falcon, leads with its chiaroscuro aesthetic—the earliest scenes take place in an interrogation room, distinguished by a blinding spotlight, characters looming in the shadows, and a haze of cigar smoke. If director H. Bruce Humberstone and cinematographer Edward Conjager are not associated with the genre to come, in many ways they helped lay the groundwork. Accompanying the striking visuals is an impressively assembled cast—Betty Grable in a rare dramatic role, the underrated Carole Landis, and especially Laird Cregar, among the most interesting of screen actors of the 1940s. He plays an obsessed detective who is on the tail of the wrongfully accused Victor Mature, but an early scene in which he eerily stares at Landis suggests that his motivations might not be so pure. Cregar was used best as a man both sensitive and imposing, and here his sliminess has much to do with that contradiction—the film plays up the contrast between his looming figure and his soft voice, and the way his character pays off is expected but memorably performed.

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