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Other/Miscellaneous => Off-Topic Discussion => Topic started by: drinkanddestroy on February 19, 2013, 08:51:14 PM

Title: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: drinkanddestroy on February 19, 2013, 08:51:14 PM

I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

Cast, cortesy of imdb

Betty Grable    ...    Jill Lynn
Victor Mature    ...    Frankie Christopher
Carole Landis    ...    Vicky Lynn
Laird Cregar    ...    Ed Cornell
William Gargan    ...    Jerry MacDonald
Alan Mowbray    ...    Robin Ray
Allyn Joslyn       ...    Larry Evans
Elisha Cook Jr.    ...    Harry Williams
Chick Chandler    ...    Reporter
Cyril Ring       ...    Reporter
Morris Ankrum    ...    Asst. District Attorney
Charles Lane    ...    Keating, Florist
Frank Orth    ...    Caretaker
Gregory Gaye    ...    Headwaiter
May Beatty    ...    Mrs. Handel (as Mae Beatty)


Previous posts in the Film Noir Discussion Thread

cigar joe: Available on Netflix: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) a proto Noir with Betty Grable ,Victorr Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar, William Gargan,  Alan Mowbray, Allyn Joslyn, and Elisha Cook Jr.  Great cinematography almost a template for Noir films to come. Title is a bit misleading though, lol. 7/10

Great, check it out and listen with commentary also!

dave jenkins: Right, Eddie Muller gives great comment. They don't call him the Czar of Noir fer nothin'.


T.H.: Elisha Cook has been in every other noir ever made I think.


dave jenkins: True, but he doesn't tend to be in the best ones. Detour? Not in it. Out of the Past? Not there either. Double Indemnity? Nope. Criss Cross? Uh uh. In a Lonely Place?

Need I go on?


T.H.: The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and The Killing are awfully big titles, and certainly better than Criss Cross (which I like) and Detour (which I really enjoy).

It was just a silly observation but when I think of noir supporting players, Cook is the first name that comes to mind. I think his casting in Wenders' Hammett supports my case.


dave jenkins: Urm . . . it's Wenders worst movie, though, dontcha think?  :D

Yes, of course your comment was silly, and my response was intended in the same vein. Cook is in a lot of noirs, and you're right, his name quickly comes to mind when thinking of supporting parts. Still, he's not in any of my absolute top faves, although I enjoy him when I see him (my favorite role of his is as Lawrence Tierney's erstwhile sidekick in Born to Kill).


T.H.: I haven't seen enough to say if it's his worst. I'll say this: It's no Chinatown.

That's probably his best role, performance wise, I agree.



drinkanddestroy: I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) 7/10
one of the earliest films noir, there is a very good commentary by Eddie Muller detailing how this is one of the earliest noirs, THE MALTESE FALCON was released a short time earlier but didn't have the noir visuals that this one does, also this one has an elaborate flashback structure
(three years before DOUBLE INDEMNITY).


dave jenkins: Both films were in production at roughly the same time, therefore, developed their "noir aesthetics" (if you will) independently of each other.

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: dave jenkins on February 20, 2013, 07:38:55 AM
Remade as Vicki (1953) with Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters, Richard Boone, and Casey Adams (AKA Max Showalter).

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: drinkanddestroy on February 20, 2013, 01:23:16 PM
Remade as Vicki (1953) with Jeanne Crain, Jean Peters, Richard Boone, and Casey Adams (AKA Max Showalter).

The very same Jean Peters and Casey Adams who had made Niagara the very same year?

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: cigar joe on January 05, 2016, 04:17:11 AM

The biggest problem of some critics and chroniclers of Noir with the film I Wake Up Screaming is that they don't know how to categorize it. It doesn't fit the carefully crafted "German Expressionism" influence scenario that they have worked out as the origin of Noir. It's Director H. Bruce Humberstone, never made another Noir, it's brilliant cinematographer, Edward Cronjager, never filmed another Noir so conceptually and visually it's a one off, one of a kind.

I'm calling it a seminal "Gateway Noir" because the film serves the same purpose as a gateway drug, it functions as a sort of gateway to Noir for those unfamiliar, at that point in time, with what eventually came to be known stylistically, and hard boiled narratively, as Films Noir.

Look at the film in chronological context, only Stranger On The Third Floor (1940) approaches it in Noir visual stylistics, while The Maltese Falcon (1941) released only twenty eight days ahead of it on October 3, has the hard boiled story by Dashiell Hammett, but barely any of the signature visual stylistics. I Wake up Screaming not only was based on the hard boiled novel by Steve Fisher and also has the brilliant Noir stylistics in abundance but it has much much more. You can say that the film has dissociative identity, multiple genres if you will. It's also a bit of a Screwball Comedy, a Romantic Drama, and almost a Musical. This seamless genre bending provides the "gateway" for Comedy, Romance, and Musical audiences at that time into the films that eventually will be pigeonholed into the future Noir cycle.


My assertion is that if you've screened I Wake Up Screaming after the various other Noirs it will seem a strange hybrid indeed, because of the conceptions you've already amassed. But, experiencing it as audiences did in 1941 it would probably seem fresh and innovative.

I Wake Up Screaming was Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, though the original novel was based in Hollywood the studio switched the film to a New York based Noir, and though filmed on 20th Century Fox Studio sets the film is given a real feel of NYC you could possibly say "informed" by NYC born cinematographer Edward Cronjager. The second unit rear projection shots of Times Square blend smoothly and complete the illusion. The film stars  Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar, Alan Mowbray, Allyn Joslyn, and Elisha Cook, Jr.

The credits flash against a Noir New York Skyline the titles are written in marquee lights and we hear a the musical equivalent of a shrill klaxon horn blasting out a danger warning. It segues into Street Scene one of the signature New York City themes. Street Scene was used by 20th Century Fox for the films Street Scene, Cry of the City, Kiss of Death, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Dark Corner, and as the overture to How to Marry a Millionaire. The story even actually starts with a street scene a newsboy hawking the murder of a model. We then cut to a dark police interrogation room bright spot lights are sweating a suspect, classic Noir.  Professional promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is being grilled, surrounded by shadowy figures barking questions.




Frankie (Mature) above looking like Kramer (Michael Richards) from Seinfeld

Frankie then begins to relate the story, and in a flashback we are transported to a Times Square restaurant and we are brightly lit again and into screwball comedy mode. Frankie and his two pals, over the hill actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) and gossip columnist Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn) flirt with hash slinger Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis). In a nod to Pygmalion Frankie makes a bet that he can transform Vicky into a celebrity inside of six weeks. Cut again to a classy nightclub where Frankie introduces Vicky, now dressed in evening gown and sable, to cafe-society. Throughout the film the sequences that feature Vicky or are in some way connected to her also have the Street Scene theme in various arrangements jazz, muted trumpet, etc., it becomes her leitmotif, and suggests the Musical genre. In a later sequence in a police projection room we see Vicky singing on her screen test.


Vicky (Landis) with Robin (Mobray), Larry (Joslyn) and Frankie (Mature) at the Pegasus Club

We cut back to the police station, back to the present, and back into Noirsville. We now see Jill Lynn (Betty Grable) being questioned in the dimly lit squad room. As Jill tells her story we again go into flashback. She tells us how Vicky came home that first night and told Jill that she was through slinging hash and that from now on she had other things to sling. She had offers for modeling, commercials etc., etc. Jill tells her it's just easy money "your picture is on a magazine one day and in the ash can the next." Vicky is unfazed she snaps back that she knows what she wants and how to get it..


she knows what she wants and how to get it..

The weeks pass and Jill finds herself falling in love with Frankie. Every time Jill and Frankie are together Over the Rainbow plays in one form or another as their "love" leitmotif another nod to musicals. Street Scene is not only Vicky's leitmotif but also it represents the New York, anything goes, sophisticate. The juxtaposition between it and Over The Rainbow which also brings to mind innocence is interesting for this Noir.

During another session with the cops Jill remembers a stranger she saw staring at Vicky throught the window of the restaurant one night. It turns out to be Lt. Cornell (the name a nod to Cornell Woolrich) who is unhealthily obsessed with Vicky Lynn. Cornell also has a moody, sinister leitmotif.

Cornell is trying hard to pin the murder on Frankie, going as far as withholding and planting evidence. Elisha Cook Jr. is Harry Williams the nervous Nellie desk clerk at the residence hotel where Vicky and Jill have their appartment.







We get another Screwball Comedy sequence when Vicky tells her three "creators" that she's signed a long term contract for Hollywood and that she's leaving for the West Coast. We see Frankie, Robin, and Larry are seated on bar stools drowning their sorrows and taking pot shots at one another.


Larry calls Robin a washed up old Ham


Robin snaps back, you ink stinker....

Frankie eluding the police shows Jill how to hide out at an all night Adult Theater it's a nice little sequence.  At one point a beat cop enters the theater, Jill has her shoes off and her legs up on the seat in front of her. Frankie sees the cop and begins to make out with her so that his face is not in showing. The cop goes down the aisle then  on his way back up uses his nightstick to tap her on the soles of her feet. He takes her for a hooker and tells her to "get your shoes on sister".

The cat and mouse game between Frankie and Cornell plays out to the end with some nice interesting twists. The screencaps are from the Fox Film Noir DVD. The film is like an early flyover Noirsville 9/10.


Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: cigar joe on January 05, 2016, 03:51:48 PM

Some more interesting Screencaps, love these inky blacks.

Cornell (Cregar) lighting up

Unbalanced composition black clad Cornell and black panther, complementing the unbalanced Cornell

Precinct projection room

Watching Vicky's screen test

DetailWatching Vicky's screen test







Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: dave jenkins on January 06, 2016, 06:50:11 AM
Nice job, CJ (although I believe "pop shots" should be "pot shots").

With the US Fox DVD you get a deleted scene: Betty Grable doing a number. The filmmakers were right to cut it--it didn't fit with the crime material--but it's a funny scene, and one worth having access to. The lyrics of the song are mildly salacious, and when America's Sweetheart sings them there is a nice disconnect between the content and the image.

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: cigar joe on January 06, 2016, 03:17:33 PM
Nice job, CJ (although I believe "pop shots" should be "pot shots").

With the US Fox DVD you get a deleted scene: Betty Grable doing a number. The filmmakers were right to cut it--it didn't fit with the crime material--but it's a funny scene, and one worth having access to. The lyrics of the song are mildly salacious, and when America's Sweetheart sings them there is a nice disconnect between the content and the image.

Your right pot shots, fixed.

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: Jessica Rabbit on February 20, 2017, 06:55:53 PM
I Wake up Screaming is early transitional or proto Noir, made in 1941 for Fox. Director Bruce Humberstone (of Charlie Chan fame) and cinematographer Edward Cronjager infuse the film with a haunting atmosphere. Strangely, neither of them ever directed another Noir after this picture. Somehow, instinctively, they got the look and style of Noir right. Only Stranger On The Third Floor, made the year before, exhibits the same striking Noir visuals.

I Wake up Screaming was based on the eponymous novel by pulp author Steve Fisher, a writer for Black Mask Magazine. Hardboiled crime pulps were the feedstock of Noir and Hollywood finally began to recognize their existence and popularity and started to put them on film.
As a little nod to its source material there is a shot of a newsstand proudly displaying Black Mask Magazines. Until I Wake up Screaming Fisher hadn’t met with much success, after its release though he became a sought-after screen writer, responsible for screen plays such as The Lady in the Lake, Johnny Angeland Dead Reckoning.
The film’s cinematography is beautiful, stylistically this is full-blown Noir. Shadow-drenched imagery, low angles, shadows of Venetian blinds, low lit closeups and canted angles fill the movie.

The title alone should land us firmly in Noir territory, it evokes all the terror and dread of a frightening nightmare (though nobody actually wakes up screaming in the movie). Visually this is certainly the case, thematically it is not quite.

Sports promoter Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is accused of the murder of Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis), a young waitress he “discovered” and is trying to turn into a star. He introduces her to New York’s high society and only succeeds too well. She’s on the verge of making it big and wants to take off to Tinseltown… when she gets mysteriously murdered. For no discernible reason, Inspector Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) has it in for Mature from the beginning and wants Mature’s head on a silver platter. But he is a man with a hidden agenda.
To complicate matters, Vicky’s sister Jill (Betty Grable) has fallen in love with Mature and doesn’t believe in his guilt.
Also along for the ride are Alan Mowbray as a washed-up ham actor and Allyn Joslyn, in a George Sanders role, as a witty and acerbic gossip columnist.
The movie works well as a genuine whodunit. Suspicion shifts from one character to another and the audience is never quite sure if Jill’s faith in Mature’s innocence is justified or if she too is being played.

Victor Mature was a likable actor but his acting could best be described as solid and adequate. To his credit he was aware of his limitations, but this picture is a good example of why he had such a long and successful career. His performance is energetic and heartfelt and makes the viewer root for him despite the fact that he is a rather shifty and cagey character.

Grable, Mature and Landis had all recently starred in musicals and were to a certain extend identified with this genre, so their casting in a crime movie was a bit off-beat at the time.
It seems the producers weren’t quite willing to let go of the occasional Broadway touches here and there. The opening credits play out like a musical with bright marquee lights flashing across the screen, and in the public pool scene there is a fountain feature that just seems to be waiting for Esther Williams to show up. This part seems to belong in a different movie. Granted, they had to show Grable's gams and Mature’s chest. Nice, but it simply doesn’t fit the film’s mood.

There even is the faint echo of countless Broadway productions in the story line: a promoter wants to pull a pygmalion and turn a cheap little hash-slinger into a star…until she gets herself murdered and we’re back in crime territory.

There are a few light comedic moments, mostly involving Mowbray and Joslyn, which are at odds with crime picture conventions and would be at home in a sophisticated 30s drawing room comedy. Nick and Nora and some zany screwball banter wouldn’t feel out of place.
A strong romantic strain runs through the picture, the focus is a bit too much on the blossoming romance between Grable and Mature. This is heightened considerably by the ad nauseam repetition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a lovely song but not a song that should be anywhere near the Noir universe. It is too sentimental, it belongs in a fantasy film, and saying it’s overused would be kind.
Alfred Newman’s Street Scene, featured in so many Fox Noirs to come, fits the movie much better although it too would have benefited from fewer repetitions.

Betty Grable’s casting is an interesting one too, she’s out of her natural habitat, her wholesomeness barely touched by the darkness surrounding her. But she displays real warmth in a rare dramatic role.

Carole Landis however is a perfect fit for Noir. She is cold and calculating, a girl with a “heart like a rock candy”. The second she doesn’t need somebody anymore she literally throws them away. Her part is fairly small, but even when she’s gone she haunts the film like a ghost. She is what drives the movie. She lives on through flashbacks, even dead she is still everywhere, in picture frames on walls and desks.

Noir should be like a cheap shot of bourbon that burns your throat on the way down, but somebody threw a good slosh of bubbly champagne into the mixture. It’s OK though, Noir had no inkling of its own existence yet.

The second we lay eyes on Laird Cregar though we know we are in Noirsville. As an actor he steals the spotlight.
When the audience gets its first glimpse of him in the interrogation room, he is lurking in the shadows and hiding behind a bright lamp which shines directly in Mature’s face. Cregar’s face is not revealed, he is an enigma. Shortly after Jill recognizes Cornell as the man who was stalking her sister. The second we see him we get a sense of uneasy foreboding, his whole attitude is simply disturbing. He’s often photographed from below and at canted angles, which makes his already big and hulking frame even bigger. His menacing size contrasts sharply with his quiet voice and smooth line readings, there is an unsettling quality of stillness about him. He seems to be in a constant trance-like state.
Almost every scene with Cregar feels claustrophobic. Apartments and prison cells feel even more cramped because of his looming presence.

Cornell is a man who lives in the shadows and barely ever steps out of them. He is incapable of sustaining human relationships, he just lurks and watches. He is the ultimate Noir protagonist. His life is a bottomless pit of loneliness, despair, agony and futility. The theme of obsession runs through the movie. Vicky desperately wants to make it big, men are obsessed with Vicky, but it is Cregar’s Cornell whose obsession with Vicky knows no bounds. He’s a man on a crusade. As we find out later, he had caught on to the real killer fairly early but keeps hounding Mature anyway because in his sick brain he holds Mature responsible for Vicky’s death. After all Mature took her away from him when he made her a star. His police methods are not only unorthodox and underhand, but would most certainly have been illegal even in 1941. Search warrants are for amateurs, stalking, threatening, breaking and entering and planting evidence are more to his liking.
One of the creepiest scenes is when Mature wakes up at night to find Cregar sitting in his bedroom because just maybe Mature might talk in his sleep.

But Cornell is not only obsessed, he’s doomed too. And he’s well aware or it.
Jill asks him: “What's the good of living without hope?” to which Cornell answers: “It can be done.”
Nihilism in a nutshell. He’s a man who is already dead, he’s just forgotten to die.

But somehow, for all his menace, in the end Cregar makes us feel sorry for Cornell, and that is a tribute to his acting. When we see his shrine for Vicky it is a beautiful piece of understated horror, and we can understand his deep pain.

Elisha Cook, switchboard operator at Vickie’s apartment, plays his signature weasel with the hangdog loser attitude. He too is a creep, he takes it upon himself to enter dead Vicki's apartment and "gather her things together.” It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what he was doing at that time.

Despite all its idiosyncrasies, this movie belongs into the Noir canon

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: drinkanddestroy on February 20, 2017, 07:28:51 PM
Your right pot shots, fixed.

"YOU'RE right ..."   ;)

Title: Re: I Wake Up Screaming (1941) A Gateway Noir
Post by: cigar joe on February 21, 2017, 04:19:14 AM
"YOU'RE right ..."   ;)

yea yea yea,  ^-^