Monday, February 17, 2020

FAVOURITE MOVIES: I Wake Up Screaming (1941)


I first saw I Wake Up Screaming in my teen years thanks to TV Ontario's Saturday Night at the Movies. I have vivid memories of my reaction to the story, the characters, and its glorious shadows. I was enthralled and wondered if there were more movies like it.


The screenplay is by Dwight Taylor (Top Hat) and Steven Fisher (Dead Reckoning), based on Fisher's novel. The pair also collaborated on the screenplay for the Vicki, the 1953 remake of this movie.


Versatile and consistently entertaining H. Bruce Humberstone was the director and the breathtaking dark palette is courtesy of cinematographer Edward Cronjager. Besides I Wake Up Screaming, Humberstone and Cronjager gave Twentieth Century Fox the following features: Bird of Paradise, Rascals, Sun Valley Serenade, and To the Shores of Tripoli.

Musically, the stage is set with the use of Alfred Newman's Street Scene, in the studio library since that 1931 movie. There is no doubt you are New York City. The ear gets a little whiplash when a gentle instrumental version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is used as a love theme for two characters and the mind wonders where that came from, but we go on.

Much of the story of I Wake Up Screaming unfolds in flashback as characters recount their relationship to the murdered Vicky Lynn played by Carole Landis. The police are relentless in their interrogations and Lt. Ed Cornell (This is noir and we must have a Cornell.) played by imposing Laird Craiger has already selected his suspect.


Frankie Christopher played with cocky assurance by Victor Mature was the man in Vicky's life. Not in the way everyone is assuming, but appearances are everything in these matters. Frankie is a well-known sports and entertainment promoter. A late night stop at a diner with has-been actor Robin Ray played by Alan Mowbray and newspaper columnist Larry Evans played by Allyn Joslyn brings attractive and sassy waitress Vicky into their lives.

On a whim, Frankie decides to "promote" Vicky. She'll be seen in the right clothes, in the right nightspots, and with the right people. Robin and Larry are eager to go along and before you know it another celebrity is foisted upon an unsuspecting and eager public.


The only one who doesn't seem pleased for Vicky's rising fortune is her sister Jill played by Betty Grable. The office worker is worried that Vicky is getting above herself and is headed for a fall. And Jill does not like Frankie Christopher one bit. Actually, she likes Frankie too much while wishing this whole turn in their fortunes would stop.

Vicky only likes Frankie for what he has been able to do for her, and she runs with her opportunities. Vicky made a successful screen test and will be leaving her sister and the New York crowd behind for a life in Hollywood.


Even before her newfound lifestyle, Vicky always managed to attract people. The switchboard boy at their apartment building, Harry Williams played by Elisha Cook Jr. is slavishly devoted to Vicky while trying to appear nonchalant. Jill remembers that for a time Vicky was being stalked by a scary-looking man. The police believe Jill has made this character up to protect Frankie.


The murder mystery unfolds with perfectly plausible red herrings and suspects. The clues tracked down by our hunted couple make sense as we follow them on the run through the city. Even when you are certain you know who killed Vicky, you may have another twist in store. It is not so much the solution to the crime that holds you to I Wake Up Screaming, it is the atmosphere of the city at night and the dread of the authorities consistently tightening the noose around an innocent man. It is the anxiety in the chase that propels the movie. The odds are against Frankie and Jill while a sweet love story plays out beneath the shadows.

The well-paced story, appealing cast, and the interesting angles which heighten the tension keep the audience interested and on their toes in I Wake Up Screaming which can lay claim to being the first of the great films-noir from Twentieth Century Fox.


Of note:



Betty and Carole were perfectly cast as sisters here as in their other 1941 release, the splashy Technicolor comedy Moon Over Miami. I Wake Up Screaming was the first teaming of Betty Grable and Victor Mature, with their three later films all being musical-comedies beginning with Footlight Serenade.

PS: For those who like spotting Morris Ankrum, Charles Lane or Frank Orth in their movies, you're in luck! And William Gargan fans can rejoice.












26 comments:

  1. I just saw this for the first time and wow! Film noir isn't my go-to genre, but this one really is special.

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    1. It is, isn't it? The more I see of Humberstone's movies, the more I appreciate his work.

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  2. Betty Grable in a film noir? How could we see her legs through all those shadows?

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    1. Hee-hee.

      They thought of that. Betty and Victor go for a late night swim!

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  3. This is a favorite of mine. I'd call it early transitional Noir that instinctively good the look of the genre right.
    A strong romantic strain runs through the picture. 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 Noirville.

    Betty Grable's casting is interesting. She wasn't really a Noir dame, and this is her only Noir. Cregar is absolutely fantastic as the thoroughly menacing Cornell. If I found that guy sitting in my bedroom at night, I'd scream too (though Mature doesn't).

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    1. Yep. Ed Cornell is a nightmare. Many excellent components that seem to come together seamlessly. I'd be surprised to find many who would dismiss I Wake Up Screaming.

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  4. Love Elisha Cook in this one. Good to see him with a full head of hair (assuming its his) - and those eyes popping out. And Cregar really makes the movie. He makes Raymond Burr seem like a pussy cat. Finally, special shout-out to Alan Mowbray playing another pompous thespian - I've liked him ever since My Darling Clementine. A great cast!

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    1. The cast is a big part of what makes it special for us. Everywhere you turn there is another familiar face giving us their all.

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  5. I saw three of the movies that BETTY GRABLE did with DAN DAILEY. First I saw CALL ME MISTER, then MY BLUE HEAVEN and finally MOTHER WORE TIGHTS. The first one was OK then I liked the next one and the third one is my favorite, not only of the ones that Betty and Dan did together but it is my favorite GRABLE movie. My second fave with Betty is CONEY ISLAND. I never saw WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME but Dan was nominated for an OSCAR. I think Betty gave an Oscar-worthy performance in Mother Wore Tights. How would you rank the 4 movies GRABLE & DAILEY did together? P.S. A lot of times just thinking about the movies I saw MISS GRABLE in makes me smile.

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    1. Betty and Dan made a great team. I recall on A&E Biography Alice Faye was of the opinion that Dan was in love with Betty.

      My favourite of their movies is My Blue Heaven then Mother Wore Tights, When My Baby Smiles at Me and Call Me Mister. I appreciate that Dan received an Oscar nomination for "Baby", but I also believe he should have one (and possibly a win) for It's Always Fair Weather.

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  6. HOW TO BE VERY, VERY POPULAR was the last movie BETTY GRABLE made. It came out in 1955-the year GUNSMOKE came on. Sadly, Betty died in 1973-the year BONANZA went off. Gunsmoke would run another two years. Speaking of westerns, Betty did a musical play in LONDON titled BELLE STARR. It was not a success. Didn't Betty also do a BROADWAY show?

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    1. After some small roles in movies in the 1930s Betty went to Broadway in 1939 and appeared in DuBarry Was a Lady. Then it was back to Hollywood and all of that success at Twentieth Century Fox. In 1967 Betty played the lead in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. I believe she also played the role in Las Vegas.

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  7. "It is not so much the solution to the crime that holds you to I Wake Up Screaming, it is the atmosphere of the city at night and the dread of the authorities consistently tightening the noose around an innocent man. It is the anxiety in the chase that propels the movie." Oh, yes. Swell post on a swell movie. Elisha Cook, Jr; Cregar, everybody is great.

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    1. This is one of those movies that, if you see it at the right time, it cements itself in your mind. It is "that" movie.

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  8. This film is much superior to its remake, "Vicky," in all measures - cast, direction, cinematography (except Jean Peters did make an interesting Vicky in the 2nd film). Laird Cregar especially sets the film's tone - a shame this talented man died so young. And poor Elisha Cook as the squirrely little bellhop with an unrequited crush and a nasty secret--this role must have set the template for most of his later parts. What an amazing talent pool there was in golden-age Hollywood!

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    1. It's true. You could throw a rock (well, maybe not the best idea) and hit someone with years of repertory experience and training, and that ability to bring something extra to make characters indelible to the audience.

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  9. Are there any BETTY GRABLE musicals that you haven't seen? Two other ones I really like are SWEET ROSIE OGRADY and FOOTLIGHT SERENADE. Did you think any of the writing in any of her movies was a little boring? I really like most of the movies that Betty did and I like Betty in all of them. I like THE DOLLY SISTERS with her and JUNE HAVER but I thought some of the movie was boring. Also PIN-UP GIRL was good but not one of her best. By the way, Ive mentioned before that I like June also. She was as cute as a button. DORIS DAY was the girl next door but BETTY GRABLE had a quality like that too as did GINGER ROGERS. Doris, Betty, Ginger and June were cute/pretty and seemed down-to-earth. Ginger and Doris got to show their acting chops in dramatic roles. June didn't do any roles like that but Betty got to be in I WAKE UP SCREAMING which showed her dramatic abilities.

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    1. Pin-Up Girl does fall flat, doesn't it? Footlight Serenade is one I really like a lot.

      I always felt that beneath the sweet persona that June Haver probably had a sassy side that the movies chose to ignore.

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  10. DEBBIE REYNOLDS and MITZI GAYNOR were both on that BIOGRAPHY (A&E) of Betty that you mentioned. Mitzi was in MY BLUE HEAVEN. Like you said CAROLE LANDIS played the sister to Betty in two movies. June Haver played her sister in THE DOLLY SISTERS and I believe ALICE FAYE also played her sister in TIN PAN ALLEY. Who else would have been good paired up with Miss Grable? What about Debbie Reynolds? Do you think that would have been good if Debbie had played her sister?

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    1. I adore Mitzi. My Blue Heaven was her first movie and they didn't quite know how she would fit. Cast as a not-so-nice-girl didn't seem to suit her energy.

      Debbie and Betty would have been an interesting pairing. In one of Debbie's first movies before MGM knew what to do with her, Debbie was cast as the youngest sister of June Haver and Marcia Mae Jones in The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady. They were adorable.

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  11. I Wake Up Screaming is one of my favorites, and the book is great, too. But honestly, I think the title is the best ever.
    Marianne
    Make Mine Film Noir

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    1. It truly is one of the great titles. Some titles (Conflict comes to mind) don't give the extra memorable something to the movie they lead.

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  12. I liked the Landis-Grable pairing in Moon Over Miami, so I'm looking forward to seeing them in this noir.

    Victor Mature has a good "look" for noir, doesn't he? I can never fully buy into his character in historical dramas/epics – because he's somehow too pretty – but I adore him in "modern" dramas. I have a feeling this film might be a new favourite.

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    1. I shouldn't be at all surprised to discover this on your favourites list.

      A double bill of this with Footlight Serenade (my favourite Grable/Mature musical comedy) would be a wonderful evening.

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  13. Yesterday I ahve download a movies from movies wood that is really amazing and one of my favorite also. Thanks for sharing this article.

    ReplyDelete
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