I Wake Up Screaming (1941)

I Wake Up Screaming (1941), directed by H. Bruce Humberstone.

Aka Hot Spot.

Three sporting gents (promoter, actor, columnist) sponsor and promote the career of a talented waitress, launching her singing career and sorrowfully waving goodbye when she gets a Hollywood contract.

When she is murdered the men and her sister are all on the spot, menaced by a huge homicide detective who is... not quite right. In fact we suspect he is the pervy killer, which is definitely not good if he is out to frame someone else.

This skates perilously close to the edge of the Code, which stated that police could not be villains. Laird Cregar is superb in the role. The way he and Victor Mature exchange glances in a darkened room while watching a screen test for Carole Landis: each knows what the other knows.

Landis and Betty Grable play sisters, a combination they used in other films.

Appealing as the women are, the film is dominated by the two tough guys. Victor Mature had no illusions about his acting depth, but when -- as here -- the role is right I think he gives a good performance.

When reviewing early noir films this is always overshadowed by Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) from the same year. And yet Edward Cronjager's cinematography is more interesting in this film with its stark lighting and tilted camera angles. Cregar provides an unsettling menace not found in the other film. Heavy use of flashbacks and they slipped in Code-breaking sexual innuendo by making up dialogue on the day rather than submitting it in the script.

Cyril J. Mockridge gets score credit but the music is mostly Alfred Newman's often-used "Street Scene" and a bizarre over-use of "Over the Rainbow".

Remade as Vicki (1953) with Jeanne Crain and Jean Peters.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. Noir expert Eddie Muller provides his usual lively and informative commentary track.