Thursday, October 11, 2012
I Wake Up Screaming - 1941
“I Wake Up Screaming” (1941) is fun noir. I think my favorite line happens in the nightclub when Allyn Joslyn, with a wry smirk, asks snooty, soon-to-be murder victim Carole Landis, “My I have the next mazurka?”
It’s the oddball moments in this movie that make it a quirky delight. Since even a cursory plot description is a minefield of spoilers, I’m not going to discuss the plot, just mention a few oddball elements I like.
First, the title, which has nothing to do with anything, except it’s deliciously lurid.
The gag when Betty Grable, hoping to send a cop on the wrong trail, points to a door through which Victor Mature may have escaped, only to have a Murphy bed fall on the confused flatfoot.
"Captain Caution" (1941), is being chased by an even more clever police detective played by Laird Cregar. Sadly, Cregar’s life was cut short only three years after this film was made. His work in this movie is the most riveting of all the actors, a complex character with more to his back story than just your routine dogged detective. Early on he pins the murder on Victor Mature, and spends the rest of the film tracking him, playing a cat and mouse game, when Mature slips through his fingers. I love the scene where they ride together in the car, and Mr. Cregar, as he speaks, playfully fashions a noose with string in his busy fingers.
And when he sticks a Tootsie Roll in the detective’s back, pretending it’s a gun.
The way Carole Landis gets to perform a song, but only as an image on a screen the cops show to Mowbray to make him crack.
I recognized the theme over the opening credits to be Alfred Newman’s “Street Scene,” but how many of you, like me, immediately thought of the theme song to the old time radio show “My Friend Irma”?
Notice that the guy cheering at the prize fight, sitting in front of Victor Mature and Betty Grable (ah, the days of bringing your date to a boxing match) is an African-American gentleman? He’s blocking Mature’s view. He’s dressed in a suit and nothing about him is stereotyped or makes him in any way different from the audience of cheering white actors around him. Only because of that, and because this is move from an era where such innocuous, color-blind characterizations were rare, does that make him stand out like a beacon.
A brief, really nice beacon.
By the way, at least two characters that I can think of get awakened in the middle of the night by strangers in their rooms. It's pretty freaky. But nobody wakes up screaming.