Year: 1941

Director: H. Bruce Humberstone

Cast: Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Vicky Lynn, Laird Cregar, Alan Mowbray, Allyn Joslyn, Elisha Cook Jr.

I Wake Up Screaming is an engaging whodunnit told initially in a non-linear style through interviews, in which everyone appears to be a suspect, even perhaps those trying to solve the case.  It cuts right to the chase, in fact, the victim is already dead when the film begins.
As far as themes go, the film does deal with two or three intertwined themes that are perhaps more pertinent now than they were then.  It illustrates the importance of the media, not necessarily talent, in shaping and also perhaps destroying celebrities.  It tangentially discusses narcissism and the personality warping effect of having fame thrust upon you, rather than earning it.  It doesn’t dwell on these themes however.  This film is fairly quickly paced in fact, and doesn’t waste much time.  At a mere, according to IMDB, 82 minutes in length, this movie really moves.
The tone of this film feels unique, and depending on the audience it can arguably be perceived as oddly engaging or perhaps frustrating and disjointed.  It not only deals with a murder but other stereotypically twisted noir themes and plot points, yet it comes across as light, fun and chipper for the vast majority of its running time.  It has moments of menace too, but most of the movie is downright cheerful.  This reviewer kind of liked this imbalance.  It was sort of refreshing and endearing, though some may scratch their heads, especially if it is compared to other well known noir films.
The darker moments come from two excellent actors.  As far as performances go Laird Cregar and Elisha Cook Jr. really stand out amongst the otherwise perfectly adequate performances in this film.  Elisha Cook Jr., is always a scene stealer with memorable roles in many great film classics including, but not limited to, The Maltese Falcon (which happened to be released the same year as I Wake Up Screaming), The Big Sleep, Shane, The Killing, and Rosemary’s Baby.  He is perfect in this film, as he often is.  Unfortunately, you don’t see much of him, which is true of a lot of his characters.  It isn’t surprising Elisha Cook Jr. worked in television and movies from the early 1930s to the late 1980s.  The other performance really worth noting is that of Laird Cregar, who tragically didn’t have a similarly long career due to a radical diet that ultimately resulted in his death at the young age of 31.  Laird Cregar is really remarkable as a creepy and intimidating detective despite his soft voice and pudgy face.  He single handedly provides all the gravitas in this picture.
Part of what makes Cregar’s performance so ominous is the way he is shot.  This film may seem run-of-the-mill at first glance, but stylistically it makes really good use of shadows, canted angles, and music.  Whether or not these touches are consciously noticed or they just seep in to the brain, they have an impressive effect on the viewer and they serve to add to the impressive nature to this compact and fact paced film.  While watching it, pay attention to the use of lighting, especially in regards to Laird Cregar’s performance.
While it isn’t of the same caliber as Laura or Citizen Kane, it could be compared in some aspects to both films.  A fan of those two films and films from this era or genre will especially enjoy this wonderful little pseudo-film noir.

Year: 1942

Director: Stuart Heisler

Starring: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville

The Glass Key is the sort of movie you want to start over again just as soon as it is finished. If you were to say otherwise, you would be lying. I say this because the plot twists and turns all over the place as it rockets along through a tale of political corruption, murder, lust and violence.

Alan Ladd plays a resourceful young man who is motivated by loyalty to his good friend Paul Madvig, played by Brian Donlevy. Lucky thing for Madvig too, because he soon finds himself suspected of murdering the uncultivated son of a prominent politician. Ironically, the person he is accused of killing is also the brother to the woman he is smitten with, the sensual Veronica Lake.

Alan Ladd, as Ed Beaumont, works tirelessly to navigate the labyrinth of lies and corruption in order to uncover the truth and clear his friend’s name. He relentlessly and cleverly pursues the truth, even when his persistent perseverance lands him in a world of hurt.

This is a gritty film that must have been exceptionally shocking for its time, with countless depictions of violence, sexuality (including Alan Ladd horizontal on a couch with a married woman), brutality, and even suicide. Ed Beaumont feels like a precursor to James Bond. He is tough, suave, resourceful, and all the women want him. He is an admirable character and part of what makes his character a hero that really wins you over is his loyalty to a friend that quite frankly, is flawed. Brian Donlevy plays a man who is cocky, irreverent, crass, egotistical and boorish, yet Beaumont is faithful to his friend despite his weaknesses.

Some films from the 1940s hold up better then others. This movie is very reflective of films from that era, with some stereotypical portrayals of women, dialogue that comes across as silly at times, melodramatic moments and dated lingo. However, if you can get past the very apparent age of the film, there is a fun ride full of shocking twists, turns and content. This is one that is worth your time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There is no official R1 DVD release of this film, but you can obtain a DVD copy of the film at freemoviesondvd.com

By Greg Dickson

Year: 1950

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins and John Dall

“Everything’s going so fast. It’s all in such high gear.”

Perhaps this statement by Bart Tare in Gun Crazy is the best description for the feel of this film. Bart Tare is the main character in this lightning fast tale of self destruction. Played by John Dall, Bart Tare is a young man recently back from serving in the military who finds himself involved with a cute-as-a-button young sharpshooter who leads him down a dark path.

This movie which apparently was once called Deadly is the Female (perhaps a better title for the film) features one of the most memorable femme fatales in film history. This woman is psychotic and blood-thirsty yet her greedy and homicidal tendencies are packaged in such an innocent exterior that you can’t help but assume that in Bart Tare’s shoes you would fall for her too. Part of what makes her fascinating is the fact that unlike some femme fatales who seem calculating in their destruction of the leading man, she seems more motivated by greed, a lust for excitement and the pleasure seeking nature of youth. Her name is Annie Laurie Star and she is played exceptionally well by Peggy Cummins. I was especially impressed by her childish mood swings and the physical manifestations of her deadly angst. She has a set of mannerisms that I think demonstrate great acting skill on the part of Peggy Cummins.

Besides her performance and the overall plot one of the aspects of this film that really stood out to me was the cinematography. I believe this movie would be a great source for countless lectures on the technical and artistic aspects of film-making such as camera placement, framing, lighting, and editing. The use of camera placement and framing to convey thematic elements of the story alone is masterful and awe-inspiring. The best example of this being the scene where Annie Laurie Star and Bart Tare first meet at one of her sharpshooting demonstrations. As she enters the stage she is firing her guns and when she spots Bart Tare in the audience she points her gun right at his face and pulls the trigger. Sure, she apparently is only shooting blanks, but the symbolism of that shot in unmistakable as we continue through the movie only to see his naive obsession with her result in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. This is one of the most visually interesting films I have seen in a long time and a significant highlight to this movie for me was the visual style of the film.

This movie is flawed, but for the most part it is very well done. My only real complaints were some sub-par acting at times and some borderline melodramatic moments. A few plot points in the film seem a little contrived as well, but for the most part it is a simple movie depicting the downfall of yet another fool who allows himself to be lead down a very destructive path by a beautiful, yet very dangerous woman.

By Greg Dickson