Containing Multitudes Since 2004
Great shot of Laird Cregar - he made this one work - he really got the pulp menace of the Steve Fisher novel perfect. What a wonderful voice he had, too. Sad, sad. Mature was surprisingly good in this one, as well - a lot less is more in his case, especially. There are moments in "I Wake up Screaming" that are defining noir visuals for me, and I don't know if it was Humberstone, a director who never approached this level before or after, or Cronjager, a journeyman whose style may have been influenced by the silents and German films, but this is really before noir was even imagined, and it is just so intense. I'm honestly surprised the Studio went along with it. "Cry of the City" was just on the tube, with a raft of superior performances and Mature again, and like this one, brilliant cinematography. There's a night shot of Richard Conte's bad guy, Martin, waiting for Hope Emerson's evil Rose to walk forward thru three rooms to the front door of her massage parlor, lighting each room as she comes, and the use of perspective and shadow is simply awesome. This one was easier to credit for brilliance, tho, as Siodmak's vision was all over this noir. Noir was fresh back then, and almost every one of has some interesting shots, but these two are chock full o' goodies.
I Wake Up Screaming has tons of noir visual touchstones, venetian blinds and interrogation scenes with underlit faces, and you're right that most of the talent behind the camera was strictly journeyman (prior to this, Humberstone's best picture was probably Charlie Chan at the Opera). Cronjager did some nifty work afterward though, for Busby Berkeley (The Gang's All Here) and Fritz Lang (House By the River) so he's not completely undistinguished.And according to Eddie Muller, Cregar's character, Insp. Cornell, was actually a caricature of Fisher's pal Cornell Woolrich in the novel. Cregar completely transforms the role though, and he's the best thing in the picture (although Carole Landis is pretty snappy too). Hopefully Fox gets around to The Lodger and Hangover Square in their noir series soon.
I dunno, this good of a movie coming out of Humberstone and Cronjager still seems pretty mind-boggling - a fluke, but a helluva one all the same. I'd read that about Woolrich, and Fisher adapted at least one of Woolrich's stories over the years, so they had some stylistic similarities, but Fisher's stories were all kind of humorless, I always thought. Cregar's character was more unsympathetic than even Woolrich's usual heavies, and he must've sensed a great opportunity to steal this movie - I like it better than the Lodger or any others he was in. I hope Fox gets off the dime, too!
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