20 August 2015 | romanorum1
Early Brooding Film Noir with a Great Performance by Laird Cregar
"Beautiful Model Found Murdered" screams the headline in the New York Daily Call. Prominent sports promoter Frankie Christopher (nee Botticelli, Victor Mature) is grilled by detectives who suspect him for the murder of model Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) at 76th Street in the city.
In flashback Frankie explains how he discovered Vicky – a waitress at the time – and their subsequent business connection. Because of a lack of physical evidence, Frankie is not arrested although menacing detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) insists that he is the killer. In fact Cornell becomes overly obsessed with pinning the crime on Frankie even to the point of overlooking several obvious suspects, like strange switchboard operator Harry Williams and callous gossip columnist Larry Evans. What is Cornell's agenda? In any case, Vicky's sister Jill (Betty Grable), who initially disliked Frankie, gives her perspective in flashback to the police of the time of her sister's business split with Frankie. Vicky had told Frankie that – despite his advancement of her career – she was leaving (for Hollywood) as she has just signed a long-term acting contract after passing a screen test. The next day Jill found Vicky's prostrate body with Frankie hovering above it in the sisters' shared apartment.
Cornell trails Frankie around town in a disconcerting manner. From his sleep in his bedroom Frankie awakens to find the sinister detective staring at him. The investigator had hoped that he would talk in his sleep! Another time, after Frankie gave him a ride, Cornell taunts the promoter with a miniature hangman's noose. Still another time Cornell sneakily works his way into Jill's apartment. When Cornell plants brass knuckles in Frankie's apartment to implicate him in Vicky's murder, Frankie goes on the lam. But Frankie will use a Tootsie Roll to good advantage!
Meanwhile Frankie and Jill begin to date and eventually fall in love. He tells her that his real last name is Botticelli. "Mrs. Botticelli?" utters Jill. The couple has to play sleuths to get down to the bottom of the mystery. There is a nice scene where Jill sneaks outside her building via the fire escape, never slipping despite prowling around in her high heels. We see even more of her famous legs at the Lido plunge. Anyway, the two learn that someone has been sending flowers on Vicky's grave every day. Then Frankie discovers that detective Cornell has set up a shrine to Vicky in his apartment. So who killed her?
Victor Mature, Betty Grable, and Carole Landis act wonderfully and are good-looking, but this has to be Laird Cregar's movie. See his shadow early on when, like the creep he is, he stalks the dining room where Landis works. Cregar, porcine at six feet three inches and 300 pounds, is one terrifying crooked cop. An interesting contrast is with beefy Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil" (1958). Catch Cregar in "The Lodger" (1944) and "Hangover Square" (1945). The former movie is about Jack the Ripper while in the latter Cregar is a classic composer who plays his piano while a building goes down in flames all around him. Three years after "I Wake up Screaming" he was dead at age 31. Lovely Carole Landis never made it to age 30, although, as she had some success in real life, she fared better than her screen persona Vicky who does not make it to Tinseltown. At the end Landis was four times married and her career bottomed out. Of course Betty Grable would become a famous World War II pinup gal. She had already acted in "Million Dollar Legs" (1939) and "Down Argentine Way" (1940). Mature had already starred in "One Million BC" (with Landis) in 1940; he would also act in "My Darling Clementine" (1946), the underrated "Cry of the City" (1948), and many others. He had better range than he himself realized, for he played several important and diverse historical figures: Samson, Crazy Horse, Doc Holliday, and Hannibal.
By the way, despite the title, no one wakes up screaming!