Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) is at police headquarters being questioned for the murder of Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis). In the next room her sister Jill (Betty Grable) is also being questioned. The police are going over Frankie’s relationship with Vicky and when they met. Frankie is a sports promoter. Vicky was a waitress in a restaurant. Frankie was sitting with his friends, actor Robin Ray (Alan Mowbray) and gossip columnist Larry Evans (Allyn Joslyn). Frank mentions that he could turn Vicky into a celebrity. The other two egg him on. Vicky goes along with it.
Frankie takes Vicky to all the happening hangouts and introduces her to all the right people. With Robin’s and Larry’s help Vicky becomes the toast of the town. Vicky ends up being signed by a producer and is planning on heading to Hollywood without Frankie. The next day Jill comes home and finds Frankie kneeling over Vicky’s dead body.
Detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar) is sure that Frankie killed her even though he protests his innocence. Without any evidence they let Frankie go. Cornell begins to haunt both Jill and Frankie looking for evidence and overstepping his authority. With Cornell always around Jill and Frankie begin to become attracted to each other and fall in love. Jill believes Frankie is innocent and they both try to figure out who the real killer is.
Jill gives Frankie a note that he sent to Vicky that at first blush is suspicious but actually has a reasonable explanation. Cornell, ever dogging them, overhears their conversation and arrests Frankie. Jill, in a panic, hits Cornell over the head with a vase knocking him out. Now they are both on the run from the police, especially Cornell whose determination seems a little more than just being a good cop. There’s more to his obsession with Frankie than just due diligence and there’s still a killer out there somewhere.
“I Wake Up Screaming” was released in 1941 and was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It is an American film noir based on the novel by Steve Fisher.
Everything about this movie screams noir, except the music score. I know there’s other music in there but all I could hear was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” over and over. It seems to be the main theme of the film. It got to the point I was singing along with it. Despite the poor choice in background music the film is quintessential noir, especially the lighting and the camera angles. Humberstone makes excellent use of light and shadows throughout the film. As for the camera angles, Laird Cregar at 6”3” is always filmed looking up giving him an even more threatening posture than just his size and attitude alone. He’s whole presence on screen is positively gigantic.
Betty Grable as the good girl willing to step over the line for love is good. Victor Mature manages to look both disreputable and misunderstood at the same time. His character seems a little of both and someone who just needed the love of a good woman to keep him on the right path. Mature is use to playing these troubled parts but this was Grable’s first and probably only time playing a serious role.
At one point the film’s title was changed to “Hot Spot”. Even some of the promotional material reflected the change. Before the film was released it was changed back to “I Wake Up Screaming” which was also the title of the book. Good move. “Hot Spot” just doesn’t have the same dark color that the original title does.
Reportedly, Laird Cregar went on a ride-along with L.A. police as character background knowledge for his part. Apparently he ended up caught up in a real shooting. Cregar also went to work on the film shortly after an emergency appendectomy.
The film is quite good but not as well known as it should be. If you’re a noir fan this is one that has what it takes. Except that music.