I Wake up Screaming
I Wake Up Screaming is often described as Hollywood's first film noir: the first movie to feature the mix of dark psychology and mystery, not to mention the ominous mood of threat surrounding its protagonists that came to define that category of film. It's also arguably the best movie ever made by its director H. Bruce Humberstone, displaying unexpected elements of dramatic flair and creativity on the part of a director usually known for his straightforward approach to his pictures. The opening sequence is extremely clever, two separate interrogation sequences in adjoining rooms involving the male and female leads (Victor Mature and Betty Grable) which provide flashbacks that quickly bring the audience up to speed, and provides all one needs to know to solve the mystery. The centerpiece of I Wake Up Screaming is the dark motivation behind the sadistic, brutal actions of detective Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar). Without uttering a word, and scarcely even visible during his first five minutes in the action, Cregar's character dominates every scene he is in, and gives I Wake Up Screaming an unhealthy, unsavory tone. Music plays a major role in the structure and content of I Wake Up Screaming — each of the flashbacks is accompanied by quotations from Alfred Newman's signature tune "Street Scene," variations of which also depict elements of New York life circa 1941; but the movie's principal romantic theme is E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow," which was then nothing more than a popular song salvaged from The Wizard of Oz, an unsuccessful MGM release from two years earlier. Viewed in contemporary times, when the song has become a pop-culture touchstone, it seems bizarre and even slightly distracting, but the tune does contrast well with the urban grittiness of the Newman piece used elsewhere in the movie. Overall, I Wake Up Screaming represents its maker's best work, Grable's most interesting performance, one of Mature's most complex roles, and a high point for Cregar, as well as being successful and opening the door for a new kind of thriller, drawing audiences into new levels of sophistication in their viewing.