Not quite sure why I Wake Up Screaming has that title, but I haven’t read the book of the same name from which it is adapted. It stars Betty Grable, the WWII pin-up queen, and Victor Mature, who later in his career devoted his talents to self-parody. In this flick, she’s demure, but nubile, and he’s quite a hunk.
The movie has elements of noir – the sicko villain, er…villains, the lighting and angles, but it shares screen time with a fluffy romance, complete with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the soundtrack at the sentimental moments. It’s the story of Frankie Christopher (né Botticelli) played by Mature, who is a boxing and entertainment promoter. He ‘discovers’ Vicky, (Carole Landis) a blonde beauty living with her sister, Jill (Betty Grable) working in a diner. She jumps feet first into Frankie’s world of high society and movie deals, loving every minute of it, while her sister, a regular working girl, frets. Vicky gets what’s coming to her for her shallow materialism! She’s found dead, bludgeoned to death. The police inspector, Cornell, wonderfully played by Laird Cregar, seems determined to see Frankie fry for the crime, no matter what the evidence.
Inspector Cornell obviously has some issues, and Cregar make a great heavy heavy, à la Raymond Burr. Cregar was great in Gun for Hire too, where he played a less dark, but equally perverse bad guy. Elisha Cook delivers once again, as the weirded-out switchboard operator with a secret.
Betty Grable sure was cute, and when the film runs off its noir tracks, the audience gets a big dollop of cheesecake for the men and women fans.
The DA gives Cornell notice that he’d better get results, and the big man is followed out by his big shadow, an example of the noirish tone in much of the film. Turns out, Cornell had a thing for the dead girl, and devoted an entire special apartment to a shrine to her image. How many times have we seen that plot element since?
The loving couple makes a great detective team, finding the truth and clearing Frankie’s name, so they can live happily ever after.