I Wake Up Screaming (1941) Dir. Bruce Humberstone
Starring Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carol Landis and Laird Cregar.
I had low expectations for this pre-war proto-noir, but despite some shortcomings it really delivered in the entertainment and style department. And that style is slathered on with a palette knife. Released the same year as "Citizen Kane" and one year before "Cat People", "I Wake Up Screaming" boasts plenty of imported German Expressionist lighting that would later be so closely associated with post-war noir.
The story is hampered a bit by the overenthusiastic use of flashbacks and a pat wrap-up but Mature and Grable's charming performances carry it along. Another stand out is Laird Cregar who was excellent in John Brahm's "Hangover Square". He was an interesting actor who died too young. Elisha Cook Jr. gives a great oddball turn here as well but he's a bright spot in any movie.
Is this really noir? I don't think so. It lacks the existential doom that all true noir needs. Noir has nothing to with expressionist lighting. Noir isn't about big shadows, it's the dark content that counts. That said, "I Wake Up Screaming" is still a lot of fun and I recommend checking it out.