Thursday 15 December 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare welcomes the return of Laird Cregar in Bruce Humberstone's I WAKE UP SCREAMING (USA, 1941)

(click to enlarge)

Two mugs in a low angle mugshot. The great underrated Victor Mature as Frankie and his Nemesis, played by the equally great but far too short-lived Laird Cregar as Ed, the disturbed cop with a homo-erotic fixation on his prey in Bruce Humberstone's pioneering 1941 Noir for Fox I Wake up Screaming. 
The screen is from a new Kino Lorber Blu-ray, and one of the latest in a stream - more like a river really - of key 40s Noir titles from that studio on the K-L label. Still to come (for me) Brahms' most important feature starring Cregar, the 1942 remake of Hitchcock's The Lodger.
The figure of Cregar is one of the most unhappy tales from 40s Hollywood. Every movie he made, including Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait (USA, 1943) in which he plays a streamlined art deco Satan in Technicolor and amber tan makeup, is elevated by his appearance. Indeed in Screaming he literally steals scene after scene in which he is written, sometimes with bits of business that could never imaginably come from the screenplay, like the inspired long take in two shots and massive depth of field with ceiling in shot with the police chief, and his monologue about the "sex life of the African Butterfly" in which he seems to be free-wheeling an impro about his own repressed (and ultimately tragic) homosexuality, and/or the hetero plot requirement of the movie he just happens to be playing, in which he literally lifts his role from a moderately pathologically sadistic cop to an altogether other level of homo obsessed doppelganger to Mature's Frankie, down to wearing the same suits and ties, and the same boutonniere. Even DP Eddie Cronjager takes the cues from Cregar's performance and routinely shoots him uplit from low angle.
The new Blu-ray is very welcome indeed, although the 35mm print used for the scan is the same as the older Fox Noir series DVD from ten odd years ago. Image is often unstable with frame jumps and the expected tears and raggedness at reel change points. In addition Kino seem to have punched in a level of faux grain or more likely high frequency noise as part of their image sharpening. But this is all part of the territory of a Blu-ray rescue expedition like Kino Lorber's massive Fox project, so who am I to complain.

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