Thursday, 29 December 2011

Fear in the Night - review

Fear in the Night is a film noir directed by Maxwell Shane in 1947 on a rather obviously low budget. It was based on a short story by William Irish, aka Cornell Woolrich, and was re-made a few years later as Nightmare starring Edward G. Robinson. In this version, Forrest DeKelley, later Bones in Star Trek, made his movie debut.

The set-up is pleasing. A man has a nightmare, finding himself in a weird, octagonal room with mirrors for walls. A murder takes place - and he commits it. He is thankful to wake up back in his hotel room, only to find that he still has the key to the room from his nightmare....

It may not be the most sophisticated mystery I've ever watched, but I found it rather enjoyable. There is a highly-wrought atmosphere from start to finish, as the man who believes he is guilty finds he cannot live with himself, even though he does not have a clue why he would have killed someone he didn't know. The solution is rational, and reasonably entertaining.

Woolrich was a master of the 'emotional thriller'. The only writers to equal his mastery in this field were Boileau and Narcejac. It's no coincidence that their books, like Woolrich's, were often made into films. They are highly visual, as well as dark. Woolrich, by the way, was gay, and I've read an article which suggests the film has a strong homosexual sub-text. But if that's right, it was lost on me.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this review. This is a film I hadn't seen, although the premise sounds really interesting. Glad you enjoyed it.

Richmonde said...

DeForest Kelley! Otherwise vg.

John said...

I grow weary of people finding "gay subtext" in things written by supposedly gay writers. Was Woolrich really gay? I know he had a strong attachment to his mother and remained a bachelor all his life, but that doesn't make him gay. He books and stories make me think he was an idealized romantic with a fatalistic worldview, a man who might easily fall in love but could never sustain a relationship because of his idealized view of love. I see absolutely nothing indicating a gay sensibility in anything he wrote. If there's a "homosexual subtext" in the movie it was probably the director or the screenwriter who put it there. Or the critic who made it up. I'll get off my soapbox now.

If anything FEAR IN THE NIGHT has a strong "Goldilocks & the Three Bears" subtext. How about that scene where they break into the house and help themselves to everything imaginable? Then the policeman comes along and rightly says "What the hell are you all doing here?" Well, he doesn't say "hell" in the movie but he should.

It's a strange film to say the least. The surreal special effects dealing with the dreams and the hypnosis were interesting and rather imaginative in the context of the time period, but I bet most modern viewers will find it all laughable. Especially the motives and method of the real villain of the piece.

Deb said...

I agree with John, I don't think I've ever read that Woolrich was gay, although he was a life-long bachelor. I think he had a terrible drinking problem, though, which might have contributed to his not being able to sustain a relationship (whether with a woman or another man). What I get from Woolrich's writing (which I love) is that, while women can be treacherous, men can be utterly self-deluding and thus enable the treachery to enter their lives. He writes my favorite type of noir--believable.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, it is worth watching.
Richmonde - thanks, and oops!
John, many thanks for your well made points.
Deb, there will be more about Woolrich on this blog next year. I am a long time fan.