Nightmare (1956)


USA. 1956.


Director/Screenplay – Maxwell Shane, Based on the Novel by Cornell Woolrich, Photography (b&w) – Joseph F. Biroc, Music – Herschel Burke Gilbert, Vocal/Instrumental Arrangements – Billy May, Photographic Effects Supervisor – Howard A. Anderson, Makeup – Norman Pringle, Art Direction – Frank Sylos. Production Company – Pine-Thomas-Shane Productions


Kevin McCarthy (Stan Grayson), Edward G. Robinson (Rene Bressard), Connie Russell (Gina), Virginia Christine (Sue Bressard), Gage Clark (Lewis Bellknap/Harry Britten), Marian Carr (Madge Nolan), Rhys Williams (Torrence)


New Orleans big band clarinettist Stan Grayson has a nightmare where he sees himself in a mirrored room killing a man. He is disturbed to wake up and find blood on his hands and that he is holding a key from the dream. He goes to his brother-in-law, police detective Rene Bressard, but is ridiculed. However when he, Rene and their various women go on a trip into the country, Stan unerringly lead them to a house that is the same one that was in his dream. They then learn that a murder occurred there last week, which makes Stan the number one suspect in Rene’s eyes, despite his protestations of innocence.

This is a fascinating work of film noir. After all it comes from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, one of the most torridly obsessive of film noir era dime writers whose stories formed the basis of other films such as Val Lewton’s The Leopard Man (1943), The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (1967) and Original Sin (2001), among others. The same story had previously been filmed by the same director, Maxwell Shane, under the title Fear in the Night (1947), starring DeForest Kelley in the Kevin McCarthy role.

Nightmare is one of the few film noirs to venture into fantasy territory. Maxwell Shane creates a wonderfully intense film noir atmosphere filled with closeups on intensive sweaty faces and giant shadows of twirling fan blades. The New Orleans location adds much atmosphere and Shane gets the seedy noir sense of the life of a barfly down pat. It is also accompanied by a wonderfully expressive grinding big band score.

The film develops an eeriness when all the elements of Kevin McCarthy’s dream start falling into place. The film almost seems to capture what Rod Serling would later define as the essence of The Twilight Zone (1959-63). Eventually though the film reaches a frustratingly contrived mundane resolution where all the fantasy elements are [PLOT SPOILER] improbably revealed to be part of a murder mystery and the result of hypnotism. Nevertheless, for a time the film succeeds in creating a fantastically torrid and eerie atmosphere.

Director Maxwell Shane had written a great many B film noir thrillers, as well as The Mummy’s Hand (1940). He is most well remembered as the producer of the classic horror anthology Thriller (1960-2).

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