Fear in the Night

December 23, 2009 at 4:25 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , )


Fear in the Night is a little known noir from 1947 that is based upon a Cornell Woolrich story. Woolrich is one of the most well-known mystery and noir writers of all time. His writings formed the basis of many noir films such as The Chase, Black Angel and Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Fear in the Night is directed by Maxwell Shane, who also contributed to the screenplay. Shane was a writer and director, though really only has a few noir credits, the only other of any note is Nightmare, which is also based upon a Woolrich story and stars Edward G. Robinson.

This film does not have many big names attached to it. It stars Paul Kelly, Ann Doran, Kay Scott, Jeff York and DeForest Kelley. The biggest name on the list is DeForest Kelley who later became well-known as Bones McCoy from both film and TV versions of Star Trek. Most of the other actors played bit parts in other noirs, most notable Jeff York and Paul Kelly, but never any really major roles to speak of.

The story focuses on a dream by Vince Grayson (DeForest Kelley) in which he and a beautiful, unknown lady kills a woman in a strangely mirrored room. The dream is so vivid that Vince feels as if he may have actually committed the murder. Then signs begin to show themselves, such as a key, some scrapes, blood and a coat button, that make Vince and his detective brother-in-law Cliff Herlihy (Paul Kelly) feel as if the murder may be possible.

Things take a turn for the worse for Vince when a picnic with his girlfriend Betty (Kay Scott), his sister (Ann Doran) and Cliff gets rained out, forcing the group to take shelter in what looks to be a deserted mansion. They make their way into the mansion and come across the strange mirrored room of Vince’s dream. As Cliff begins to think Vince could actually be guilty, the group is interrupted by Detective Torrence (Jeff York) who is investigating the murder of Mrs. Belnap.

From here on out it is touch and go as to Vince and Cliff attempt to find out if he really did murder Mrs. Belnap or if he was possibly set up.

Elements of Noir (Spoilers)

The lighting of the film is very noir. There are few darker pictures in terms of lighting that you will find. The use of psychology and dreams shows the influence of Freud, which is prevalent in a majority of film noirs. The opening of the film, which is the dream sequence, is similar to the drunken sequence in Moontide, though not as well-done and sets the stage for the psychological drama to come.

Vince Grayson is a noir protagonist who does have control over his fate; he is taken advantage of by those in power and by his own inability to recognize of what he is capable of. This film would be called a psychological thriller today, which would be the fate of many noirs.

The film certainly has its twists and turns and you are not sure for a long time whether or not Vince actually did the killing, but you do not see how his character could be capable of such a thing. The hypnotism angle is certainly something that would find itself the catalyst for a noir film and is treated as if it were an entirely new angle.

Recommendation

I have to say I don’t particularly recommend Fear in the Night. It is not a very well-done film. The acting is pretty bad across the board. It does have some good point. The look of the film is interesting in certain places, the ending with no soundtrack is really nice and there is potential in the story.

However, in addition to the bad acting, which is lead by DeForest Kelley, many of the plot points are incredibly contrived. The fact that their picnic, even though they were lead to the general area by Vince and his “feelings”, is next to the murder mansion. They really had no need to go to the mansion and then they just walk right in and begin treating the house as if it they lived there.   

Unless you are a Star Trek fanatic wanting to see DeForest Kelley’s first film role, or are a hardcore noir fan, this is not really a film you want to bother with. It has some interesting images, and you can see that the story itself has potential, but it was not realized fully, plot points leave you with questions and the acting is about as bad as it gets.

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