With rights issues keeping Elia Kazan’s “Boomerang” (1947) from an intended trio release, Fox Noir adds only “House of Strangers” (1949) and “I Wake Up Screaming” (1941) to its burgeoning, uneven catalog. Though both are welcome, neither offers the caliber of extras likely to make them must-owns, nor are the transfers especially laudable.
“House of Strangers” isn’t really noir at all. A combo of family drama and romance, the movie pits paterfamilias Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) against three disgruntled sons, while Gino’s one content child, Max (Richard Conte), romances upper-crust Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward).
Shot mostly in flashback, with betrayal a central theme, pic could have had a noir tint had director Joseph Mankiewicz further altered Jerome Weidman’s novel. Instead, film’s primary attractions are Mankiewicz’s snappy banter for Conte and Hayward, and Edward G. Robinson’s scenery-chewing turn, which won him best actor at Cannes in 1949.
Conversely, “I Wake Up Screaming” is pure noir, among the first of the genre, its benchmark status assured by the nuanced cinematography of Edward Cronjager, whose work here could (and probably did) serve as a primer for noir pics to come.
Victor Mature’s falsely accused Frankie Christopher and Betty Grable’s virginal Jill Lynn make agreeable would-be lovers. Yet Laird Cregar’s hulking presence dominates, his Inspector Cornell the greatest beneficiary of Dwight Taylor’s often crackling dialogue.
The most notable extra is a deleted scene featuring Jill working at a sheet-music counter — the only time we see Grable sing. There’s also a gallery of poster art and a substitute title sequence, sans sound, allowing viewers to consider “Hot Spot” as an alternate name for the pic. (Some studio execs thought “I Wake Up Screaming” too lurid, but cooler heads ultimately prevailed.)
Typical of recent Fox Noir titles, both discs include substantial galleries of production stills and unit photography, and both feature audio commentaries — Foster Hirsch for “House of Strangers” and Eddie Muller for “I Wake Up Screaming.” Each speaks authoritatively, but Hirsch, in monotone, comes off pedantic. Muller, digressions and lame jokes notwithstanding, entertains as he informs.