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Fear in the Night (1943)

Starring DeForest Kelley, Paul Kelly, Ann Doran, Robert Emmett Keane

Based on the story "Nightmare" by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish)

Directed by Maxwell Shane

Vince Grayson is a mild-mannered bank clerk (Kelley, long before Star Trek). One day he awakes from a terrifying nightmare in which he murders a man in a mirrored room. To his further horror, he discovers that, in addition to being bruised and bloodied, he is in possession of mysterious objects which suggest to him that his dream was somehow real.

In despair over the dream, Vince turns for help to his sister. Lil (Doran) is married to a hard-nosed cop named Cliff (Kelly), who isn't buyin' what the distraught Vince is sellin'. Not until fate sends them to a deserted house that Vince inexplicably knows his way around -- a house that happened to have a very special room at the top -- does Cliff begin to suspect his brother-in-law may be a murderer...

You will probably find Fear in the Night (not to be confused with the 1972 Hammer film) in the b-movie section of your rental shop, if you can find it at all. As a result, you might be disappointed in the acting, which is solid throughout, not to mention the daring and effective cinematography of Jack Greenhalgh (DOP for nearly 200 films, including Reefer Madness). Greenhalgh had a tendency to work on projects that involved illicit substances, hypnosis, and hallucinations, and his visual effects are worth sitting through the 72 minutes for, even if it wasn't actually a pretty good little movie.

The director, Maxwell Shane, has only four other films to his credit, including The Naked Street (his casting high-point, with Farley Granger, Anthony Quinn, and Anne Bancroft), and Nightmare, which is basically Fear remade a decade later with Edward G. Robinson as the detective brother-in-law. However, Shane wrote or co-wrote dozens of films and radio dramas between 1937 and 1960.

The story by Woolrich (whose "It Had to be Murder" became Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Rear Window) is a bit far-fetched, especially to we sophisticated modern folk. If you can suspend your disbelief regarding the central conceit of the mystery -- which I could describe in one word, but which would ruin the movie -- Fear in the Night is a snappy suspense story with some excellent sequences. It's no dumber than it has to be, and it's quite entertaining. In short, it's a dark and enjoyable little murder mystery with a twist.

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