Nightmare (1956)

Nightmare (1956) is a tortured male lead psychological thriller mystery film noir directed by Maxwell Shane and starring Edward G. Robinson, Kevin McCarthy and Connie Russell.

It's such a mystery indeed to relate how a man can dream a nightmare and find a key and wash blood off his hands and not know what he has done, such a mystery that the story is told twice in the great film noir era because this same story was told in the film Fear In The Night (1943), also a great example of the style and its obsessions.

Essentially Nightmare (1956) is a tale of paranoia, murder and psychology, making of it noir mania in a deluxe package. Cracking weird action drives our hero played by Kevin McCarthy, doing a bit of what he was to later perfect in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

There are also some reasonable hypnotism-based thrillers and noirs de jours in the form of The Dark Tower (1943) and Whirlpool (1950), both of which are favourites but even Invasion USA (1952) has its hypnotic element.

Your every Nightmare (1956)

Directed by Maxwell Shane this unusual and entertainingly roller-coaster noir crime film weaves together elements of suspense, psychological tension, and a touch of fantasy. Nightmare stars the legendary Edward G. Robinson as Rene Bressard, a New Orleans police detective. 

The film opens with a haunting nightmare: a big-band clarinettist named Stan Grayson (played by Kevin McCarthy) envisions himself committing murder in a mirrored room. The eerie backdrop of dirge-like music adds to the film's unsettling atmosphere. 

The truthful iteration of the hopeless and lost male is rendered faithfully noir like in the form of Kevin McCarthy's character herein in this Nightmare movie, because just as weakened lead, a suffering lead, a lead who doubts his existence and his prosperity, a hopelessly lost man in a new world he thought that he had understood, a world that he thought was built for him.

Grayson awakens to find blood on his hands, bruises on his neck, and a mysterious key from the dream. Desperate and confused, he confides in his brother-in-law, Detective Bressard. But Bressard dismisses the nightmare as mere imagination. However, fate intervenes when they stumble upon an abandoned house that eerily resembles the one from Grayson's dream. 

As rain falls, they discover a mirrored room within—a chilling parallel to Grayson's vision. Nightmare embraces classic noir aesthetics. Maxwell Shane masterfully employs close-ups, emphasizing sweaty faces and casting giant shadows from twirling fan blades. These visual choices heighten the tension and unease, drawing the audience into the murky world of the film. 

And this film rode out with the following chilling tagline:

Beware ! These are the eyes of a hypnotist !

The New Orleans setting adds to the film's atmosphere. The city's sultry nights, dimly lit streets, and smoky bars evoke the quintessential noir vibe, and there are various perfections and imperfections presented as portraying this.

Studio sounds in film noir Nigthmare (1956)

Just as thusly and correctly doth noir often delves into the human psyche, exploring inner turmoil and moral ambiguity, Grayson's nightmare becomes a psychological puzzle. Is he a killer or a pawn in a killer kind of mad noir game? Bressard's suspicion of Grayson drives the narrative, to a point, and at this point the narrative gets out of the vehicle and take ssome holiday snaps.

As he digs deeper, we witness the unraveling of secrets and hidden motives. Grayson's nightmare seems inexorable — a predestined act that defies reason. The mirrored room symbolizes his entrapment, echoing the fatalistic web closing around him. That is the amazing power that mirrors have in noir, they are always symbolic and never ever, even one time, are they simply just mirrors. Non!

Streets of film noir, New Orleans, in Nightmare (1956)

The hypnotist subplot adds another layer. Could external forces manipulate Grayson's actions? Noir revels in the idea that fate is often cruel and inescapable. Grayson's stress and suicidal tendencies hint at deeper issues. Noir protagonists are rarely flawless; their flaws drive the plot. Grayson's innocence protests only deepen the mystery. 

Bressard, too, grapples with moral ambiguity. He must prove that Grayson, though a murderer, acted against his will. Noir thrives on these shades of gray. Oh yes it will be said here that this film's fusion of crime drama with fantasy elements sets it apart, and its New Orleans vibe spreads a fat layer across its top, it's great fun, and the paranoia is well-expressed. 

Kevin McCarthy, a jazz musician hailing from New Orleans, is plagued by a haunting nightmare. In this dream, he finds himself in a peculiar room committing a murder, only to wake up to the chilling realization that the clues point to his actual involvement in the crime. 

Docklands of film noir, New Orleans, in Nightmare (1956)

Fearing for his sanity and freedom, he turns to his brother-in-law, portrayed by the esteemed Edward G Robinson, for assistance. Initially skeptical, Robinson's character gradually becomes convinced as the evidence mounts. The unfolding tale is too captivating to spoil.

McCarthy delivers a riveting performance, reminiscent of his role in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," portraying the terrified victim with impeccable precision. Meanwhile, Robinson shines as the cynical and hard-boiled homicide detective, showcasing one of his finest performances. Director Maxwell Shane masterfully sets the tone, keeping viewers engaged from beginning to end. Keep an eye out for the gripping final scenes set in the mirrored room.

Edward G. Robinson in Nightmare (1956)

The atmospheric shots of 1950s New Orleans transport audiences to a bygone era, adding depth to this captivating blend of mystery, drama, and thriller.

During a picnic interrupted by a sudden rainstorm, Stan, Rene, Rene's wife Christine, and Stan's girlfriend Gina seek shelter in a mysterious house, guided by an inexplicable intuition from Stan. Inside, they discover a room identical to one from Stan's dream, and a key unlocks a closet, triggering Rene's suspicion of Stan's involvement.

Kevin McCarthy in Nightmare (1956)

Nightmare (1956) is by every standard a captivating example of film noir, drawing its intense narrative from a novel by Cornell Woolrich. 

Woolrich’s work, known for its feverish intensity, has inspired a slew of noir classics, including Val Lewton’s “The Leopard Man” (1943), “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (1948), Hitchcock’s iconic “Rear Window” (1954), Truffaut’s “The Bride Wore Black” (1967), and many others.

This particular story wasn't new to the silver screen neither and director Maxwell Shane had previously adapted it into “Fear in the Night” (1947), with DeForest Kelley playing the role later enjoyed here in the case of Nightmare by Kevin McCarthy. The allure of Woolrich’s storytelling continues to cast a shadowy spell over the noir style.

As 1940s dealt in many fantasies of love, crime, and the fearful visions of the mad minds let loose on the great silver screen canvas of the era, with its many times removed pictures of unreality, Nightmare (1956) ships into view with a different world of fantasy, something slightly unusual for a 1950s noir.

This is the kind of fantasy reminiscent of The Twilight Zone, a proper drift into the surreal and something unusual for the hard-baked flavour of a typical era noir.

So with dreams and clairvoyance as a psycho-thriller theme, this is one of several fine film noirs which deal with that screenwriter's ecstatic tool of wonder, the subject of hypnotism.

Hypnotism in film noir often serves as a narrative device that delves into the psyche, revealing hidden desires, fears, and the darker aspects of the human mind. It’s a fitting tool for the genre, which is steeped in moral ambiguity and psychological complexity.

In noir, hypnotism can be a metaphor for manipulation and control, reflecting the power dynamics at play. It’s not just about the act of hypnotizing someone; it’s about the broader implications of influence and the loss of autonomy. Characters under hypnosis may commit acts they wouldn’t otherwise, or reveal truths they’ve kept buried, adding layers to the plot and depth to character development.

For example, Otto Preminger’s film noir adaptation of Guy Endore’s novel Methinks the Lady… which is Whirlpool (1949) explores the subconscious through hypnotism, taking viewers on a journey into the mind’s shadowy recesses. Similarly, “The Dark Tower” (1943) uses hypnotism as a central theme, where a character’s ability to hypnotize others leads to success, but also suspicion and ultimately tragedy.

These films use hypnotism to create suspense and a sense of the uncanny, often blurring the lines between reality and illusion. The technique is used to unlock secrets, exert control, or even as a form of therapy, reflecting the era’s fascination with the mind and its mysteries. In essence, hypnotism in film noir is a gateway to exploring the human condition, making it a powerful and enduring element of the genre.

Marian Carr and Kevin McCarthy in one of the best pick-up scenes in noir . . . Nightmare (1956)

Downtown New Orleans projected in Nightmare (1956)

Downtown New Orleans location shoot in Nightmare (1956)

Downtown New Orleans location shoot in Nightmare (1956)

Kevin McCarthy, Virginia Christine, Marian Carr and Edward G. Robinson.

Another Pabst Blue Ribbon product placement in Nightmare (1956)

Kevin McCarthy does this very well and it is as suited to psychological noir as it is to paranoid science fiction horror in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is also 1956

As tensions rise and accusations fly, Stan vehemently denies any wrongdoing, insisting it was all a dream. However, when the sheriff reveals a murder took place in the house, Rene becomes convinced of Stan's guilt and demands answers.

Penned by Cornell Woolrich, renowned for Rear Window, the narrative unfolds with gripping intrigue. Edward G. Robinson delivers a stellar performance as a man determined to unravel the truth, while Kevin McCarthy charms audiences with his portrayal of Stan.

Connie Russell's captivating singing adds a delightful touch to the film, marking her final on-screen appearance after a distinguished career spanning stage, film, and clubs across continents.

Overall, the film is highly entertaining, with a satisfying conclusion that elevates it above similar works like "Fear in the Night."

In the late 1940s, director Maxwell Shane embarked on a modestly budgeted psychological thriller titled Fear in the Dark. The narrative centered on a man jolted awake by the horrifying realization that his dream of committing murder is chillingly true. Nearly a decade later, in 1956, Shane opted to revisit this premise with Nightmare, featuring a more notable cast including Kevin McCarthy and Edward G. Robinson.

Nightmare closely mirrors its predecessor, avoiding the pitfall of being overly faithful like Gus Van Sant's rendition of Psycho. However, it does benefit from enhancements such as improved performances and elevated production values, particularly evident in the incorporation of a richer and more cohesive jazz score.

Despite these upgrades, the fundamental cheesiness of the plot remains apparent. While Nightmare may excel in technical aspects, it ultimately accentuates the inherent peculiarity of Cornell Woolrich's unconventional vision. Conversely, Fear in the Dark, with its raw and unpolished presentation akin to a nightmare itself, imparts a distinctive authenticity to Woolrich's eerie narrative.

Maxwell Shane's remake of Fear in the Night (1947) maintains a modest budget, yet benefits from Biroc's polished lighting and occasional location shooting, bolstered by a notably stronger cast lineup. Edward G. Robinson delivers a performance almost on par with his customary intensity, while Connie Russell, with her captivating presence and two musical numbers, stands out as one of the most alluring heroines in recent memory. 

However, the film suffers from instances of padding. While the musical interludes are tolerable, the attempts to elevate Robinson's secondary role, coupled with the dilution of key scenes involving Kevin McCarthy's character and his sister, result in somewhat tedious viewing. Nonetheless, Gage Clarke manages to shine in certain moments, and the narrative maintains a moderate level of suspense throughout.

Film noir Nightmare (1956)

Direction-wise, the film mostly adheres to conventional standards, with occasional glimpses of directorial flair. However, the centrepiece nightmare sequence falls short of expectations, lacking the visceral impact one would anticipate.

While not as widely celebrated as some noirs, its intensity, it's fun kind of fantasy world and psychological intrigue make it a hidden gem for genre enthusiasts. 

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Nightmare (1956)

Release Date: June 1956

Premiere Information: New York opening: 11 May 1956

Production Date: late Oct--late Nov 1955

Claimant Date Copyright Number: P. T. S. Productions, Inc.11 May 1956LP6698

Sound: Western Electric Recording

Duration(in mins): 89

PCA No:17835

Experience the Nightmare (1956) at Wikipedia

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