I didn’t mean to watch two film noirs in a row that star Kevin McCarthy, but here we are. It isn’t a problem though, largely because of how much I love Kevin McCarthy, and it helps that he gets to share the lead duties with Edward G. Robinson in this twisty tale.
McCarthy plays Stan Grayson, a musician who has just experienced a very vivid nightmare in which he killed a man. The problem that Stan has is that he isn’t sure it was just a dream. Although he hasn’t experienced any overwhelming urge to kill someone, Stan starts to realise that certain details are pointing towards him having actually committed murder. Fortunately, his brother-in-law (Rene, played by Robinson) is also a police officer, and the two start trying to figure out if any crime has occurred, and how it happened.
Directed by Maxwell Shane, who also adapted the Cornell Woolrich novel into screenplay form (for a second time, having turned it into Fear In The Night about ten years before this), Nightmare is a fun little thriller that feels like some great feature-length TV show episode. There’s no big spectacle, and viewers are welcomed in at the very start with the lure of a mystery due to be solved, but the script is fun, and the cast do well to ensure that it’s never a slog.
McCarthy is constantly nervous and tense, a man struggling to believe the unbelievable as evidence around him starts to mount up. Robinson is a good contrast, confident and curious about where the journey will take them, but always having faith that there is a strange truth to be discovered . . . even if that truth is the guilt of his brother-in-law. Virginia Christine and Connie Russell are the two main women alongside the male leads, although they’re not given too much to do, and Gage Clark comes along just in time to kickstart the chain of events leading to a revelatory finale.
I enjoyed Nightmare, but it doesn’t do enough to save it from feeling just a bit too slight. It’s fun, and thrilling, but far from the best of film noir from this era. McCarthy and Robinson ensure it is always watchable though, and any fans of those actors should give 90 minutes of their time to checking this out. You’ll probably never rewatch it, but viewing it once is recommended. Just.
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