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teaser Nightmare (1956)

You'd be hard-pressed to find a less likely big name star than Edward G.Robinson. Robinson knew full well that he wasn't blessed with the physicalattributes of, say, a Clark Gable or a Gary Cooper. But after establishinghimself in a string of impressive performances on Broadway, he also knewthat he had a natural ability to deliver powerful, undiluted emotions to anaudience. Eventually, he made his way to Hollywood in search of more fameand fortune.

Like so many actors who ply their trade for decades, Robinson's careerheated up and cooled off several times over, and the quality of the materialhe was offered varied. But his performances were never less than committed.Maxwell Shane's Nightmare (1956), a re-make of Shane's more successful 1947melodrama, Fear in the Night, is a tautly paced little programmer in whichRobinson and co-star Kevin McCarthy do the best they can with a contrived, patentlyunbelievable narrative. Robinson, in particular, imbues what he's doingwith a stern dignity, even though the screenwriter (director Shane, in thiscase) doesn't provide him with top notch material.

McCarthy (who you probably remember from Don Siegel's original film version of Invasionof the Body Snatchers, 1956) plays Stan, a New Orleans jazz musician who can'tshake the feeling that he's killed somebody. A very realistic dream, inwhich he stabs a man and stashes the body behind a mirrored door, hauntshim. He also woke up with blood on his wrist and thumbprints on his throat,which you don't usually get from simply catching a few Z's.

When Stan's sister, Gina (Connie Russell), and detective brother-in-law,Rene (Robinson), take him on a picnic to get his mind off of things, theystumble upon a mansion that exactly matches the location of the killing inStan's dream. When a body is later found in the house, Rene tells Stan tohigh-tail it before he reports the crime to the authorities. The ultimate"solution" to all of this was already getting hoary back in 1956, and isdownright ridiculous now.

Nightmare didn't do much business when it first came out, althoughMilton Esterow, a critic at The New York Times, called theperformances "crooked but neat." Actually, if you stopto think about it, most of Robinson's work could be described with that phrase.That's part of its appeal.

Even Robinson could never quite grasp why he became such an iconicbig-screen figure. It all started, quite suddenly, with his performance inLittle Caesar (1931), the response to which he wrote about in hisautobiography: "Warner's insisted I come in from the coast to attend thepremiere. My plan was to present myself at the Winter Garden, buy a ticket,and have a look. But from my arrival at Grand Central Station, I knew thatsomething incredible and cataclysmic had happened to my life. After 40plays and a couple of movies, I had always been able to walk into an A&P orMacy's or stroll the art galleries on 57th Street with no one bothering me,no one looking at me, no one having the faintest notion who I was. Buttoday was different. I was surrounded by autograph hunters, redcaps,crowds, people shoving me, pushing me, stealing my handkerchief, and tearingoff my shirt buttons. I'd never known anything like it; I was frightened,and, deep inside, a little excited."

Call it star power, and he never lost it.

Directed by: Maxwell Shane
Written by: Maxwell Shane
Produced by: William C. Thomas and William H. Pine
Photography: Joseph F. Biroc
Editing: George A. Gittens
Art Direction: Frank Sylos
Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Sound: Jack Solomon and Paul Wolf
Principal Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Rene Bressard), Kevin McCarthy (StanGrayson), Connie Russell (Gina), Virginia Christine (Sue Bressard), RhysWilliams (Torrence)

by Paul Tatara

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