Cast & Crew
Edward G. Robinson
In New Orleans, jazz musician Stan Grayson experiences a nightmare in which he is tormented by an unfamiliar woman's face reflected in a strange room full of mirrors. As a weird melody repeats, a man attempts to break into a safe and when he sees Stan, he attempts to strangle him. The woman hands Stan an unfamiliar sharp object with which he stabs the man and then pulls the body into a closet behind one of the mirrors. Stan then falls down a gaping, black tunnel and awakens with a start. Relieved to realize he has been dreaming, Stan rises, late for an appointment to record several numbers with Billy May, his orchestra and Stan's girl friend, singer Gina. In the bathroom mirror, however, Stan is startled to see dark bruises around his neck and notices a cut on his arm for which he has no explanation. On his dresser Stan then finds an unfamiliar button and an unfamiliar key. Anxious that his nightmare may be true, Stan calls in sick to Billy and hastens to his sister Sue's house to speak with his brother-in-law, police detective Rene Bressard. After relating the details of his nightmare to Rene and showing him the button and key, Stan is disappointed when Rene remains unimpressed, pointing out that Stan is normally high strung and has a tendency to drink, which likely stimulated the odd dream. Over the next four days Stan anxiously scans the newspapers for murder reports, but finds nothing. Frustrated by the odd melody and images that continue to haunt him, Stan continues to avoid work and Gina, and makes futile efforts to identify the song and the faces in the dream. Rene visits Stan and insists he come on a picnic to celebrate Sue's birthday. Stan reluctantly agrees, but is dismayed to find Gina has also been invited. Stan then suggests that the picnic be held at an unfamiliar park, but when questioned does not know why he made the recommendation. A thunderstorm starts suddenly, terrifying Sue and the group returns to the car. When the windshield wipers get stuck, making it difficult for Rene to see, Stan gives him directions to a nearby large house. Discovering that no one is home, Stan checks a potted plant near the door and finds a key. Although the house is unoccupied, Rene discovers the gas fireplace functions and calms the distracted Sue. Gina turns on a record player and as the record begins playing sluggishly, Stan is startled to recognize the strange, distorted tune from his nightmare. Alarmed by his inexplicable familiarity with the house, Stan impulsively begins to explore it and is horrified to find a large, mirrored dressing room that matches his dream. Using the key he has carried to unlock one of the closet doors, Stan finds a safe with burned edges. Rene has followed Stan and when the men open another closet, they find bloodstains on a wall. Rene angrily questions Stan, believing his brother-in-law has committed a crime and is trying to avoid responsibility for it. The men are interrupted by the arrival of local deputy Torrence, who reveals a murder occurred in the house recently and he has been assigned to watch the premises. After identifying himself as a police officer, Rene asks to meet with Torrence's superior, Capt. Warner, and learns that the home belongs to a wealthy couple, the Belnaps. Warner reveals that the police discovered that while Louis Belnap was out of town, Mrs. Belnap was run over by a car apparently driven by her boyfriend, who then fled. Mrs. Belnap survived long enough to ask if her boyfriend had survived, provoking a further investigation and the discovery of the boyfriend's body in a closet. When Warner shows Rene and Stan photos of the victims, Stan recognizes them and faints. After Stan recovers, Rene takes him to his hotel room. Rene then offers to let Stan run away, but declares he will arrest him if he is still there the following morning. After Rene departs, Stan, certain that he is responsible for the murder of Mrs. Belnap and her boyfriend, crawls out on the window ledge but cannot bring himself to throw himself off. As Rene walks out onto the street far below, he notices a crowd gathering and, seeing Stan, hastily returns and pulls him off the ledge. Rene stays with Stan overnight and encourages him to recall the events leading up to his dream. After Stan describes his day and evening, Rene immediately becomes suspicious of Stan's neighbor, Harry Britton, who made contact with Stan numerous times. Remembering that many of the books from the Belnap house focused on psychology and hypnosis, Rene impulsively returns to the house and obtains a photo of Mr. Belnap. When Rene shows the photo to Stan, he is stunned to recognize Britton. Rene confides his belief that Belnap, masquerading as Britton, had found Stan highly susceptible to suggestion, and so, after hypnotizing him, instructed him to commit murder. Learning from Warner that Belnap is returning home that night, Rene urges Stan to help him prove his suspicions. Stan agrees and that night waits in the mirrored dressing room. When Belnap appears to examine the safe, Stan confronts him, demanding an explanation for his dream. Perplexed that his earlier hypnotic suggestion has worn off, Belnap admits that he used Stan to get rid of his wife and her lover. Unaware that Rene has wired Stan and is recording the confession, Belnap details the crime, then re-hypnotizes Stan and leads him out of the house down to the lake. Warner, Torrence and Rene rescue Stan from the water, and when Belnap flees, Warner shoots him. With Belnap's confession on tape, Stan is exonerated and he returns to the band and Gina.
Edward G. Robinson
Meade "lux" Lewis
Billy May And His Orchestra
Howard A. Anderson
Joseph F. Biroc
Herschel Burke Gilbert
Herschel Burke Gilbert
Like so many actors who ply their trade for decades, Robinson's career heated up and cooled off several times over, and the quality of the material he was offered varied. But his performances were never less than committed. Maxwell Shane's Nightmare (1956), a re-make of Shane's more successful 1947 melodrama, Fear in the Night, is a tautly paced little programmer in which Robinson and co-star Kevin McCarthy do the best they can with a contrived, patently unbelievable narrative. Robinson, in particular, imbues what he's doing with a stern dignity, even though the screenwriter (director Shane, in this case) doesn't provide him with top notch material.
McCarthy (who you probably remember from Don Siegel's original film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956) plays Stan, a New Orleans jazz musician who can't shake the feeling that he's killed somebody. A very realistic dream, in which he stabs a man and stashes the body behind a mirrored door, haunts him. 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, they stumble upon a mansion that exactly matches the location of the killing in Stan's dream. When a body is later found in the house, Rene tells Stan to high-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 is downright ridiculous now.
Nightmare didn't do much business when it first came out, although Milton Esterow, a critic at The New York Times, called the performances "crooked but neat." Actually, if you stop to 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 iconic big-screen figure. It all started, quite suddenly, with his performance in Little Caesar (1931), the response to which he wrote about in his autobiography: "Warner's insisted I come in from the coast to attend the premiere. 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 that something incredible and cataclysmic had happened to my life. After 40 plays and a couple of movies, I had always been able to walk into an A&P or Macy'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. But today was different. I was surrounded by autograph hunters, redcaps, crowds, people shoving me, pushing me, stealing my handkerchief, and tearing off 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 (Stan Grayson), Connie Russell (Gina), Virginia Christine (Sue Bressard), Rhys Williams (Torrence)
by Paul Tatara
Maxwell Shane's credit reads: "Written for the screen and directed by." The film was shot on location in New Orleans, LA. Although the onscreen credits read "Based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich," "Nightmare" was a short story first published in Argosy Magazine in 1941 as "And So to Death" and written by Woolrich under the pseudonym William Irish. The story was retitled "Nightmare" in Woolrich's 1943 collection I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes and was purchased by Pine-Thomas in 1945. Pine-Thomas went on to produce a film based on the material that was released under the title Fear in the Night and released by Paramount in 1947. That film starred Paul Kelly and DeForest Kelley and was also adapted and directed by Shane. Although the New York Times review states that band leader Billy May appeared in Nightmare as a character named "Louis Simes," May appeared as himself.