Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
You know, I never thought I'd miss having Victor Mature in a movie, but it happens in Vicki, which happens to be an almost scene-by-scene carbon copy of 1942's I Wake Up Screaming. The original had Betty Grable, Carole Landis and Laird Cregar, and was interesting if not exactly a classic. Vicki adds a name (Leo Townsend) to the Dwight Taylor screenwriting credit, but Leo's job must have been to renumber the pages while tearing out expensive scenes like the original's sequence in a public swimming pool. Vicki is strictly economy class, with most of the actor substitutions a letdown. It's been an obscurity behind the at least slightly remembered Mature/Grable/Landis picture.
Police Inspector Ed Cornell (Richard Boone) is convinced that New York publicist Frankie Christopher (Elliott Reid) murdered Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters), a beauty he had promoted from a waitress into a society model and celebrity. Convinced he's being framed, Frankie gravitates toward Vicki's sister Jill (Jeanne Crain). Other suspects emerge, but even Jill believes that Frankie could be the killer.
Just by changing the actor names, I've used the exact same synopsis that served the original feature, which became a Fox Film Noir release only a few months ago. That movie was rather odd, especially in its use of the famous "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" theme for Betty Grable, but it seems an expensive show compared to the cut-price Vicki. The sets for the remake are smaller and less interesting, the lighting is mostly undistinguished and the scenes requiring crowds or location work -- nightclubs, the swimming pool -- are eliminated or reduced to nothing.
The leading ladies are not a detriment. Jean Peters and Jeanne Crain are well cast as sisters, with Peters convincingly ambitious and Crain a little more believable as a stenographer than was Betty Grable. The casting stumbles with the male actors. Allyn Joslyn and Victor Mature are an amusing pair of jokers in the first film, but Elliott Reid and Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter) just aren't as interesting. Reid carries his part of the picture well enough, but there just isn't the same kind of friction that resulted when 1940s hunk Mature and cutie-pie Grable got together.
The big stumbling block is Richard Boone, who replaces the original's hulking and mysterious Laird Cregar. Cregar was genuinely menacing as a brilliant detective in the throes of an obsession. The usually excellent Boone is miscast, or his character is just poorly conceived. The Boone cop shuffles around like a nut case throughout the film; instead of diabolical smarts, he has a sadistic bent and likes to beat up poor Reid out of jealousy. The only reason Boone is threatening is because Elliott Reid is such a lightweight. Cregar was probably chosen for the original because he was the only actor bigger than Victor Mature!
Vicki copies every plot detail of the first script, as if Darryl Zanuck told the producer not to spend money and come back in three weeks from now with a finished movie. Nobody could have been very excited about this show.
The ending has two surprises. Aaron Spelling, who later became a phenomenally successful TV producer, plays the creepy desk clerk at Vicki's apartment. Spelling may look like a geek here but he definitely had the last laugh in the industry. Secondly (spoiler) both movies end with a character taking a pill. In the original, it's a suicide pill and the man dies. In the remake, somebody changed his mind and the character walks off untouched. Perhaps he was meant to die a few moments later, and they dropped it.
The cheap sets and other decorations tell us that Vicki Lynn has become a famous model and singer, but all we see is a sudden proliferation of posters and magazine covers. She appears to be on every cover of every magazine, every week. It's pretty silly.
Fox's DVD of Vicki looks great; the untouched negative has probably been sleeping soundly in the Fox vault for 53 years. Besides a trailer, Foster Hirsch does commentary duty, pointing out actors and explaining differences with the earlier version.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Good -
Supplements: Trailer, commentary by Foster Hirsch
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 19, 2006
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2006 Glenn Erickson
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