NIGHTMARE (Maxwell Shane, 1956)

Less than a decade after he made Fear in the Night (1947), writer-director Maxwell Shane made another film version of Cornell Woolrich’s story “And So to Death,” using the title given the story in mystery anthologies: Nightmare. This is a smoother, better upholstered version, but with the exciting dreamlike effects of the original, derived from silent German expressionism, kept to a minimum, and the homosexual subtext banished, to accommodate the more nervous, docile fifties. The protagonist—Stan here, not Vince—is now a jazz musician rather than a bank teller; but the story is otherwise almost exactly the same. The incompetent lead performance by DeForest Kelley in the original has been replaced by good actor Kevin McCarthy’s much, much better performance. Paul Kelly, who did the best acting in the original as Vince’s homicide police detective brother-in-law, has been replaced by Edward G. Robinson, who actually isn’t quite as good, but who does just fine. I had misremembered a different plot twist; but, no, this doesn’t exist.
     For me, though, the film carries a unique distinction. While as a child I saw countless films in a theater with only my mother accompanying me, I can recall seeing only one such film with my father, and Nightmare is it. I would have been nine or ten.
     I wonder if Dad knew who Kevin McCarthy was—a stage actor, an Oscar nominee for playing Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman (Laslo Benedek, 1951), the star of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and Mary’s brother, and Eugene’s cousin. (Did Dad know who Mary McCarthy was?) McCarthy, in his nineties now, is still with us, still acting. He was born in the Pacific Northwest—in Seattle.

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