T. alt.: Hot Spot. T. it.: Situazione pericolosa. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1941) di Steve Fisher. Scen.: Dwight Taylor. F.: Edward Cronjager. M.: Robert Simpson. Scgf.: Richard Day, Nathan Juran. Int.: Betty Grable (Jill Lynn), Victor Mature (Frankie Christopher), Carole Landis (Vicky Lynn), Laird Cregar (Ed Cornell), William Gargan (Jerry MacDonald), Alan Mowbray (Robin Ray), Allyn Joslyn (Larry Evans), Elisha Cook Jr. (Harry Williams). Prod.: Milton Sperling per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. DCP. Bn.
Originally titled Hot Spot and even released in some territories as such, this is an indispensable work in the development of film noir. Focusing on the psychological complexions and sexual obsessions of its characters, the film’s expansion of noir themes as well as its use of chiaroscuro lighting are pioneering, even if the ‘wrong man’ story doesn’t always abide by the rules it has defined and ventures into other, lighter territory. The murder of rising star Vicky Lynn (Carole Landis) is announced at the beginning of the film and through a series of flashbacks, narrated by her sister Jill (Betty Grable) and the suspects, we learn about how the capricious Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature) has turned Vicky from a waitress into a celebrity. During the investigation we are also introduced to a psychotic detective, Ed Cornell (Laird Cregar), who is already convinced of Frankie’s guilt and determined to send him to the ‘hot chair’. The framed Frankie and Jill, now in love, embark on their own investigation while Cornell is on their tail.
Based on the first successful novel by hardboiled fiction writer Steve Fisher, who went on to have a long and successful career in Hollywood, the film aimed to change the perception of its two pinup queens (Gable and Landis) by casting them in dramatic roles. Directed by a lightweight, Bruce Humberstone – who is credited for more than 40 features, including popular comedy musicals and half a dozen well-crafted Charlie Chan films – any sense of style is owed to the studio and the cinematographer Edward Cronjager. Although Fox’s ‘dead and absent femme fatale still influencing the lives of people once close to her’ saw its most successful variation in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), this early effort still introduces many interesting stylistic tropes including a chase in the big city.
The film was remade 12 years later as the mediocre Vicki (1953), with Jeanne Crain and Jean Peters. In 1992 the late Bertrand Tavernier published a diary whose title, I Wake Up Dreaming, was a pun on this film’s title.