One thing leads to another. A few weeks ago a bit of discussion on remakes came up, or to be more precise the relative merits of both Thorold Dickinson’s and George Cukor’s versions of Gaslight. Not long before that I’d been looking at Richard Boone in a movie directed by Bruce Humberstone, and it then occurred to me that Boone had starred in a remake of one of Humberstone’s earlier movies. Anyway, that meandering thought process led me back to Vicki (1953), a reworking of the proto-noir I Wake Up Screaming. Generally, I like to approach or assess movies on their own terms, as discrete pieces of work, where possible. Remakes make that a little trickier of course, particularly when one is very familiar with the other versions. Viewed on its own, Vicki is a moderate noir thriller of ambition, obsession and murder.
Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters) is a model, something which is immediately apparent from the opening shots of billboards and sundry advertisements, all prominently featuring her name and image and urging Joe Public to buy whatever it is she happens to be selling. However, perhaps I should have started off by stating that Vicki Lynn was a model for, despite her fame and ubiquity, our first glimpse of the lady herself is of the toes of her shoes protruding from beneath the sheet covering her corpse as it’s about to head off to the morgue. So Vicki Lynn was a model who has been murdered, and the story that plays out on the screen tells of the investigation into her demise and of the people most intimately involved in her rise and fall. Much of what transpires comes via a series of flashbacks courtesy of the interrogations of the main suspects at police headquarters. Most of the information, and therefore the impressions of the events and personalities, comes through the eyes of PR man Steve Christopher (Elliott Reid) and the victim’s sister Jill (Jeanne Crain). With the narrative nipping back and forth between past and present, all kinds of petty jealousies and rivalries are exposed. All the while, moving in and out of the shadows that surround the death of Vicki is the menacing yet awkward figure of lead detective Lt Ed Cornell (Richard Boone).
Established wisdom tends to hold that remakes pale in comparison with the works they seek to reimagine. My own experience, however, tells me that is not always the case, although there’s no getting away from the fact all of that is highly subjective. Still, I doubt one would find many viewers who would claim Vicki adds to, much less improves on, the version filmed a dozen years before. Both films derive from Steve Fisher’s novel and Dwight Taylor’s script with very little divergence on show. Harry Horner was an occasional director and Vicki is something of a workmanlike effort, with the odd instance of flair set off by Milton Krasner’s photography. In the main, it rarely grabs the attention and too many scenes exhibit a flatness that is vaguely disappointing.
That same year Jean Peters did good work in Niagara for Henry Hathaway and was even more impressive for Sam Fuller in Pickup on South Street. Admittedly, her role in this movie is limited to some extent but I thought her performance was just serviceable. I mean she comes across as attractive but I don’t get the sense of raw ambition that ought to underpin the character. Jeanne Crain fares better in the bigger and more grounded part as the surviving sister, although it’s not an especially complex role. This brings me to Richard Boone and Elliott Reid, and it’s hard not to have Laird Cregar and Victor Mature in mind while watching them work. Boone brings a different quality to his portrayal of Cornell, adopting a more buttoned up and physically restricted aura than was the case with Cregar. He spends much of his time with his head tilted ever so slightly down and the arms and elbows drawn in, like a man forever on the defensive, forever reining in dangerous impulses. It’s an interesting approach and a valid one too in a part which demands a significant amount of pathos.
Elliott Reid, on the other hand, represents a major weakness at the heart of it all. Frankly, I do not see him as a leading man. In fact, I think the only other movie where I’ve seen him take the lead is The Whip Hand, a risible effort which his presence did little to improve. Reid’s forte was in supporting roles, particularly those which required a degree of smugness – he was fine in Woman’s World for Jean Negulesco and even better as the unctuous assistant prosecutor in Stanley Kramer’s Inherit the Wind. Support in this film comes via the ever excellent John Dehner, Casey Adams and a marvelously creepy Aaron Spelling.
Vicki came out on DVD years ago from Fox as an entry in their film noir line. Those titles tended to be handsome looking presentations and the transfer still holds up well with not very much in the way of damage, to my eye at least. It is not as strong a film as I Wake Up Screaming but it does have points in its favor – for one thing, Boone’s reinterpretation of the role of Cornell is never less than fascinating, as one would expect of that actor. I have to say I’m pleased that this movie is and has been accessible, even if it may never become a favorite. It’s worth checking out if you should come across it, just so long as you don’t pitch your hopes too high.
12 thoughts on “Vicki”
Hi, Colin – I just happened to have watched this movie today, finishing it an hour ago. It’s definitely a poor cousin of I WAKE UP SCREAMING but is also definitely worth a look. Boone dominated the film, his portrayal of a man constantly on the verge of anger and violence is very convincing. In every scene featuring him, the viewer gets on edge, waiting for an explosion. I quite liked Jeanne Crain in this and enjoyed Jean Peters’ performance more than you, but agree that Elliott Reid was a poor choice as a leading man to stand against Boone’s formidable performance. Flashbacks can often detract from a movie’s momentum but they’re handled well here.
The film doesn’t diverge that much, if at all, from I Wake Up Screaming in terms of structure but it’s stylistically and visually rather flat in comparison. While I do try to take every film on its own terms, I have always been aware of the original when watching this. I suppose if one were to see it without ever having experienced the 1941 version of the story, then it might come across better. Maybe.
That said, the casting of Reid undermines it considerably. I would have thought someone better suited to this type of leading role cold have been found on the Fox payroll at the time.
Catherine and I have just watched the 1940 Gaslight, an excellent film. Shocking that the makers of the 1944 (which seems to be considered much the lesser of the two) tried to have all copies of the 1940 destroyed.
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Hello, Rick. Yes, it does seem excessive if that were indeed the case. I can kind of understand the desire to ensure attention wasn’t directed away from a current production by playing down or suppressing another more recent version though.
I don’t know whether the remake is widely considered lesser. I do know I like it a lot, it features characteristically strong work from Cukor, and, as I mentioned in another thread, I preferred it to Dickinson’s film when I last viewed the latter.
Great look at a bit of an also-ran. Not seen this version in yonks but I really like the sound of Boone’s approach. And Jeanne Crain is always a great presence. Must take a second look at this! I’ve not read Fisher’s original novel – is it a close adaptation, do we know?
Yes, I appreciate the fact Boone was trying to come up with something a little different to what Cregar had done.
I’ve not read Fisher’s novel either so I’m curious too about how similar or different the screen treatments may be.
The Humberstone looks amazing but does have the disadvantage of being an early Noir and does lack stylistic cohesion (I say this with love). It’s a shame that with VICKI they stuck so closely to the original as the genre was so well-defined by then. Although with remakes, especially given how common they were then, it’s always really hard to judge what the outcome might have been with say more money or a stronger director.
Yes, I Wake Up Screaming is visually splendid but rather uneven in tone, whereas Vicki is more consistent in the latter department while it’s frequently quite flat to look at. It needed to take a few more risks somewhere – perhaps the casting was meant to be more challenging, especially with regard to Reid? I doubt it but if so, then it didn’t pay off. As for the direction, Horner is really no more than adequate.
I picked this film up and watched it within the last two years. I seem to remember enjoying it, especially Boone’s intense performance, yet the film has not ‘stayed’ in my mind whereas the 1941 film definitely made its mark in my recall. And I haven’t viewed “I WAKE UP SCREAMING” in some years, which probably says it all.
I can relate to that. I don’t think many people would come away feeling the movie was poor as it does have its moments. Even so, it lacks whatever ingredient made the original so memorable.
This review supplies further evidence of how RTHC continues to feature unknown or forgotten films. I’ve never seen this one despite liking the leads and being a huge admirer of the Humberstone film. Horner was an art director who occasionally directed and I guess his most impressive work as director was THE MAN FROM DEL RIO. RED PLANET MARS is a hoot with the emphasis on “Red”
On the last thread I said I would report on A NIGHT OF ADVENTURE and I enjoyed it-it’s pretty similar to CRIMINAL COURT but has the advantage of Audrey Long as Tom’s leading lady. I was always bemused that Audrey married Leslie Charteris in real life.
Viewed another hard to find Noir recently that few I guess (apart from Jerry) will have seen. BACKLASH (1947) is a Fox low budgeter that looks more like a Monogram or PRC flick.As far as physical media guys like myself the only way to view it is on a
sub par Fox MOD DVD disc from several years back. The plot is confusing to say the least-what with multiple flashbacks and all;
I had to view it a couple of times to make sense of it all. The opening is classic Noir and the final chapter of the film is sensational, Noir both visually and verbally. BACKLASH is not without it’s faults the two charmless cops named Tom & Jerry get too much screen time. Overall the film is worthy of rediscovery and a restoration from the Film Noir Foundation would be very welcome. I don’t know if the film can be viewed online or is available via streaming.
Thanks for getting back on that, John. I think Backlash is up on YouTube.