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DVD Review: ‘Fear in the Night’ (digitally restored)

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Many a low-budget b&w B movie is remembered because of the actors involved and less so the film itself. That’s essentially the case for 1947’s Fear in the Night. It features the large-screen debut of DeForest Kelley 20 years before he rose to fame as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek. But beyond those interested in Trek ephemera, is there enough content in the 72-minute film to warrant an audience outside of Trekdom?

fearDirected and written by Maxwell Shane, Fear in the Night was based on the Cornell Woolrich story “And So to Death,” retitled ‘”Nightmare” in 1943. Shane liked the concept well enough to remake the film in 1956 using the title Nightmare casting Edward G. Robinson and Kevin McCarthy for the second go-round. Long in the public domain and available for free at various websites, the first Fear in the Night was released on DVD in 2007 and has now been digitally restored by Film Chest Media Group for an August 26 release.

The film opens when bank teller Vince Grayson (Kelley) has a nightmare about stabbing a man in an octagonal room of mirrors and locking the body in a closet. When he wakes up, he discovers marks on his throat, a strange key, and a button in his pocket, not to mention blood on his cuff. He tells the story to Cliff Herlihy (Paul Kelly), his police officer brother-in-law, who tries to convince him it was just a dream. For the next six days, Grayson tries to find the mysterious house while his sympathetic sister Lil (Ann Doran) and equally supportive girlfriend Betty Winters (Kay Scott) worry about his mental state.

By chance, the foursome are caught in a rainstorm and seek cover in a deserted house that turns out to be, surprise, surprise, the scene of the crime. Herlihy starts to think the dream story was just a cover-up for the murder, but then there’s a second body the cop knows Grayson couldn’t have killed. From that point on, the two men hunt for whoever framed Grayson, as well as the strange why and how it happened.

Because of its short length, Fear in the Night has the feel of an hour-long drama from a television anthology series. Credit should go to cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh’s shadowy and atmospheric photography that perfectly suits a noir psychological drama. Rudy Schrager’s score is what you might expect, meaning it pumps up the action with hyperbolic frenzy. The acting from Kelley and Kelly and the rest of the cast strikes all the right notes with Kelley’s Grayson the standout as the character has to showcase a deeper emotional range than the rest of the somewhat two-dimensional parts.

So who will like Fear in the Night besides those who want to see and hear a young DeForest Kelley? I’d say those who enjoy old radio thrillers like Suspense or early TV mystery series like Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Climax. It’s diverting entertainment that has its share of surprises in the final reel.

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