Film Noir Classics: SLEEP, MY LOVE

Before celebrated director Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life) hit his stride and became Hollywood’s go-to person for the multi-color projection of America’s twisted fantasies (aided and abetted by producer Ross Hunter), Sirk helmed several glorious black and white women-in-peril psychological thrillers. Sleep, My Love is one of them.

Any film that features a major character whose major dilemma is that they sleepwalk, is going to be a hard one to put over; mostly because the idea of extended sleepwalking is only half believed by most people. So, up front, we can say that Sleep, My Love has a lot of work to do. Alison (Claudette Colbert) is the wealthy wife of Richard, an immensely successful New York City architect (Don Ameche). The two inhabit a glorious fully staffed (Hollywood fantasy) brownstone on Sutton Place—complete with expansive East River views, a solarium, and a gated back yard that appears to let out onto the river!

Inexplicably Alison has started to sleepwalk. She wakes up in places not knowing how she got there, and on more than one occasion she’s come close to killing herself. She also, her husband believes, suffers from hallucinations. So, what to do? A detective (Raymond Burr) is called—Alison believes she saw a bespectacled stranger in the house. And the maid, butler and houseman are all charged with being on the lookout.

Bruce (Robert Cummings), an acquaintance of Alison’s, is suspicious. He’s particularly concerned about the fact that each night Richard prepares hot chocolate for his wife just before she goes to “sleep”: and he waits for her to finish it. Is Richard involved in her dangerous sleepwalking episodes? He is, after all, having an affair with a sultry dark-haired woman named Daphne (Hazel Brooks), a femme fatale who traipses around in lingerie and sits in a store front window hoping to drum up business for a low rent photographer named Charles (George Coulouris) and his naive wife Grace (Queenie Smith).

Stunning photography, posh sets, memorable character performances and Hollywood’s back lot presentation of New York City life is fascinating. So is a plot that does everything from visit (in an unusually prolonged segment) a traditional Asian wedding ceremony, a jam packed extra-filled airport, and an outer NYC borough photo studio located in the shadow of an always rattling elevated train stop.

If there’s a problem with Sleep, My love it’s not the outrageous plot, it’s the picture’s promotion of entrenched stereotypes. Why is Bruce’s Asian best friend always smiling when he talks: a thousand teeth perpetually on display? Why is the African American housekeeper that lives next door an overweight and undereducated Southern Mammy: a dim wit whose only interest is the “funny papers” (cartoons)? And why is the office building janitor dumpy, buck toothed and incompetent: the working class as white trash?

Betrayal, discovery, infidelity, romance and comeuppance are all on Sleep, My Love’s extensive menu. A good night’s sleep, it seems, can be perilous.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard lives in New York City. His writing credits include articles for The New York Times, The Village Voice and Motion Picture. Currently he is adapting a previously published work for the big screen. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, he is a regular contributor to the film review website Grindhouse Cinema Database and in 2014 was featured in five episodes of TV One's award-winning documentary series Unsung.

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