DVD Review: Sleep, My Love

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Douglas Sirk | CAST: Claudette Colbert, Robert Cummings, Don Ameche, Raymond Burr, Hazel Brooks, George Coulouris, Keye Luke
RELEASE DATE: 4/15/14 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
BONUSES: none
SPECS: NR | 97 min. | Thriller | 1:37 fullscreen | monaural

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

Long unavailable on DVD or VHS, the extremely entertaining 1948 thriller Sleep, My Love is half noir and half “woman’s picture,” thanks to the sublime stylings of its director, melodrama master Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows). A typically wonderful supporting cast make the film even more of a delight.

The plot is a familiar one: a scheming husband (Don Ameche, Cocoon) tries to drive his wife (Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night) to madness and suicide in order to inherit her wealth and keep his mistress (Hazel Brooks) in style. An honest man (Robert Cummings) falls for the wife and suspects her husband is the source of her troubles – but can he stop him before it’s too late?

Sleep My Love movie scene

Don Ameche cozies up to Claudette Colbert in Sleep My Love.

Yes, the storyline (in this case from a novel by Leo Rosten) is a rather blatant knockoff of Gaslight, but Sleep, My Love include so many other memorable and quirky elements that the film succeeds despite being a modern-dress riff on Cukor’s 1944 classic (with elements also taken from Hitchcock’s Suspicion). The light-hearted middle section of the picture finds Colbert and her new “friend” Cummings attending a traditional Chinese wedding (of Cummings’ honorary “brother,” played by Keye Luke), essentially casting all menace and suspense aside for several scenes.

Co-scripter Rosten (best known for his humorous novels and The Joys of Yiddish) takes care to include a number of colorful supporting characters who are brought to life by a host of great character people.  There is the businesslike police detective (Raymond Burr), a ditzy socialite friend (Rita Johnson), the dedicated friend/sidekick to our hero (Luke), a super-creepy photographer confederate of the husband (George Coulouris), and the aforementioned femme fatale “other woman” (the very sexy Brooks, best known for her role in Body and Soul).

Although he was best known for his sumptuous melodramas, Sirk knew well the workings of genre cinema. Here he abides by the two unspoken rules of the woman-in-peril thriller: let the audience secretly enjoy the wholesome heroine being tormented, but make sure to get her out of peril (and into the arms of our hero) by the final fade-out.

Having directed films for several years in his native Germany before immigrating to the U.S., Sirk also was quite familiar with the Expressionist style and employs it beautifully here. Iconic noir imagery – venetian blind patterns, oblique camera angles, the magnification of menacing objects – appears throughout the film.

One is reminded of Hitchcock’s Forties films watching Sleep, My Love, and one aspect of that is organic. The film’s cinematographer was Joseph A. Valentine, who shot Hitch’s Saboteur, Rope, and his classic Shadow of a Doubt (Hitch later employed Cummings to play a role similar to the one he plays here in Dial M For Murder). Sirk went on to do wonders with Technicolor in the Fifties, but his Forties thrillers like Sleep, My Love illustrate he was also a master when it came to making B&W suspense dramas.

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”