It’s an alarming cold open. Allison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) wakes up on a train to Boston with a gun in her purse and no recollection of how she got there. It drives her into a fit of hysterics that riles up the whole train, though a fellow passenger (Queenie Smith) attempts to steady her nerves. We can’t blame her much since she’s been through quite the ordeal. Still, Courtland spends the entire picture trying to figure out what’s happening as does the audience.
Her concerned husband is played by Don Ameche that suave and charismatic heartthrob. It’s easy to see how he could be absolutely charming in comedy fare (ie. Midnight). Here he’s not so enjoyable. Perhaps in attempting drama, he comes off as too flat. There’s not enough definition there to be compelling. He’s just another handsome face.
Meanwhile, Allison’s evenings are haunted by a specter of a man (George Colouris) who keeps her under psychological duress with broader implications that tie him to a sultry and sulking siren and an entire plot to discredit Allison’s sanity through hypnosis and mind games. If it sounds ludicrous it is but Hollywood was mesmerized by the powers of such forces in the post-war years.
Because you see, she conveniently is the holder of a large inheritance and it seems like a lot of people want a piece of the pie and they’ve gone to great lengths to get it. Hazel Brooks continues in the same mode as Body and Soul (1947) providing the film’s femme fatale, Daphne, sizzling with avarice.
Most people are probably not accustomed to Douglas Sirk and film noir together but this movie proves it to be so, unfolding as an eery paranoia-filled drama that is very much brethren with Hitchcock thrillers like Suspicion (1941) or even Notorious (1946) along with George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944). And some of the broad aspects of psychological conspiracy are akin to I am Julia Ross (1945). However, Sleep My Love does enough to carve out its own unique path even if it’s not as prominent as these earlier titles.
Because Claudette Colbert far from going it alone finds a formidable ally in Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings), a friend of one of Courtland’s old acquaintances the bubbly Barby (Rita Johnson). Elcott becomes quite the sleuth and a character of tremendous integrity who seems a far better fit for our leading lady than her actual husband. He’s also falling for her.
A high water mark of the film is an extended wedding sequence that is surprisingly fascinating. First off, it’s rather remarkable because it shows a wedding between a Chinese-American couple (Keye Luke and Marya Marco) and it plays it straight and true without any stereotypical sentiment. It feels like a real wedding and an authentic portrayal of this union without the necessity of needless bigotry to sully the moment.
The evening festivities prove equally joyous for our stars who form a quality bond and what feels like it could have been an unfortunate aside becomes one of the film’s most diverting sequences choosing to forego dime a dozen drama for a bit of depth.
In subsequent scenes, Keye Luke, Bruce’s “brother” from his extended time in China becomes his right-hand man as he tries to get to the bottom of Mrs. Courtland’s curious situation that turns perilous very, very quickly. It blows up in the end with a domino effect of dramatic trip wires that set off all sorts of outcomes that came hurtling to their conclusions as quickly as they began. It’s over the top certainly but no less a gripping finale if the film is given leeway in the areas of realism.
If this film is not what we would come to think of in Douglas Sirk there’s no doubt that it feels less dated than most, anthropologically speaking, coming from an intellectual man who seems to carry an open-minded and forward-thinking approach.
Likewise, the intense interest in the human psyche might have matured in the years since, but there’s little doubt that it still holds a prominent place in our modern world with its ceaseless intricacies. One could say psychological complexity is one of the reasons movies still get made today. That and a craving for romance.