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CORNELL WOOLRICH : King of Noir

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Dewey1960
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CORNELL WOOLRICH : King of Noir

Postby Dewey1960 » June 22nd, 2007, 4:33 pm

Any dsicussion of film noir and its most significant influences must include more than a casual reference to Cornell Woolrich. This dark and often morbid writer of mystery and suspense stories, whose actual life was in many ways as disturbing as the sinister tales he told, was responisble for a large number of classic noir films, television dramas and radio programs from the early 40s until well past his death in 1968.

I think it would be wonderful if TCM programmed a festival of films based on Woolrich's novels and short stories.

Of the more famous and recognizable films made from his books we have Robert Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY (1944); Roy William Neill's BLACK ANGEL (1946) starring the great Dan Duryea; Jacques Tourneur & Val Lewton's THE LEOPARD MAN (1943; based on the novel "Black Alibi"); Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (1954); Mitchell Leisen's NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950; from the novel "I Married A Dead Man") starring Barbara Stanwyck; Harold Clurman's DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946) with Susan Hayward; Ted Tetzlaff's THE WINDOW (1949); John Farrow's THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), a mesmerizing tale with Edward G. Robinson and Gail Russell; and William Castle's THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944).

Add to that the 1942 Paramount "B" picture STREET OF CHANCE with Burgess Meredith, FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1947) and its 1956 remake NIGHTMARE (with Kevin McCarthy and Edward G. Robinson), Arthur Ripley's 1946 cult noir THE CHASE, two directed by Francois Truffaut: THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (1968) and MISSISSIPPI MERMAID (1969; from the novel "Waltz Into Darkness") as well as the poverty row Monogram films I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948), THE GUILTY (1947) and FALL GUY (1947).

How about it? Does anyone else on these boards have strong feelings about Cornell Woolrich -- the King of Noir!

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » June 12th, 2008, 4:55 pm

Resurrection of a thread from the dead. Dewey posted this six months before I joined SSO and now, thanks to the foremost fan of films based on Cornell Woolrich pulp fiction, there's another such film to put under my belt: I WOULDN"T BE IN YOUR SHOES (Nigh, 1948).

About three years ago I started noticing Woolrich popping up in credits, never as screenwriter, but as story source, first in THE CHASE and BLACK ANGEL. Then I realized that he was the source for REAR WINDOW, one of the two or three Hitchcock movies that I like a great deal. So the search began, finding and watching: PHANTOM LADY, FEAR IN THE NIGHT, THE LEOPARD MAN, DEADLINE AT DAWN, MISSISSIPPI MERMAID and one Dewey didn't list, MARTHA (Fassbinder, 1973). Now add I WOULDN"T BE IN YOUR SHOES.

The opening provides a clue that this is a film noir: Death Row prisoner #5 is five hours from execution. When the other Death Row inmates ask to hear his story, we get the story as an internal dialogue. Tom (prisoner #5) and Ann are a down-on-their-luck dance team (one wouldn't get that in a Hammett-Cain-Chandler story), with Ann now the breadwinner by dancing with the lonely at a dance academy. Throwing his shoes, with taps, at cats howling at night outside their apartment, an impression of his shoes in the mud becomes the circumstancial evidence for convicting him of a murder that occurred that night.

Most of the movie plays as a standard Poverty Row whodunit wrapped in a melodrama. Then Woolrich gives a clear film noir twist and one realizes that the movie is -- and has been -- about obsession (physical and emotional love, money, a better life) and corruption, both of official position and spirit, themes common to many of his stories that became movies. The always enjoyable Regis Toomey is the obsessed corrupt detective and one of my favor mugs and voices, John Doucette, is one of the Death Row prisoners.

And my obsession continues, trying to plow through First You Dream, Then You Die, a biography of Woolrich.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Postby MikeBSG » June 13th, 2008, 12:15 pm

In the 80s, there was a French adaptation of "I Married a Dead man." I think it was called "I Married a Shadow" and it starred Nathalie Baye. I remember liking it.

Also, and I may be crazy here, but I think I read that the Sandra Bullock movie "While You Were Sleeping" was also based on some Woolrich story, perhaps "I Married a Dead Man."

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Postby Dewey1960 » June 13th, 2008, 4:51 pm

ChiO: Glad you enjoyed I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES. Part of what makes this film so fascinating to me is its utter abandonment of conventional logic. Case in point: in the opening scene, on death row, one of the inmates pulls out a phonograph record and slaps it onto a portable record player, providing a musical backdrop for the tale that is about to unfold. A guy languishing in a cell on death row has his own record player! Something as absurd as this could only exist in a dream, or in a film that only accidentally resembles a dream. The suffocating restrictions of poverty row provided just the right hint of somnambulistic doom so important to the ultimate aesthetic success of these films. Oh, and regarding the incredible Regis Toomey: he appeared in at least three Woolrich adaptations: SHOES, Siodmak's PHANTOM LADY and one of the other Monogram titles, THE GUILTY. Each time as a cop.

Mike: I have to think that Woolrich might be spinning in his grave as we speak at the mere suggestion that one of his stories could have served as the starting point for WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING.
Last edited by Dewey1960 on June 13th, 2008, 5:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » June 13th, 2008, 4:54 pm

Well, Dewey, you did it again. I have now watched THE GUILTY (John Reinhardt, 1947) from Woolrich's story, He Looked Like Murder.

Under the opening credits, we have a rear view of a man in a trench coat, collar turned up, hands in pockets, walking alone down a desolate dark urban street. Credits end and there is voice-over first-person narration as he walks into an empty bar, orders a drink and tells his old pal, the bartender, his story. The film noir begins and never lets up.

In short order, with requisite shadows and cheap, grimy, urban sets, we get: love triangles among two ex-Army buddies who are now roommates and a set of twins, one a "good girl" and the other a "bad girl"; undertones of homosexuality, incest and pedophilia; madness; murder; attempted suicide; and distrust everywhere. As Peter Travers or Gene Shalit might say: The feel-good movie of 1947!!!!

This is the finest film noir I've seen since Mr. Ark sent me DIAL 1119. Paramount, Warner Bros, RKO and the other big boys made some great films noir, but seeing a Poverty Row gem like this (and Mann's at Eagle-Lion and Ulmer's at PRC) shows the difference between making a film noir and being a film noir.

I have not read Woolrich's story, but Nevins accuses the filmmakers of changing it too much. But it certainly worked for me.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Postby Dewey1960 » June 14th, 2008, 12:43 pm

ChiO sez: "...the difference between making a film noir and being a film noir."

Therein lies the proverbial crux of the poverty row matter. Eureka!

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » September 10th, 2008, 5:46 pm

I didn't even know their names. I'd never heard their voices. I didn't even know them by sight, strictly speaking, for their faces were too small to fill in with identifiable features at that distance. Yet I could have constructed a timetable of their comings and goings, their daily habits and activities. They were the rear-window dwellers around me.

Sure, I suppose it was a little bit like prying, could even have been mistaken for the fevered concentration of a Peeping Tom. That wasn't my fault, that wasn't the idea.....


Hmmmm....
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Postby Dewey1960 » September 10th, 2008, 6:07 pm

El Professero said: Hmmmm....

Mr. Woolrich said it easily as well as Mr. Hitchcock showed it. Perhaps better.

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » September 10th, 2008, 6:35 pm

It is my favorite Hitchcock movie (one of two that would make a list of tippity top favorites). But the novella provides a clue as to why Hitchcock is often omitted from film noir discussion. A story of doom, dread and existential angst -- in short, noir literature -- is converted into a (very good) suspense thriller with obligatory Freudian overtones.

Thank goodness that Welles made THE TRIAL and not Hitch.

P.S. While perusing the shelves of a favorite used book store last week, there was a very nice thick hardbound of "great" American suspense tales, including a Chandler, a Highsmith, and a Woolrich (Rear Window). $7. There was also a scrawny paperback of Rear Window and three shorter Woolrich stories. $3. Somehow, buying the paperback seemed the only right thing to do.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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Postby Dewey1960 » September 10th, 2008, 6:50 pm

"Somehow, buying the paperback seemed the only right thing to do."

You done good, teach. Say teach, when you gonna bring your record collection to class?

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » September 10th, 2008, 8:57 pm

I'll show you mine if you'll....
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » September 11th, 2008, 9:30 am

Mr. Chi -- I'm so glad you mentioned Patricia Highsmith, whose works I have been rediscovering with great pleasure. I'm right now reading a collection of her short stories (it's called The Black House), any one of which would make a great noir movie, or be equally well suited to a dark-comedy/Freudian Hitchcock treatment. It's a crying shame she isn't better-known and better-regarded in this country.

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » September 19th, 2008, 9:59 am

Each man dies as he was meant to die, and as he was born, and as he lived: alone, all alone. Without any God, without any hope, without any record to show for his life. -- New York Blues (Woolrich's last completed story)

I need to find this one. Reminds me of the opening of BLAST OF SILENCE.

Cornell is now dead and only the last three chapters covering film, TV and radio remain of First You Dream, Then You Die. I'll finish it -- as if any of it matters.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

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ChiO
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Postby ChiO » November 6th, 2008, 10:29 am

"Julie, what can I say to you?"
"Just 'goodbye'. What else is there to say to anyone ever -- in this life?"
"Julie, I only hope I see you someday soon."
"You never will again."

Methinks that this will not have a happy ending.

Yes, my noirish friend, Dewey, I found a ratty used paperback of The Bride Wore Black.
Everyday people...that's what's wrong with the world. -- Morgan Morgan
I love movies. But don't get me wrong. I hate Hollywood. -- Orson Welles
Movies can only go forward in spite of the motion picture industry. -- Orson Welles

jdb1

Postby jdb1 » November 6th, 2008, 10:50 am

I'm currently reading The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, which is different from the movie, and which is also very E.A. Poe-ish.


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