No author furnished more material for the classic film noir era than Cornell Woolrich. And none of his novels got a better straight noir adaptation than his 1943 classic The Black Angel. Universal’s 1946 movie version, Black Angel, (I don’t know why they lopped “The” from the title) is as quintessentially Woolrich as his adaptations get. Yes, Rear Window is a better movie, but it’s distinctly a “Hitchcock movie,” while Black Angel is 100% a “Woolrich movie” from the era he helped to define. Phantom Lady (1944) established what a Woolrich novel could be on screen; Black Angel (1946) is the full maturation of Woolrich film noir and is on my shortlist for the best of the style from the 1940s.Continue reading “Black Angel, The Movie (1946)”
In August I examined the influential film noir Phantom Lady, which was part of the 1944 wave of stylish crime films that established noir as the new mode of murder-dramas, even if the term film noir was still years from general use. Because Phantom Lady was adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, the most important literary noir author and one of my personal favorite writers, I followed up with a post about the 1943 book. After that, it was impossible to stop me from moving forward to Woolrich’s next novel, which would also be turned into a classic film noir a few years later: The Black Angel.
The Black Angel was published in 1943, the same year as Phantom Lady. It’s the fifth novel from Woolrich’s “main period” (1934–1948), when he wrote the majority of his suspense fiction. It has a plot with similarities to Phantom Lady, but it also corrects a number of the errors of that book to create a more personal and desperate story with less need for a long explanation clogging up the last twenty pages. Woolrich took the Carol Richman chapters from Phantom Lady and imagined what a story about rescuing a man from Death Row might look like if told from her perspective.Continue reading “Cornell Woolrich’s The Black Angel”
Much of Cornell Woolrich’s best suspense writing comes from his deep well of short stories and novellas. Numerous collections were published during his lifetime, most using the William Irish pseudonym, even though the stories first appeared in magazines under Woolrich’s name.
One of the most successful of these collections is After-Dinner Story, published by Lippincott in October 1944 when Woolrich’s popularity was rising because of the success of Phantom Lady. It went through numerous paperback editions after the initial hardcover release, sometimes with the alternate title Six Times Death. It was included in Lippincott’s 1960 hardcover omnibus The Best of William Irish along with Phantom Lady and Deadline at Dawn.
After-Dinner Story contains six stories, one never previously published: the title story (Black Mask, January 1938), “The Night Reveals” (Story, April 1936), “An Apple a Day” (first publication), “Marihuana” (Detective Fiction Weekly, 3 May 1941), “Murder Story” (Detective Fiction Weekly, 11 September 1937), and the first appearance of the story originally published as “It Had to Be Murder” (Dime Detective, February 1942) under its forever title “Rear Window.” Yes, that one.Continue reading “A Cornell Woolrich Collection: After-Dinner Story (1944)”
This post discusses major plot points and the ending for the novel Phantom Lady.
Author Cornell Woolrich has often been on my mind this summer. He’s a poet for isolated times, a preacher of anxiety. He also had a potent influence on my writing and was one of the catalysts for the creation of Turn Over the Moon, but that’s a subject for later. After watching the movie version of Phantom Lady (1944) last week, Woolrich’s 1942 novel pulled me back for the first time in years. Although one of his best known books and an important icon in noir—the title itself conjures visions of classic film noir—it’s an odd work I’ve never embraced as fully as many of his other novels from the same period.
Phantom Lady first appeared under the title “Phantom Alibi” as a six-part serial in Detective Fiction Magazine for 1942. Lippincott published the hardcover in August, with Woolrich using the “William Irish” pseudonym for the first time. The book was an immediate success and Woolrich sold the movie rights to Universal in October. This set up “William Irish” to develop a parallel career to Cornell Woolrich as a top suspense writer, even though anyone who looked at the serial version and saw Woolrich’s name on it would’ve known what was up.Continue reading “Phantom Lady: The Novel”
What’s the first film noir? The Maltese Falcon (1941) is most often given that honor, but you can make a strong case for Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) and the obscure B-movie Stranger on the Third Floor (1940). The latter is the one film historians most often tag as the first “true” film noir.
Whatever its starting point, 1944 is the year when film noir emerged as a major cinematic style. (I prefer Alain Silver’s designation of film noir as a style rather than a genre.) Nobody knew the term film noir yet; it would take post-War French critics to recognize the changes in the Hollywood crime film and give it a beautiful name. But the success of several stylish psychological melodramas in 1944 created the phenomenon that would extend to the end of the next decade. Double Indemnity, Laura, and Murder, My Sweet are among the big titles of the 1944 film noir wave and were three of the movies that inspired French film critic Nino Frank to coin the term film noir two years later.
But the first film noir to reach screens in 1944 was Phantom Lady, a work from two influential figures in the style: director Robert Siodmak and writer Cornell Woolrich, author of Phantom Lady’s 1942 source novel and the most important writer of literary noir. Add Siodmak’s expressionist visuals to Woolrich’s existential urban suspense tale and you have film noir fully realized. The film’s success boosted Siodmak to A-list director status after work in programmers, and it made Woolrich into a hot property for Hollywood studios, with twenty more feature film adaptations during the classic noir cycle.Continue reading “The Emergence of Film Noir: Phantom Lady (1944)”