The Pocket Books marketing team messes up a near perfect thriller.
This cover for Cornell Woolrich's 1949 thriller Rendezvous in Black was painted by William Wirts, a new name for us, but a guy who deserves credit for a job well done. The editors at Pocket Books, though, did a terrible job, because their cover blurb gives everything away. The plot deals with a man who is driven mad by the death of a loved one and transforms into a vengeance killer. Most of his victims are carefully humanized by Woolrich so that a sense of tragedy is progressively inflicted upon you. You hope the next target will be the one who escapes the killer's clutches or turns the tables. But nope, the blurb tells you none of them survive. How? Because it tells you a police woman is made up a certain way in order to trap the killer. Ergo nobody survives up to the point that the police woman is introduced. And she doesn't show up until the last twenty pages. This is a particularly bad spoiler because the story is constructed around the killer's cat and mouse games with his victims, who as we said before are written in such a way that you really root for them. That's a couple hundred pages of potential suspense tossed in the bin by that indiscreet cover blurb.
Rendezvous in Black is a classic from Woolrich, one of the most left field concepts from a highly creative writer, but the moment you started reading this post any surprises contained in the book were rendered ineffective. We debated using an alternate cover from somewhere online and not mentioning the spoiler, but among the many things we like to discuss here are the decisions made by publishing companies in promoting their books. These decisions include which art to use, or re-use, or use in altered form, whether to over-emphasize violence, and often, whether to promise something far more salcious than the text actually delivers. As the paperback revolution got into full swing during the 1950s publishers often slapped action art on serious works such as 1984, or sex covers on classical literature like Aristarchus of Samos's L'Antiragione. Those are brazen moves, but we don't mind. On the other hand, whoever made this decision for Pocket Books should have been fired. But as it happens, Rendezvous in Black is so interesting and different that it can't be ruined. So we recommend that you read it anyway.
Ignore the skull. That belonged to an old boyfriend.
Barye Phillips does nice cover work on this 1953 Gold Medal edition of 1950's Savage Bride, Cornell's Woolrich's bizarre tale about a man who marries a very young woman who, despite her tender age, harbors some shocking secrets. Without spoiling it, let's just say her unusually rustic upbringing results in serious marital problems. There are warning signs. She has weird dreams and speaks in tongues. But she's hot, so her husband overlooks that stuff. He soon finds himself enduring unimaginable hell. Even so, in our opinion he actually gets off lucky—because for a fleeting second we thought his wife was a reanimated mummy. Trust us, it wasn't an unreasonable guess. Things don't get quite that crazy, but they come close. This is one problematic spouse. Marry wisely.
Please help me. My husband is on death row and I need to save him so I can kill his cheating ass myself.
These two posters were made to promote the film noir Black Angel, which starred June Vincent, Dan Duryea, Doris Dowling, and Peter Lorre in a story credited to high concept author Cornell Woolrich. But we gather nothing survived from Woolrich except the ending. When a man is convicted of his mistress's murder, the jailed man's cheated upon but noble wife tries to prove her husband innocent with the help of the murdered woman's ex-husband, who, though cuckolded, agrees that the wrong person is ticketed for Old Sparky. They set their sights on shady nightclub owner Peter Lorre and decide to infiltrate his operation in order to find proof he was the real killer. Naturally, as this heartbroken and mismatched pair dig up clues and investigate shady characters, feelings get confused. As in many noirs, there's a final act twist, and the one used here is pretty good, helping to elevate an average thriller to something a bit more memorable. Within the genre it's a significant film, and reasonably enjoyable to watch. Black Angel premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
Man, I've really got the munchies. Kinda wanna murder a bunch of people too.
Measured by pennies per word William Irish's, aka Cornell Woolrich's 1941 drug scare classic Marihuana is one of the most expensive paperbacks you'll ever come across. The Dell edition you see here with iconic cover art by Bill Fleming could cost you over $100 for its sixty-four pages. It's the story of King Turner, who goes slumming in Hell's Kitchen and smokes a joint that sets him off on a murderous rampage. Best passage:
“You don't reason with a hooded cobra or a hydrophobic dog or a time bomb. You can't.”
That is frickin' hilarious. In case you're wondering, hydrophobia is rabies. Well, one thing is correct—you can't reason with people who are stoned. But instead of trying to stop them from hurting someone, you try to tell them strawberry jelly on Saltines is a bad solution for the munchies. Marihuana makes its point of view abundantly clear: weed bad, and don't be shocked when your life goes down the commode. You've been warned.
You ever feel like you're going to lose no matter what?
This awesome cover art is by Tommy Shoemaker, a new talent to us, but not to more experienced paperback illustration aficionados, and his work fronts William Irish's The Night Has 1000 Eyes. The cover alone got us into this one. It tells the story a woman who has been burdened with very dark—and very real—predictions about the future, forecasts far too specific to be lucky guesses. For example, she's told she'll meet a woman who wears a diamond watch around her knee, and it comes true when one of her friends asks to borrow a garter, then raises her skirt to show how she's dealt with her broken one by fastening her watch around her stocking. Given that these predictions are so specific, the crucial announcement that the woman's father will be killed by a lion seems utterly unavoidable, even though they live in the middle of a metropolis.
The cover may seem to remove the need to read the novel, but don't worry—it actually depicts not the climax or any point in the middle, but the first several pages, in which a beat cop comes across a woman determined to leap from a bridge. It's after he rescues her that we learn the bizarre story of why she's there. Irish, aka George Hopley, aka Cornell Woolrich, is perhaps a bit too reiterative with his prose in this one, tending to belabor his points after they've been fully made, to the extent that the novel feels a bit like it's been padded out to reach a word threshold. Minor flaw. Even if you're periodically tempted to skip some of the existentialism 101 musings, Irish/Hopley/Woolrich weaves a compelling tale here—one later made into a film noir starring Edward G. Robinson—and it's well worth the time spent.
DeForest Kelly makes strong impression debuting in low budget psychological noir.
We’re doubling up on the film noir with Fear in the Night, a low budget drama that hit cinemas today in 1947. It stars DeForest Kelly—Dr. McCoy of Star Trek fame—in his cinematic debut as a bank teller who has a nightmare of murder, but wakes with unnerving hints it was more than a dream—blood on his hand, thumbprints on his neck, and a few foreign items in his possession. While not a top noir, the source material—Cornell Woolrich’s story “And So to Death”—is strong, and the film is stylishly shot by director Maxwell Shane and cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh, who use various visual tricks to suggest a man barely keeping his grip on reality (see below). Some may be put off by the voiceover dominating the first reel, but we thought it was fun. Viewers know right away Kelly’s done something bad in the real world—the questions are where, when, how, and why. Luckily, his cop in-law and loyal girlfriend are there to lean on, so it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes out. Kelly is only twenty-seven in this and with his soulful eyes and perfectly waved hair he’s quite handsome. We recommend this one for true noir lovers, fans of Star Trek, and women who want material for their rub club. And no, you aren't imagining it—DeForest doesn't appear on the promo poster, even though he's the star.
When Hollywood fleshed out source material it often changed the flesh tones too.
Just a bit more on Rear Window today. The movie was based on Cornell Woolrich's story "It Had To Be Murder," which appeared in Dime Detective Magazine of February 1942. As might be expected story and film are substantially different. Lisa Fremont doesn't exist at all and neither does the insurance company nurse Stella. They were both derived from one character—a valet named Sam who does all the hard work while Jeffries watches from his wheelchair. The relationship between these two is warm, but with strong overtones of status and race, with Jeffries at one point showing his pleasure with Sam by saying, "Go and build yourself a great big two-story whisky punch; you’re as close to white as you’ll ever be."
Screenplay choices are always interesting, and we can see the addition of Grace Kelly's Fremont character making sense (though this being Hitchcock, he'd have put a blonde in the movie no matter what, since they represented a fantasy woman for him), but we wish Stella had been left out and Sam kept intact. We understand that changing Jeffries into a rogue photographer from a rich Manhattanite meant taking away his valet, but Sam could have been transformed into the insurance company employee. But that's just our opinion. You can decide for yourself by reading or downloading "It Had To Be Murder" yourself at this link. It's well worth the time.
Hi honey! You’ve been so tense and nervous lately I decided to drop by as a surprise and—
Above, the cover art from William Irish’s, aka Cornell Woolrich’s six story anthology Six Nights of Mystery, 1950, with excellent art by Rudolph Belarski. Both parties actually lose out here. Yeah, the woman gets shot. Painful, no doubt. But the guy? He can just forget about ever winning another argument. Fifteen years later she’ll still be on his ass about this little mishap and he’ll be like, “For the love of God! I shot you once! One time! Do I have to hear about it for-fucking-ever?”
Note: To see women exercising their equal right to shoot men, check here
In pulp, nights of impulse are always followed by mornings of regret.
Above is a nice cover for Elick Moll’s suspense novel Night Without Sleep, the story of a playwright whose violent temper and love of drink lead to a serious dilemma—he awakens from a binge with vague memories of a woman screaming, leading him to suspect he may have committed murder. There are three women in his life—his wife, his mistress, and the woman he would like to be his new mistress—and he tracks them down one by one, praying that his suspicions are wrong. A pretty good read, all in all, even if certain elements do resemble Cornell Woolrich’s earlier The Black Angel. We noticed this book mainly because the title was familiar—a film version starred the luscious Linda Darnell, one of our favorite old actresses. You can see a great photo of her here. 1962 on this cover, by the way, with art by uncredited.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.
1989—Guildford Four Exonerated
The men known as the Guildford Four, who were imprisoned for a series of bombs attacks on British pubs that left five dead and 100 injured, are decreed not guilty after an investigation reveals that police colluded in doctoring statements that appeared to incriminate the defendants.
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