Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Noirsville Noir Artwork of the Week

Noir Pool

Noirsville Book Review - Nightwebs

Cornell Woolrich

Starting a new feature that I though may be interesting, short book reviews, not only about Film Noir but also covering the actual source material books and their authors. Some of the novels and short stories that have become Classic Film Noirs.

It's not surprising that those films that you got to see depicted on the screen during the Motion Picture Production Code Era were surprisingly quite watered down versions of what was on the printed page and projected without censorship with your minds eye.

Rated the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woorich had more film noir screenplays adapted from his works than any other author. Many of his stories continue to still be adapted and updated, though I believe this material is actually best left close to the milieu it was created in.

To be brutally honest Woolrich was your quintessential eccentric New York nut job. You can check off the boxes from the list. From a broken home, check, sickly, check, failed to graduate, check, sexually confused, check, failed at marriage (unconsummated after three years, probably had something to do with the previous box), check, closet homo, probably, and from 1933 on to her death in 1957 lived with his mother, check.

Hotel Marseilles
And he lived with his mother, not in some swanky brown stone on the Upper East Side that you'd think would be befitting a successful author no, they lived in a squalid flop apartment in a sleazy West Harlem residence hotel, the Hotel Marseilles (Broadway and West 103rd Street see left). Their neighbors included pimps, junkies, thieves, prostitutes, confidence men, show biz low lifes, deviants, scumbags, and other assorted riff-raff.

I'm sure many of the catalysts of his stories came from overheard conversations in the lobby or in the elevator of the Marseilles, out and about around the hood, or gleamed from the daily tabloid headlines and interior page tragedies occurring daily in a city of eight million people, and combined all this with his recluse's wild imaginations.

After his Mother's death he moved to the Hotel Franconia (20 West 72 Street). This was a more upscale improvement, diagonally across the street from The Dakota, and a few doors East of an apartment house of an old girlfriend of mine (see below), This was back in the mid '60s and who knows I may have passed old Cornell on the street on my way to her apartment.

Hotel Franconia (behind the Bishop's Crook streetlight
girlfriends apt short building far right
After the Franconia he moved over to the Sheraton-Russell on Park Aveune where he "was a virtual recluse. Now in his 60s, with his eyesight failing, lonely, psychologically wracked by guilt over his homosexuality, tortured by his alcoholism, self-doubt, and a diabetic to boot, Woolrich neglected himself to such a degree that he allowed a foot infection to become gangrenous which resulted, early in 1968, in the amputation of a leg.

After the amputation, and a conversion to Catholicism, Woolrich returned to the Sheraton-Russell, confined to a wheelchair. Some of the staff there would take Woolrich down to the lobby so he could look out on the passing traffic, thus making the wizened, wheelchair-bound Woolrich into a kind of darker, self-loathing version of the character played by James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window."
Eddie Duggan

Woolrich is buried in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester, New York, it's right off I-87. I pass that way on my way to Long Island, I'll have to visit.

Nightwebs was published in 2002 in Great Brittan by Orion Books as part of their Crime Masterwoks series. The compilation consists of 12 short stories broken into three parts, The Claws of Night, Death and the City, and The Butchers and The Trapped. The majority of them were written between the late 1930s to the late 1940s.

The Claws of Death contains:

Graves For The Living a tale of the terror that a man experiences when his personal nightmare of being buried alive is taken to the extreme by a wide spread secret society that buries alive wayward members and busybodies. Reads like a Twilightzone srory

The Red Tide a tale of murder and robbery, and of a corpse hidden in a rumble seat of a couples car until begins to odoriferously decay worrying his unsuspecting wife and driving the murderer quite mad. A version of this became a Suspense Radio Play

The Corpse Next Door an apartment dweller keeps having his milk drained by a milk thief, who leaves the empty bottle outside the door every morning. He rigs up a crude type of fishing line with a sewing thread attached from the milk bottle to his finger and catches a vagrant who he thinks he kills after smacking his head repeatedly against the flagstone hallway. He hides the corpse in the next door empty apartment in a Murphy Bed that closes up against the adjoining wall, and is slowly driven insane by the smell of decay.  What the smell turns out to be is a hilarious reflection of the one of the real life incidents you'd go thrugh living in NYC a city of immigrants. Made into the 1980 film Union City

You'll Never See Me Again a newly wed couple have a spat over a badly cooked meal, she threatens to leave and go home to mother, He tells her to go right ahead and she walks out of her apartment and disappears off the face of the earth. The husband becomes a prime suspect in her possible murder after remnants of her clothing is found in the buildings incinerator.

Death and the City contains:

Dusk To Dawn a down, and out of work man has as a roommate who works as an usher at the Odeon Theater. The roommate sneaks him in to the show seating him up in the balcony. There, keeping warm he spots another man in the back and decides to see if he can bum some money off him. He discovers that the man is "sleeping" so he decides to steal a dollar out of his wallet. Much to his chagrin he finds the man is stabbed to death. When he tells his friend the usher about his discovery they take the body to the men's room and the usher informs the manager who calls the police. The Doorman describes to the police seeing a man in a blue suit go up to the balcony, our pickpocket, who becomes the prime suspect. The honest broke man turns into a vicious killer in increments, by adrenalin, coincidences, and circumstances completely beyond his control.

Murder In The Automat a Horn And Hardart Automat becomes a focal point for a poisoning. It's an impossible crime that is eventually quite neatly solved. A nice police procedural. This one would make a great film however you'd have to keep it period.

Death In The Air a great little story dealing with  the old Ninth Avenue el, a police detective on his way home to Staten Island and the two murders he solves, one in an old tenement along the right of way and one on the el itself. Another great film could be made of this if it meticulously re created the el outside digitally and inside with a set. Again it would have to stay period for obvious reasons when you read the story.

Mamie 'n" Me a milkman and his horse solve a kidnapping. A neat story of bygone city ways and days. Again another great story here for the screen.

The Butchers and The Trapped contains:

The Screaming Laugh At first it looks as if a man laughed himself to death by coronary reading a joke book. It's the tale of a ticklish man tortured to death by tickling, to find the whereabouts of his hidden money. by his young wife and her handyman lover.

One and a half Murders a girl is strangled with the silk shoulder straps of her own gown at an amusement pier ballroom along the Jersey Shore a detective solves the murder or does he?

Dead On Her Feet a runaway girl who is marathon dance contest contestant has been dragged/carried around by her partner for two hours though dead, stabbed with a pencil, a police detective figures out who done it.

One night in Barcelona is the tale of a black jazz band leader who was framed for the murders of two whitefolk down South by a corrupt system. An American detective from New York is taking him back for trial. The band leader tells him the story of the frame up. An interesting solution to the problem is creatively arrived at by Woolrich.

All in all  nice collection of stories.

Noirsville Tune Of The week

Jockey Full Of Burbon

Edna million in a drop dead suit
Dutch pink on a downtown train
Two dollar pistol but the gun won't shoot
I'm in the corner on the pouring rain
Sixteen men on a dead man's chest
I been drinking from the broken cup
Two pairs of pants and a mohair vest
I'm full of bourbon and I can't stand up
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone
Hey little bird, you fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone
Schiffer broke a bottle on Morgan's head
I'm stepping on the devil's tail
Across the stripes of a full moon's head
All through the bar's of a Cuban jail
Bloody finger's on a purple knife
Flamingo drinking from a cocktail glass
I'm on the lawn with someone else's wife
Admire the view from the top of the mast
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone
Yellow sheets on a Hong Kong bed
Stazybo horn and a slingerland ride
To the carnival is what she said
A couple hundred dollars makes it dark inside
Edna million in a drop dead suit
Dutch pink on a downtown train
Two dollar pistol but the gun won't shoot
I'm in the corner on the pouring rain
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, Children Alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, children alone
Hey little bird, fly away home
Your house is on fire, your children alone

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Grand Central Murder (1942) Screwball Noir

A humorous/ensemble film noir directed by S. Sylvan Simon (Lust for Gold (1949)). The film was based on Sue MacVeigh's 1939 novel of the same name. The screenplay was credited to Peter Ruric. The cinematography was by George J. Folsey and the music was by David Snell.

It is one of the ensemble/quasi-comedy Noirs, a small sub genre of Noir. Others are Deadline at Dawn (1946), His Kind of Woman (1951), Shack Out On 101 (1955), and even Lady In The Lake (1946), has some of this quality, there are probably a few others lurking in the Classic Noirs. Neo Noir contenders are Dr. Strangelove,or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), The Late Show (1977) After Hours (1985), Delicatessen (1991) and The Big Lebowski (1998).

The film has quite the cast with a lot of Noir credentials, starring Van Heflin (The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers (1946), Possessed (1947), Act Of Violence (1949), The Prowler (1951)) as a private investigator  "Rocky" Custer who becomes one of the suspects in a murder on a private train car in Grand Central Terminal. Patricia Dane (Johnny Eager (1941), The Harder They Fall (1956)) as Mida King, Cecilia Parker as Constance Furness, Virginia Grey (Highway 301 (1950)) as Sue Custer, Rocky's wife, Samuel S. Hinds (Lady on a Train (1945), Call Northside 777 (1948)) as Roger Furness, Connie Gilchrist (Johnny Eager (1941), Act of Violence (1949), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)) as Pearl Delroy, Tom Conway (Two O'Clock Courage (1945)), Whistle Stop (1946), Repeat Performance (1947), Confidence Girl (1952) as Frankie Ciro, Sam Levene (The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947), Crossfire (1947), Dial 1119 (1950), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1957)) as Inspector Gunther, Mark Daniels (Bury Me Dead (1947)) as David V. Henderson, Stephen McNally (Criss Cross (1949), The Raging Tide (1951), Split Second (1953)) as "Turk", Betty Wells as "Baby" Delroy, George Lynn as Paul Rinehart. Roman Bohnen as Ramon, and Millard Mitchell (Deadline at Dawn (1946). The Naked City (1948), Criss Cross (1949), D.O.A. (1949) Gun Crazy (1950), Side Street (1950)) as Detective Arthur Doolin.

Turk (McNally) escaping from pullman

hiding between the third rails

A murder convict Turk (McNally) on his way to Manhattan by train, breaks out the window of the men's john and escapes into the bowels of Grand Central Terminal. When he gets a chance he slips into a phone booth and drops a dime on a call to his ex girlfriend Mida (Dane).

Mida (Patricia Dane) and  Pearl Delroy (Connie Gilchrist)
He threatens that he's gonna kill her. Mida leaves between acts in the middle of a Broadway Show, and heads East to the terminal to hide in the private railway car of one of her admirers. She's planning on leaving town with her current lover a high society swell David V. Henderson (Mark Daniels). When Henderson and his ex fiancee Connie Furnes arrive at the car they find Mida lying naked on the bathroom/shower floor.

P.I. Rocky Custer (Hefflin)

Police Inspector Gunther (Levene)
Police Inspector Gunther (Levene) is assigned to the case. The doctor can't determine the cause of death without and autopsy. Turk is recaptured and a P.I. Rocky Custer and his wife are also rounded up and brought in for questioning. Other suspects that had grudges against Mida are brought down to headquarters. Mida's greedy phony psychic card reading stepfather Ramon (Bohnen); her New York & Western Railroad employee ex-husband Paul Rinehart (Lynn), and her sleazy producer Frankie Ciro (Conway). Also brought in are Mida's maid, an ex-burlesque singer Pearl Delroy (Gilchrist) and her daughter stripper "Baby" Delroy (Wells), who is also Mida's understudy. Roger Furness (Hinds), Connie's father and chairman of the board of the railroad, Is on the scene to protect his daughter. As Gunther gets each suspect to tell what they know and give their alibi's we see in flashback various details that lead up to the murder of Mida.

The Suspects

Frankie Ciro (Tom Conway)

Pearl Delroy (Connie Gilchrist)

Baby Delroy (Betty Wells)

David V. Henderson (Mark Daniels)

Turk (Steve NcNally)
Paul Rinehart.(George Lynn)
Connie Furness (Cecilia Parker)
Guther finds out that Mida was a world class bitch, a cold hearted gold digger stringing men all along her career rise. She had used each successive boyfriend as a stepping stone upwards. Then would throw them over whenever a better prospect came in range. When she lands millionaire Henderson she tells Frankie not to worry she'll divorce Henderson in six months and she'll meet Frankie in Reno with enough money to produce a new Broadway Show. David overhears this conversation which gives him a motive for murder.

Rocky is smart enough to figure out how the murder was committed once he intercepts the call from the morgue and hears the results of the autopsy before Levene.


Broadway at Times Square

Doolin (Millard Mitchell) right

Grand Central Terminal

Roger Furness (Samuel S. Hinds) and Connie

Rocky and  Sue Custer (Virginia Grey)

Cherry Soda

more Cherry Soda


The film has running jokes about Mida's cheapness, i.e., the various ways she manages to stiff others into paying her bills, A lovesick detective, Doolin, who keeps trying to contact his girl by phone, and another about Levene's "chain drinking" addiction to cherry soda. The pacing and smart dialogs are in classic screwball mode, but the flashbacks and action sequences in the tunnels of Grand Central Terminal are all quite noirish. 

Though it's supposed to take place in Grand Central Terminal it was most likely all filmed on a studio backlot, (there may be some second unit stock footage of actual GTC) some of the moving train sequences may also have been filmed in the old subway tunnel under Bunker Hill. It all looks reasonably quite like Grand Central Terminal. Café au lait Noir 7/10