Archive for If I Should Die Before I Wake

Blind Tuesday: Mother of Tears

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on September 29, 2015 by dcairns


The return of our occasional series of Tuesday thrillers about people who don’t see too good. We’ll get around to WAIT UNTIL DARK one day, I swear.

But for now, let’s stay Argentinian, with Carlos Hugo Christensen’s NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA (DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR), his 1952 Cornell Woolrich compendium. We might also consider this Cornell Woolrich Week Revisited.

The first story in the film is graced with spectacular, exotic production design, but takes a while to get going and is a little unsatisfactory, at least for me, in narrative terms — which is fine, because I want to talk about the second half, which deals with a blind woman and her son, who has been away for years but returns as part of a gang of armed robbers on the run from police but already planning their next heist. All this poor woman’s hopes have been wrapped up in the idea of her prodigal’s eventual return, and now she realizes, via a tune he whistles, that he’s a dreadful criminal. The conjunction of blindness with recognition via a tune recalls Lang’s M, which was also referenced in Christensen’s other Woolrich adaptation, IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE. The idea of the giveaway melody also recalls CLOCKWORK ORANGE and makes me wonder if M was an influence on that? Bear in mind that Alex’s spirited if misguided rendition of Singin’ in the Rain does not occur in the Burgess source novel and was an inspiration of star Malcolm McDowell…

The story makes free use of all the traditional superpowers of blind people — the mother has acute hearing, and can easily find her way about her home due to her perfect recall of furniture placement. Like Edward Arnold in EYES IN THE DARK and Audrey Hepburn in WAIT UNTIL DARK, she renders her enemies helpless by disabling the lights. She also has to fumble about as they sleep, locating their sidearms and removing them — the film’s most suspenseful scene. Watch out for that bottle!



Christensen again proves himself a master of suspense — this half hour entertainment, with its thoroughly satisfying and tragic twist, would stand out as a perfect episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It’s real yell-at-the-screen tension.



Delightfully and heroically, Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation has rescued the film just before its negative decayed — what we need now is a DVD release so the rest of the world can enjoy it in something better than a scuzzy off-air recording.

Portrait of an Unhappy Man

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2010 by dcairns

This sickly cove is none other than Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich. Image scanned by Guy Budziak (thanks!) from Francis M Nevins’ First You Dream, Then You Die, the biography of Woolrich.

In his foreword to Nightwebs, an anthology of Woolrich stories, Nevins quotes a passage from I Wake Up Screaming, Steve Fisher’s crime novel, which features a disturbed detective called Cornell ~

“He had red hair and thin white skin and red eyebrows and blue eyes. He looked sick. He looked like a corpse. His clothes didn’t fit him . . . He was frail, gray-faced and bitter. He was possessed with a macabre humor. His voice was nasal. You’d think he was crying.  He might have had T.B. He looked like he couldn’t stand up in a wind.”

Interestingly, while Laird Cregar in the movie version of IWUS cannot suggest the character’s slenderness, disbarred as he is by excess poundage, he nails the nasal voice and corpse-like demeanour, accurately suggested a floater fished from the East River.

Woolrich has been compared to Poe, which holds true in some ways and not in others. Poe’s life was disordered, financially fraught, haunted by death. Woolrich was wealthy (he was worth two million when he died), and not adventurous enough to get into real trouble, it seems. His writing suggests a man fearful of any change in routine. But his health was poor, and he seems to have suffered a terror of death since childhood, poisoning his life. One wouldn’t want to be either Poe or Woolrich, but Poe probably had more fun (was a better writer, too).

The true comparison is probably not the alcoholism or misery, but the way both writers devoted the bulk of their work to hammering on a single key, the key of terror. Woolrich can sustain a single note of suspense for an entire novel (as in I Married a Dead Man) and seems to gain power and effectiveness from the speed and even the sloppiness of his writing. Capable of brilliant poetic effects (in the shade of purple), he could blithely toss of clunking nonsense without looking back, but he drags you bodily through the story, over logical crevasses both bottomless and yawning, never relaxing the bony grip on the scruff of your neck or the icy fingers round your heart.

Woolrich wrote for the movies, it appears, around the time of the changeover to sound, and I can talk about that stuff a tiny bit, but really we’re looking at adaptations of his work. This cannot, in one week, be an exhaustive survey of the field, for although, weirdly, there hasn’t been an official Woolrich adaptation since ORIGINAL SIN flopped in 2001, there have been A LOT. I’ve been rooting around amid the more obscure productions, those I can find, but do intend to touch on some of the better-known movies too — PHANTOM LADY, THE LEOPARD MAN, but probably not REAR WINDOW, which I wrote about back in Hitchcock Year.

So don your sailor suits and prepare for the Waltz into Darkness…

UK readers: start here ~
Night and Fear: A Centenary Collection of Stories


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