Archive for the Cornell Woolrich Category

Cornell Woolrich: Murder at the Automat

Posted in Cornell Woolrich on July 18, 2010 by gustravis

“You talk like a layman.  You’ve been on the squad long enough by now to know how damnably unescapable little habits are, how impossible it is to shake them off, once formed. The public at large thinks detective work is something miraculous like pulling rabbits out of a silk-hat. They don’t realize that no adult is a free agent–that they’re tied hand and foot by tiny, harmless little habits, and held helpless.”
Murder at the Automat, a short story by Cornell Woolrich

“Very few photographs of Woolrich exist, but an interesting verbal portrait appears in Chapter 5 of I Wake Up Screaming, a novel by Steve Fisher who was a pulpwriter contemporary of Woolrich. ‘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, grey-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.’ The character’s name is Cornell.”
-From the introduction to the collection Nightwebs, written by Francis M. Nevins, Jr.

Automat falls into “impossible crime” genre.  A man is killed at an automat by a pre-wrapped poisoned sandwich.  The others at the table didn’t do it.  The sandwich packers didn’t do it.  No one could have done it.  At least, that’s how it seems.

What I like about Woolrich’s story is that we have this one detective, Nelson, trying to figure this impossible crime out, while his captain and his partner beat the sense out of the most “likely” witness to get a confession. Woolrich tosses us into a world where justice doesn’t mean a damn thing, just get a confession and that’s good enough. His hero turns against the system in order to protect it in what seems like an ongoing theme in the writer’s pulp work: paranoia.


Cornell Woolrich: Grave for the Living

Posted in Cornell Woolrich with tags , , , , on June 12, 2010 by gustravis

The man behind Alfred Hithcock’s Rear Window.  This guy was a weird one.  He liked men.  He had an amputated leg, apparently from an untreated shoe that was too tight on his foot.  He lived with his mother, a recluse from the world, but his stories reek from an underworld, both physical and mental.

From this collection of Cornell shorts comes Grave for the Living.  It plays like a 1930’s Edgar Allan Poe tale and sets up a sort of paranoia that has since become common throughout major pop culture works like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Fight Club.

Let me catch you up a bit.  The story’s about a guy who’s afraid of being buried alive.  He’s this way because of his father, see?  His dad was buried alive and it kind’ve shook him up if you know what I mean.  So he’s afraid and he goes around to funerals and disrupts them to make sure no one’s being buried alive.

At one of these funerals, he meets a nice girl.  She shows him how to live normal.  He tries it on for size but chance steps in when he discovers on a casual trip through the country a farm where a secret society buries people alive.  He’s saved only from these lunatics when they discover his strange connection to this practice through his father’s death.  He’s threatened to keep quiet and of course he can’t.

When he tries to go to the cops, well, they’re a part of this secret society too.  Turns out there’s someone everywhere he goes who is and soon enough he’s fighting with no hope for he and his girl’s lives.

That’s what I mean about paranoia.  A little far fetched?  Sure.  So is a black cat and a pit with a pendulum comin’ to get you and the red death and that sort of thing, but hell if it’s not good writing.

This is a cover for the kind of magazine Woolrich was published in.