Eddie Muller on Cornell Wool-rich
Alfred Hitchcock may be the "Master of Suspense," but in my book he shares the title with Cornell Woolrich. An astoundingly prolific writer, Woolrich (who often used the pen name William Irish) has probably had more stories adapted to film, in more languages, than any other author. The reason is simple: He created tales with inventive spine-tingling premises and predicaments and wrote them in a completely camera-ready style.
In the early 1940s Hollywood studios began buying almost everything Woolrich produced, principally the novels in his "Black" series: The Black Curtain, Black Alibi, Black Angel, The Black Path of Fear--which became Street of Chance (1942), The Leopard Man (1943), Black Angel (1946) and The Chase (1946). In addition, the forties' films noirs Phantom Lady (1944), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), and No Man of Her Own (1950) were all based on Woolrich novels. Not to mention a slew of dark Poverty Row potboilers such as The Guilty (1947), I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes (1948) and Fall Guy (1947).
All this success meant virtually nothing to the lonely, reclusive and repressed author, who lived most of his life in a Manhattan hotel suite he shared with his mother. Even as his stories were being adapted all over the globe by some of the world's greatest filmmakers, Woolrich continued to pound out pulp stories for the few remaining mystery magazines in the business, living the life of a reclusive hermit, rarely venturing out into a world he found utterly terrifying.
He and Hitchcock crossed paths, creatively not literally, only twice: Rear Window (1954) was based on Woolrich's short story "It Had to Be Murder, and "Four O'Clock," one of the few episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by the Master himself, was also based on a Woolrich story. While Hitchcock undoubtedly deserves the mantle "Master of Suspense," he also had teams of writers and literally hundreds of creative collaborators helping bring his visions to life. Woolrich had nothing but a Remington portable typewriter and reams of paper from the local stationery store, on which he relentlessly banged out fear-soaked stories of innocent people trapped in life-and-death circumstances. That's all he needed to create some of the darkest and most nerve-wracking stories ever told.
Eddie Muller on Raymond Chandler
It's the rare writer whose depiction of a city, in prose, becomes the world's accepted vision of the place. That's how it is with Raymond Chandler and Los Angeles. His descriptions of the vast neon wasteland, as rendered in the dyspeptic dialogues of detective Philip Marlowe--are now considered the definitive mid-twentieth century vision of the city. In addition, Chandler has inspired more people to become crime fiction writers than any other author in the genre. Which is especially astounding when you consider that he didn't write particularly coherent or compelling plots, and that besides Marlowe himself there are few memorable characters in his books.
But as prose stylist, Chandler was unmatched. His gift for rendering mood and setting, without ever slackening the narrative pace, was extraordinary. And his flair for the colorful, sarcastic simile ("...as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.") is what separated him from his colleagues--and put the hook in all those wanna-be crime writers.
Hollywood and Chandler were a poor pairing, even though some good films came from the tenuous alliance. A snooty, curmudgeonly alcoholic, Chandler never fit in, and despite earning an Oscar® nomination for his only original script, The Blue Dahlia
(1946), he never really figured out how to write an effective screenplay. (His first draft of Lady in the Lake
(1947), based on his novel, is an unwieldy mess, fit only for the eyes of Chandler aficionados--as MGM agreed, hiring Steve Fisher to wrangle it into shape.)
Despite all that, his contribution to the genre can't be overstated: He gave American crime fiction its most distinctive voice.