My Book Notes: “Angel Face” aka “Face Work”, 1937 a s.s. by Cornell Woolrich

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Included in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps A Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original, November, 2007. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 15373 KB. Print Length: 2489 pages. ASIN: B000XPNUHW. eISBN: 978-0-307-49416-0. “Angel Face” by Cornell Woolrich from Black Mask Magazine, October, 1937. 1641 – 1674 pp.

BM_1937_10_LIn 1935, Cornell Woolrich (1903 – 1968) submitted a story titled “Angel Face” to Dime Detective Magazine, which published it as “Murder in Wax” in its March 1, 1935 issue. A couple of years later, he sold a similar story about an avenging angel to Black Mask, who published it as “Face Work” in its October 1937 issue. This story has often been reprinted under the title Woolrich clearly wanted for it, “Angel Face”,  finally given to it by Frederic Dannay when he reprinted it in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for December 1946. While it has the usual number of plot inconsistencies, one expects from the great poet of darkness, it is quintessentially Woolrich in all his noir glory. Both “Murder in Wax” and “Angel Face” were the basis for one of the seven great novels in his memorable “Black” series, The Black Angel (Doubleday, 1943).

In addition to its frequent reprints, “Face Work” enjoyed other incarnations. It was bought for the movies soon after publication—the first of numerous Woolrich stories to be filmed. Columbia made it into a weak fifty-eight-minute B movie titled Convicted in 1938. Although it starred a young Rita Hayworth and meticulously followed the story, even lifting much of the original dialogue, it is neither a noir film nor a memorable one. Twelve years later, it was aired as “Angel Face” on radio’s famous Suspense series (May 18, 1950) with Claire Trevor as the good-hearted stripper who tries to save her brother from being convicted of a murder.

My Take: In “Face Work” aka “Angel Face” Woolrich reworked his 1935 short story “Murder in Wax” changing the characters from husband and wife to brother and sister. This change, minimal in appearance, modifies the  story in a certain sense and, in my view, even improves it.

“Angel Face” is narrated in the first person by Jerry Wheeler, a young woman of twenty-seven with a pretty face and a hard life behind, who does whatever it takes for her younger brother Chick. Since she was sixteen, she spent most of her young girlhood to keep him out of the orphan asylum or the reformatory.

When the story begins Chick has been cajoled by Ruby Rose Reading, a girlfriend of a mobster and he wants to run off to Chicago with her. To protect Chick, Jerry has come to see Ruby Rose to persuade her to take her hands off from him. 

“There’s a little girl on our street, oh not much to look at, thinks twelve o’clock’s the middle of the night and storks leave babies, but she is ready to take up where I leave off, pinch pennies and squeeze nickels along with him, build him into something, get him somewhere, not spread him all over the landscape.  He’s just a man, doesn’t know what’s good for him, doesn’t know his bass from his oboe. I can’t stand by and watch her chew her heart up. Give her a break, and him, and me. Pick on someone your size, someone that can take it. Have your fun and more power to you – but not with all I’ve got!”

But Jerry achieves nothing and, upon returning home, she said to her brother:

“I’m not asking anything for myself. I’m older than you, Chick, and when a girl says that you’ve got her down to bedrock. I’ve been around plenty, and ‘around’ wasn’t pretty. Maybe you think it was fun wrestling my way home each morning at five, and no holds barred, just so— so…. Oh, I didn’t know why myself sometimes; just so you wouldn’t turn out to be another corner lizard, a sharpshooter, a bum like the rest of them. Chick, you’re just a punk of twenty-four, but as far as I’m concerned the sun rises and sets across your shoulders. Me and little Mary Allen, we’ve been rooting for you all along; what’s the matter with her, Chick? Just because her face don’t come out of boxes and she doesn’t know the right grips, don’t pass her by for something that ought to be shampooed out of your hair with gasoline.”

But he didn’t have an ear for music;

That same night, around four in the morning, Jerry’s doorbell rings. A couple of detectives enter his house. They don’t ask if they could get in. After a while, all Jerry can find out is that someone had strangled Ruby Rose Reading at a quarter past eight that evening. And there’s no question who could have done it. Chick was seen walking into her apartment a few minutes earlier. Shattered by the news, she tries to incriminate herself saying it was she who killed her, but later on in trial, Chick will be found guilty and sentenced to death. But Jerry has already become determined to do whatever it takes to save him from the electric chair.

In short, “Angle Face” is a little gem that perhaps may have been forgotten among the amount of Cornell Woolrich stories and that, in my view, is very much worth reading. I consider that it is quite a success the change of main characters to a brother and sister, which makes the story seems more credible. Another achievement is the change in roles among brother and sister, as presages the chosen names. Jerry is more likely to be a guy’s name and Chick a gal’s name. It is as well an excellent story around the maternal figure that performs Chick’s elder sister. And, last but not least, it serves as a great introduction to the world of Cornell Woolrich for those who wish to start reading his oeuvre.

About the Author: Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 April 1903—25 September 1968) was an American novelist and short story writer who wrote under the names Cornell Woolrich, George Hopley and William Irish. His biographer Francis Nevins Jr. rated him the 4th best crime writer of his day behind Dashiell Hammett, Eric Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler. Like Chandler, little is known about his personal life. Woolrich was born in New York City and his parents separated when he was young. He lived for a time in Mexico with his father before returning to New York to live with his mother. Attending Columbia University, he dropped out his senior year when his first novel Cover Charge was published. He continued writing and living with his mother. After she died, he socialized on occasion in Manhattan bars with Mystery Writers of America colleagues and younger fans, but alcoholism, diabetes, and an amputated leg left him a recluse. Hopley-Woolrich throughout his writing career published 27 novels and 16 short story collections resulting in over 40 films and TV theatre episodes based on his stories. His most famous film adaptation is the movie Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart, based on his story “It Had To Be Murder”. (Sources: The Passing Tramp; Wikipedia).

Bibliography: Cornell Woolrich’s novels written between 1940 to 1948 are considered his principal legacy. During this time, he definitively became an author of novel-length crime fiction which stand apart from his first six works, written under the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Woolrich’s best known novels are: The Bride Wore Black as William Irish (Simon and Schuster, 1940) aka Beware the Lady, Phantom Lady as William Irish (Lippincott, 1942), Black Alibi (Simon and Schuster, 1942), The Black Angel (Doubleday, 1943), Deadline at Dawn as William Irish (Lippincott, 1944), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (as George Hopley) (Farrar & Rinehart, 1945), Rendezvous in Black (Rinehart, 1948) and I Married a Dead Man (as William Irish) (Lippincott, 1948).

Short story collections: Nightwebs (1971), Darkness at Dawn (1988)

Individual stories/novellas: “Murder at the Automat” (1937), “Mystery in Room 913” aka “The Room with Something Wrong” (1938), “All at Once, No Alice” (1940), “It Had to be Murder” aka “Rear Window” (1942) and “The Penny-a-Worder” (1958).

A Cornell Woolrich bibliography can be found here.

Recommended Reading: Francis M. Nevins’ Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die is an enormous, in depth biography and critical study on Woolrich and his work. It is a very detailed look at Woolrich’s world. Nevins also edited the best of all Woolrich collections, Nightwebs, which contains important essays and bibliographies as well. It also contains Woolrich’s autobiographical story, “The Penny-a-Worder” (1958), which is a gentle self portrait of a pulp writer. (Source: Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection)

“Who Was Cornell Woolrich?” by Richard Dooling

“Do People Really Know What They Think They Know About Woolridge?” by Curtis Evans

Cornell Woolrich is also covered by Marin Edwards in his book The Life of Crime (Chapter 30 Waking Nightmares Noir Fiction)

“Angel Face” también conocido como “Face Work”, es un relato breve de 1937, de Cornell Woolrich

En 1935, Cornell Woolrich (1903 – 1968) envió una historia titulada “Angel Face” a la revista Dime Detective, que la publicó como “Murder in Wax” en su número del 1 de marzo de 1935. Un par de años más tarde, vendió una historia similar sobre un ángel vengador a Black Mask, que la publicó como “Face Work” en su número de octubre de 1937. Esta historia se reimprimió a menudo con el título que Woolrich claramente quería para ella, “Angel Face”, que finalmente le dio Frederic Dannay cuando la reeditó en Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine en diciembre de 1946. Si bien tiene el número habitual de inconsistencias en la trama, que uno espera del gran poeta de las tinieblas, es la quintaesencia de Woolrich en todo su esplendor noir. Tanto “Murder in Wax” como “Angel Face” fueron la base de una de las siete grandes novelas de su memorable serie “Black”, The Black Angel (Doubleday, 1943).

Además de sus frecuentes reediciones, “Face Work” disfrutó de otras versiones. Fue adquirida para el cine poco después de su publicación, la primera de las numerosas historias de Woolrich que se rodaron. Columbia la convirtió en una flojal película serie B de cincuenta y ocho minutos titulada Convicted en 1938. Aunque estaba protagonizada por una joven Rita Hayworth y seguía meticulosamente la historia, incluso eliminando gran parte del diálogo original, no es una película noir ni memorable. Doce años más tarde, se emitió como “Angel Face” en la famosa serie de radio Suspense (18 de mayo de 1950) con Claire Trevor como la stripper de buen corazón que intenta salvar a su hermano de ser condenado por un asesinato.

Mi opinión: En “Face Work”, también conocido como “Angel Face”, Woolrich reelaboró ​​su relato de 1935 “Murder in Wax” cambiando los personajes de marido y mujer a hermano y hermana. Este cambio, en apariencia mínimo, modifica en cierto sentido la historia y, a mi modo de ver, incluso la mejora.

“Angel Face” está narrada en primera persona por Jerry Wheeler, una joven de veintisiete años con una cara bonita y una vida dura a sus espaldas, que hace lo que sea por su hermano menor Chick. Desde que tenía dieciséis años, dedicó la mayor parte de su infancia a mantenerlo fuera del asilo de huérfanos o del reformatorio.

Cuando comienza la historia, Chick ha sido engatusado por Ruby Rose Reading, la novia de un mafioso, y quiere fugarse a Chicago con ella. Para proteger a Chick, Jerry ha venido a ver a Ruby Rose para persuadirla de que le quite las manos de encima.

“Hay una jovencita en nuestra calle, no parece gran cosa, que piensa que las doce en punto es la mitad de la noche y las cigüeñas traen a los niños, pero está preparada para continuar donde yo no llego, ahorra unos céntimos y exprime monedas de cinco centavos junto con él, para convertirlo en algo, conseguir algo de él, sin esparcirlo por todas partes. Es solo un hombre, no sabe lo que es bueno para él, no distingue su bajo de su oboe. No puedo quedarme de brazos cruzados y mirarla haciendo de tripas corazón. Dale un respiro, a él y a mí. Elige a alguien de tu tamaño, alguien que pueda soportarlo. Diviértete y mejor para tí, ¡pero no con lo único que tengo! (mi tradución libre)

Pero Jerry no consigue nada y, al regresar a casa, le dice a su hermano

“No te pido nada para mí. Soy mayor que tú, Chick, y se bien cuando una chica te dice que está en tu médula. He estado muchas veces allí, y ‘allí’ no era bonito. Tal vez pienses que fue divertido luchar de regreso a casa todas las mañanas a las cinco, sin restricciones, así que… así que… Oh, yo misma no sabía por qué a veces; para que no termines siento otro lagarto, un francotirador, un inútil como el resto.  Chick, solo eres un mocoso de veinticuatro años, pero por lo que a mí respecta, amanece y anochece siempre igual. La pequeña Mary Allen y yo, te hemos apoyado todo el tiempo; ¿Qué te pasa, Chick? Solo porque su cara no sea excepcional y no conozca la postura correcta, no la cambies por algo que tendriás que enjabonarte con gasolina para poder arrancártelo del cabello”.

Pero él no tenía oídos para escuchar su música; (mi traducción libre)

Esa misma madrugada, alrededor de las cuatro de la mañana, suena el timbre de la puerta de Jerry. Un par de detectives entran en su casa. No preguntan si pueden entrar. Después de un tiempo, todo lo que Jerry puede averiguar es que alguien había estrangulado a Ruby Rose Reading a las ocho y cuarto de la noche. Y no hay duda de quién podría haberlo hecho. Chick fue visto entrando en su apartamento unos minutos antes. Destrozada por la noticia, intenta incriminarse diciendo que fue ella quien la mató, pero más tarde en el juicio, Chick será declarado culpable y condenadao a muerte. Pero Jerry ya está decidida a hacer lo que sea necesario para salvarlo de la silla eléctrica.

En definitiva, “Angle Face” es una pequeña joya que quizás haya quedado olvidada entre la cantidad de relatos de Cornell Woolrich y que, a mi modo de ver, merece mucho la pena leer. Considero que es todo un acierto el cambio de personajes principales a un hermano y una hermana, lo que hace que la historia parezca más creíble. Otro logro es el cambio de roles entre hermano y hermana, como presagian los nombres elegidos. Jerry es más probable que sea un nombre de chico y Chick un nombre de chica. Es también una excelente historia en torno a la figura materna que interpreta la hermana mayor de Chick. Y, por último, pero no menos importante, sirve como una gran introducción al mundo de Cornell Woolrich para aquellos que deseen comenzar a leer su obra.

Sobre el autor: Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich (4 de abril de 1903 – 25 de septiembre de 1968) fue un escritor de novelas y relatos estadounidense que escribió bajo los nombres de Cornell Woolrich, George Hopley y William Irish. Su biógrafo Francis Nevins Jr. lo calificó como el cuarto mejor escritor policiaco de su época detrás de Dashiell Hammett, Eric Stanley Gardner y Raymond Chandler. Al igual que Chandler, se sabe poco sobre su vida personal. Woolrich nació en la ciudad de Nueva York y sus padres se separaron cuando él era joven. Vivió un tiempo en México con su padre antes de regresar a Nueva York para vivir con su madre. Asistiendo a la Universidad de Columbia, abandonó su último año cuando se publicó su primera novela Cover Charge. Continuó escribiendo y viviendo con su madre. Después de que ella muriera, socializó en bares de Manhattan con colegas de Mystery Writers of America y fanáticos más jóvenes, pero el alcoholismo, la diabetes y una pierna amputada lo dejaron recluido. Hopley-Woolrich a lo largo de su carrera como escritor publicó 27 novelas y 16 colecciones de cuentos que dieron como resultado más de 40 películas y episodios teatralizados para la televisivo basados ​​en sus historias. Su adaptación cinematográfica más famosa es la película Rear Window dirigida por Alfred Hitchcock y protagonizada por James Stewart, basada en su historia “It Had To Be Murder”. (Fuentes:  The Passing Tramp; Wikipedia).

4 thoughts on “My Book Notes: “Angel Face” aka “Face Work”, 1937 a s.s. by Cornell Woolrich”

  1. Nice review! However, I would argue that this…

    Another achievement is the change in roles among brother and sister, as presages the chosen names. Jerry is more likely to be a guy’s name and Chick a gal’s name.

    …is more coincidence than anything–“Jerry” was not a totally uncommon name/nickname for women back then (indeed, it isn’t the only female Jerry I’ve come across in pulp fiction of the time; I’ve also come across a female Neil and plenty other now-bizarre names!). Similarly, “Chick” used to be a pretty common nickname for men, usually short for “Charles.”

    Still a great review, though! This one is a personal favorite out of Woolrich’s short stories, and it’s wonderful to see it getting some attention. 🙂

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