Wednesday, September 02, 2015

He Who Wrote Both Hitchcock & Fassbinder

Have you guys ever read any of Cornell Woolrich's stories? I don't know how it's quite possible that I haven't, given the fact that dude wrote the story that my favorite movie Rear Window was based upon, but it is quite possible after all, in that it's a stone-cold truth. Goodness me! Well I just went and bought a book of some of his stories (one including Rear Window, of course) so we'll fix that soon enough -- although I wish I knew which book was best to buy; there are so many collections! I figure what I got will be a good place to start, anyway. But I'm asking because you guys can tell me, I know you can, which stories are musts. So...?

All of this just came to my attention by the way because it's mentioned in this really gorgeous piece on Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1973 film Martha (thanks Mac) that Martha's story bore a strong similarity to a story by Woolrich... actually so strong a similarity that lawyers were summoned!

"... Martha had more practical difficulties to cope with at the time, at least in reaching an American audience. Unlike those three earlier Fassbinder films and many later ones, it failed to surface at the New York Film Festival... or land a stateside distributor, and subsequent legal problems with the Cornell Woolrich estate about its adaptation of a Woolrich story kept it out of reach for a good many years afterwards. Consequently it never had a chance to be become canonized when Fassbinder was still in vogue in the states."

That story is called "For the Rest of Her Life" and it is apparently hard to get one's hands upon because it was first printed in an obscure mystery magazine, although it is apparently included in this out-of-print book... which maybe is the one I should have found a copy of, now that I think about it. Well we'll see how the first book goes -- I'll probably wanna keep going after that!


Anonymous said...

I have pretty much all of his books and stories - bought them about 1977 after seeing Wender's The American Friend (will be released in blu ray by Criterion). Of my favorite writers (Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson), he is my favorite. His stories can seem incomprehensible/improbable but noir fiction is not meant to be logical its about the dark forces in the universe that makes you a victim. BTW: is that pic supposed to be Woolrich? Its not him as I have actual 8x10 photos. I love all of his writings. Some of my favorites: Night has a Thousand Eyes; I wouldn't be in your Shoes - actually ALL of them are great. Its good to know something about him before reading though. In very brief: he lived with his father in Mexico City for sometime as a kid (attended the premier of Madame Butterfly with his dad and it had a great influence on his melodramatic sensibility). On returning to NYC he lived with his mother until her death - they lived in residence hotels. He drank a lot especially after her death. Pretty much no one knew him. That's why there's no significant bio available - bio material is based on second hand stories mostly. He spent the nights roaming NYC in a drunken state. Its said he picked up tough guys. He died of gangrene at his hotel room in 1968. I often feel unsettled, anxious and yet euphoric while reading his masterful novels and stories. And Patricia Highsmith is also one of the great masters - absolutely love her work. And Jim Thompson while having a similar world view has a unique voice. I recommend reading all three.

JA said...

Thank you for all of that great info, Anon! I've read a ton of Highsmith and love her, which is why I was surprised when I realized I hadn't read any of Woolrich's stuff.

That's weird about the picture -- it came up as him when I googled him but it didn't look much like the other pictures; I assumed it was just him younger, or something. I will change the picture though, thanks for the correction.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that no picture has been filmed that captures Woolrich's universe. Same could be said of Highsmith with the exception of The American Friend. Woolrich's writing amazes me. I'm in the process of purchasing a condo in Palm Springs so have his books packed but I think I'm going to open the boxes and pick on out. Some of his dime-a-word stories for pulps are beyond brilliant: Papa Benjamin for one. Almost all his pulp stories are available in book collection form - well ... very old books. You can find them on abay but they'll likely be expensive. If you've not read Jim Thompson you should (The Grifters, Pop 1280, The Killer Inside Me, etc.). I believe there's going to be a showing of some of Wim Wenders pictures in association with the Criterion releases - if they show them in NYC you should see them - ESPECIALLY The American Friend (Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz). -- Larry

sissy in hwd said...

I have mobi and epub files for AND FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. send me an email at and I'll send them in my return email

Anonymous said...

From Time Magazine, 12/8/03 - a really good run down on him and his work (-Larry):,8599,557218,00.html

JA said...

Thanks again you guys! Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Alas, most of his work has been out of print for years -- especially the short stories. (One publisher promised a "complete stories" series a few years ago, but that seems to have ground to a halt after one volume.) However, Ballantine reissued the worthwhile novels (with the exception of "Manhattan Love Song") in the 1980s, and they aren't too hard to find.

"Nightwebs" isn't a bad collection of stories -- if you can find it; there's no overlap with the collection you've just bought. Avoid the U.K. edition, though, as it cuts off a quarter of the book.

Finally, there's a biography, "Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die," by Francis Nevins, which is also out of print, but has a valuable guide to both short stories and film/TV/radio adaptations.

I feel I must say that his writing is the sublime and the ridiculous, sometimes in proportion, sometimes not. Still, when he gets it right, there's no-one like him. When you read the story "Post-Mortem," you'll see what I mean.