with Francis M. Nevins
1946 / 81 min / b/w
Dir. Roy William Neill / Scr. Roy Chanslor
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre
Adapted from The Black Angel (1943)
DCP courtesy of Universal Pictures
Introduced by Ann Douglas, Columbia University, and followed by a discussion with Francis M. Nevins, Saint Louis University.
This screening is part of The Second Annual Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival
Into the Night: Cornell Woolrich and Film Noir
What did Woolrich think of the film adaptations of his work? In the case of Universal’s Black Angel, we know – and it wasn’t pretty. Early in 1947, after watching the film on the prompting of Columbia professor Mark Van Doren, Woolrich scrawled out his disappointment on hotel-room stationery. “I was so ashamed when I came out of [the theater],” he wrote Van Doren. “All I could keep thinking of in the dark was: Is that what I wasted my whole life for?”
Woolrich’s lifelong self-contempt likely prevented him from appreciating what, in the opinion of biographer Francis M. Nevins, is among the very best of Woolrich adaptations – a film that displays “total fidelity to [the source novel’s] essence … [yet] little to its literal text.”
The 1943 novel replicates the formula of Woolrich’s Phantom Lady of the previous year: A woman sets out to prove a man’s innocence, tracking her way through a rogues’ gallery of possible suspects (four, in the case of Black Angel). Roy Chanslor’s script keeps this basic premise, but tightens the structure by jettisoning one of the suspects and conflating two others into the single figure of Marty Blair, played by Dan Duryea. The narrative redesign seems to have been intended in part to launch Duryea as a male lead. As Variety reported, Universal’s plan was to “give a romantic buildup to Duryea and at the same time cash in on the underlip snarl he made famous in Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street.”
Francis M. Nevins is a Professor Emeritus at St. Louis University School of Law. In addition to legal scholarship he is the author of six novels, more than forty short stories, and a number of nonfiction books dealing with mystery and detective fiction. He has received two Edgar awards from Mystery Writers of America–including one for his Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die (1988)–and was shortlisted for a third. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Tickets: $12 General Admission / $10 Seniors (65 and older) / $8 Student*
Packages: $40 for four films / $75 for all films
Advance ticket sales available online only
Day-of screening ticket sales available on-site, pending availability
*Students will have access to free rush tickets 30 minutes prior to each screening, pending availability and with a valid CUID.
About the Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival
Short story maestro, former Columbia student, muse of suspense filmmakers: Cornell Woolrich (1903–1968) lived all of these lives. The Second Annual Dr. Saul and Dorothy Kit Film Noir Festival presents 12 adaptations of Woolrich’s fiction: from the canonized masterworks of Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut to lesser known “B” films and Monogram potboilers. Many films will be screened in 35mm.
This festival is the second in a ten-year series devoted to the legacy of film noir. It was funded by a generous gift from alumnus Gordon Kit (Columbia College ’76), in honor of his parents.
For more information, contact email@example.com