***CORRECTION*** The author image I posted for Cornell Woolrich is actually David Goodis! Oops! Thank you Nicolas for the correction. Head over and check out his site: Mugre Y Sangre
Last week I made an excellent purchase in the noir crime fiction realm;. I bought a huge 1000+ page book called “The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulp.” Within are dozens of the very best noir crime fiction short stories from the pulp magazines of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. Needless to say I was very eager to get reading and writing reviews. After diligently scanning the table of contents I settled on Angel Face by Cornell Woolrich (also reworked many times by the author under various titles including Face Work and The Black Angel).
The coolest thing about the noir crime fiction Angel Face is that the anti-hero is a dame! She doubles as both the main character and the femme fatale, and the result is explosive. Her name is Jerry Wheeler and her brother is named Chick. The driving plot revolves around a grand jury finding Chick guilty of murdering his girlfriend Ruby Reading (even though he didn’t do it, just wrong place at the wrong time). He is sentenced to the death by electric chair within three weeks, and Jerry is torn apart by this verdict. She decides that she is going to prove that Chick is innocent, no matter what it takes. She goes from suspect to suspect and relies on her gut to take her all the way to the top of the criminal food chain, right to the man who set her brother up. Its a fast paced whodunit and a feather in the cap of the noir crime fiction genre.
“Why?” I said cynically. “Why this sudden yearning to undo the damage you’ve already done?”
He opened the door to go. “Look in the mirror sometime and find out,” was all he said.
I was most fascinated by the gender roles being played with in this story. Jerry is the strong and driven hero while her brother Chick is the helpless damsel in distress. Even their names denote the switch of roles being portrayed, with “Jerry” being a man’s name and “Chick” being undoubtedly feminine. Jerry represents a combination of all the aspects of a typical noir anti-hero with those of a femme fatale and becomes a potent dynamo as a result. One of the most noteworthy results of this chemistry is her self-awareness. She is extremely aware of her beauty and sexuality and the effect that the two have on the men around her. She even refers to her make-up as “war paint,” openly acknowledging that her looks are a weapon. And the ends to which she is willing to go to save her brother are astounding. Once Jerry determined the identity of the mob boss that has set up her brother, a greek man named Milton, she auditions for a singing role at one of the many clubs which he owns within the city. Her whole motive in doing so is to seduce him into allowing her close enough to gain irrefutable evidence that Chick is innocent. Grade “A” noir crime fiction.
“A little higher,” the manager said. “Don’t be afraid. We’ve seen it all before.”
I took another hitch in my hoisted skirt, gave him a look. “If it’s my appendix you want to size up, say so. It’s easier to uncover the other way around, from up to down. I just sing and dance. I don’t bathe for the customers.”
“I like ’em like that,” he nodded approvingly to his yes-man. “Give her a chord, Mike,” he said to his pianist. pg. 779
There was little misogyny in Angel Face from any character other than the Greek villain Milton, who uses a hot iron to brand the women he deems
are worthy of being “his.” I really liked the fact that there was so little women hating in the story. My only concern is that Jerry may only be admirable because she exhibits traits that are typically reserved for males. And the only times she uses her female traits they are portrayed in a way that men would find pleasing (aka cobwebby negligee, a silky silver gown so tight it’s painted on, a dolled up face, etc). If we only like women when they behave as men (or as men please) then we are no better than the misogynists.
The silver dress fitted me like a wet compress. It was one of those things that break up homes. pg. 780
I highly recommend reading Angel Face because it stands alone as an extremely unique noir crime fiction. My copy is from Amazon.com.
the pulp cover image is from : http://people.uncw.edu/smithms/mystery_singles.html.
the David Goodis image is from : BackAlleyNoir.com
the Cornell Woolrich image is from : FantasticFiction.co.uk