Sunday, March 25, 2012

Steve Fisher : I Wake Up Screaming, 1960 
(2nd version)

Steve Fisher (1912-1980) was a great hard-boiled writer, one of the great writers of the '40s.
Despite, however, that Fisher is known because of his novels hard-boiled, not everyone knows that its beginnings were related to classic mystery : it began to practice his writing career (except for Satan's Angel in 1935) with Murder of the Admiral, 1936 (signed Stephen Gould) followed by Murder of the Pigboat Skipper (alternate title Murder on the S-23), 1937, in which he made his debut a naval officer, whose face was unrecognizable because of an accident.
Steve Fisher  is known for being one of the old friends of Cornell Woolrich.
This novel has had a troubled life: it was published in two different versions. With "I Wake Up Screaming", published in 1941, Steve Fisher made ​​a big jump from Pulp Magazine (such as Black Mask) to the books. Witnessing a great success of the novel, renovated with two films (into the first, 1941, recited Victor Mature and Betty Grable), Fisher thought in 1960 to rewrite the novel. It’s the second, the 60s, that I explore here.
What you notice immediately, is the cut of the novel. How much of cinematic language is in this novel? Very much, in my opinion.
First, the story.
A successful writer one day he sees a girl who does the secretary into the Studios, and he falls in love: she is beautiful, simple, direct. Obviously the first order is the same: to have sex .. and then end up in bed: she doesn’t wish, but he's really good, and then .. but then something else takes over. So he falls in love. Old history. But this time, it is reversed. Usually to go to bed with a woman who dreams of becoming a showgirl, you promise all if.. Here is the opposite. The idea of ​​making a star is later, and Peg put commiment together with three other guys: Craig Lanny, his friend, screenwriter of film series B, Robin Ray, an actor whose career is continuously to the test "by his achievements" when they leave, and Hurt Evans, a director known, but always in the bill, for little pay that they give, and known also because he constantly tries to have sex
with starlets.
Vicky Lynn, the secretary who wants to be an actress, she understood that serves to launch the gossip, that is to tell everyone that Robin Ray fell in love with her, just that this thing gets nervous
Peg, very jealous.
Vicky has a sister, Jill, much like her, and indeed a lot more beautiful. Peg, although in love with Vicky, is sensitive to sex appeal of the sister, but now everything is taken from Vicky. But one day, going to her at six in the afternoon, found dead her in his apartment, killed by a blunt object with which it was shot on the head: not a tear, no blood, just a bruise, but how much is enough to kill her. Only the sister of Vicky believes in the innocence of Peg. The police, however, submitted him to questioning of "fourth degree", but it has not been authorized. So it ends up that those responsible are suspended, he is freed with an apology from the prosecutor. Indeed, now the suspects are focused on the clerk, a stolid type, a doorman who seems to have escaped.
Now that Vicky's gone, it explodes and unspeakable secret love between Peg and Jill. And Vicky? Vicky has somehow forgotten.
From him, from her, but not by Ed Cornell, homicide detective, a tough guy, one of those who have "questioned" Peg and that now was previously suspended: Ed is convinced against all reasonable doubt that Peg is the murderer. From that moment began a manhunt: Ed seeks evidence to condemn Peg to death, Peg does not understand why Ed hates him so much.
The doorman of the building is not. Someone begins to think he's dead, and Peg begins to be suspected, and some are beginning to think that Ed is not completely played. Meanwhile, however, the other three partners in the launch of Peg Vicky had good reason to kill her. Lanny has signed a contract for Vicky and it would serve his wife divorce him. Hunt has signed a bill on the life of Vicky fifty thousand dollars, that would serve all right to raise its meager finances. Robin is suspected because if she had left him, it would be a mortal blow to his career.
Peg is suspected for his jealousy. In the past, he said that he would kill Vicky if she had gone with others. Ed who is sexually impotent (they tell Peg his own colleagues), who lives in an old hotel, holed up in a room tanned like a shrine, adorned with photographs, samples of perfume, and various fetishes Vicky gives a hunt frantic to Peg.
Hunting Ed gives Peg, supported by an implacable hatred, has become a source of life, because he noticed how the death of Vicky, has given the opportunity to Peg and Jill love each other, as if Vicky was a burden. It almost seems, at some point in history, that Ed knew Vicky, from before she knew Peg. Not surprisingly, the end of the book, it is said that he had in his wallet an "old and worn picture of Vicky."
Ed wants Peg dead, and patiently builds a castle circumstantial case without escape for him. Until Peg is arrested by police. But before he can be brought to Central, Jill gets into action: knocks Ed with an ornament, while the second policeman was knocked out, and the two flee. So begins a daring escape, a manhunt "by Public Danger No.1", before with Peg handcuffing and Jill careful not to acknowledge it, then Peg free from handcuffs, but always in danger with her, from pensions to pensions, increasingly squalid and dilapidated. Until Peg’s bulb lights up and so he can give a face to murderer. Even predictable.
However, the novel has its specific gravity is not indifferent. Presents portraits, several characters of the time, contains direct allusions to other writers (Horace McCoy), also indirect (for example, Cornell Woolrich). He is physically built taking as a model Cornell Woolrich. As it happens, in fact, the psychopathic cop named Ed Cornell (Cornell Woolrich) has physical features and behavior conferred by his friend. High, all skin and bones, red hair, very pale, "the only man he knew that in those years, wore a bowler hat." The isolation of Cornell Woolrich and his life obsessively devoted to the celebration of his mother, is the isolation of Ed, a character who is alone in a world he does not understand and who does not understand him. And, and that he uses for his purposes (the attorney who must respond to public opinion) .
Eddie is the "doppelganger" of Peg, he is death that haunts him, obsessively, convinced him in the bone him and not others is the murderer; conviction which then takes criminal reliefs, when it is discovered that Ed had already figured out who he was the real murderess, covering, for the purpose of diverting suspicion and instead directing all towards Peg, because he who must die, because he betrayed Vicky.
Ed’s hate towards Peg also has the relief  of "social hate". He is the poor investigator, who loves his work, yet he is poorly paid, he is forced to exhausting shifts, living in a dump,he is sick with TB , and he is also helpless, he is a subject avoided by women, though he does not hate them, but hates mens loved by them, he hates those who are more fortunate; he hates the writer and screenwriter of success, the men who fall in love women they seduce, the men take them to bed, he earns in a week what Ed earns in a month.
In the novel, there is a whole series of platitudes that cinema has given us several times: the detective who is sipping cold nights and to tail a suspect, almost catches pneumonia (for example, how can we forget Gene Hackman in John Frankenheimer’s
The French Connection?), two sisters almost identical, the boyfriend of the dead woman who falls in-law, escape the police in hot pursuit, the officer psychopath.
But the hatred seems also dictated by personal reliefs: Ed surely knew Vicky, he had been secretly in love, perhaps rejected the first time because helpless.
Perhaps this love in the initial draft would have been more visible, maybe you would have thought of mistaken identity between Vicky and Jill, perhaps the same Ed could be the killer , accusing Peg to save himself.
Hypothesis too risky?
What remains is a murderer predictable, too, and a final .. nice but a bit obvious, as if the murderer was only a makeshift, used in a different wording from the original, although perfect in a noir so intense.
And remains the picture at times merciless and hard of the Mecca of cinema and the picture of the golden world where Steve Fisher worked.

Pietro De Palma

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