13 January: Woolrich, Suspense, and Lucy

Cornell Woolrich, at the height of his career as a crime novelist.

Cornell Woolrich, at the height of his career as a crime novelist.

Cornell Woolrich is sometimes thought to have been the fourth-best mystery novelist in America in his time, behind Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Raymond Chandler. Issues involving his estate will prove the main reason, it will be said, why early 21st Century crime fiction lovers will not find many of his works still in print beyond a few new collections of short stories published in the 1990s.

Woolrich’s work is adapted to film more often than any other crime novelist, including and especially “It Had to Be Murder,” which Alfred Hitchcock will adapt into the classic Rear Window in 1954. And he has had a prolific enough radio presence thanks to assorted radio dramas—including Suspense tonight—adapting his stories. In fact, Suspense will turn out to have adapted seventeen Woolrich works, a few having been written under one of Woolrich’s pseudonyms (William Irish), before the show’s long and distinguished life expires.

Among other trademarks, Woolrich seems to have a penchant for setting many of his crime dramas in or around dance halls, and Suspense sometimes has a little too much taste for bringing them to radio. But when you put the better of them together with a better cast, you get performances such as tonight.


Suspense: Dime-a-Dance (CBS, 1944)


Lucille Ball. (Photo: CBS.)

Lucille Ball. (Photo: CBS.)

Lucille Ball isn’t identified with drama the way she will be with comedy, but tonight she gives a surprisingly effective performance in a role sketched and played for anything except a laugh. She plays a slightly jaded New York taxi dancer whom police ask to help solve the murder of her friend and colleague—never mind how reluctant she seems at first to join the effort.

I’ll leave it to you entirely to decide which is better, this being one of Woolrich’s better stories becoming one of the better radio adaptations overall, or Ball’s cool performance.

Additional cast: Hans Conreid, Patrick McGeehan, Jeannette Nolan, Ian Wolfe. The Man in Black: Joseph Kearns. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: William Spier. Writer: Unidentified.


Further Channel Surfing . . .

Lux Radio Theater: Libel (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1941)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Who Broke Uppy’s Window, Part One (comedy; NBC, 1942)
The Fred Allen Show: Carmen (comedy; NBC; AFRS Rebroadcast, 1946)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Invents the Cartable Radio (comedy; NBC, 1948)
The Halls of Ivy: The Student Editorial (comedy; NBC, 1950)
My Friend Irma: The Cub Scout Speech (comedy; CBS, 1952)
Gunsmoke: Ozymandias (Western; CBS; AFRTS Rebroadcast, 1957)

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One Response to 13 January: Woolrich, Suspense, and Lucy

  1. John McGeorge says:

    The photo you have here is of David Goodis, not Woolrich. FYI.