November 11, 2011 / 6:10 PM / in 6 years

Long-lost Woolrich crime story published again

LONDON (Reuters) - A long-lost story by American crime writer Cornell Woolrich, best known for film adaptations of his works including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” appeared in print this week for the first time in 73 years.

“Never Kick a Dick,” which uses the now outdated slang for detective, last appeared in 1938 in “Double Detective” magazine.

Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine which specializes in crime fiction and short stories, has just published it again after the author’s estate approached him.

“This is a very big mystery,” said Gulli, when asked why it had taken so long for the work to re-surface.

“Woolrich’s stories have been put into anthologies thousands of times.”

Initially Gulli suspected it may be because the story, set on the penthouse floor of the Miami-Coney Plaza, was a poor example of Woolrich’s writing. “But from reading the story it’s a good quality tale with strong elements of noir.”

“Never Kick” is around 9,000 words long and tells the story of a swindler called Tricks Bernstein who seizes an opportunity to get his own back on New York mobster Big Boy Barnes who had chased him out of town.

But the tables are turned when Barnes works out what has happened, and detective Driscoll happily takes a back seat as the two criminals slug it out for themselves.

A leading light in the noir tradition whose most productive period was the 1940s, Woolrich often published under different names, and his 1942 story “It Had to Be Murder,” the basis for Rear Window, appeared under the byline William Irish.

More than 30 movies were made from his novels and short stories, including Francois Truffaut’s “The Bride Wore Black” starring Jeanne Moreau as a woman out for deadly revenge.

Gulli said Woolrich’s writing was well suited to big screen adaptations, possibly explaining his popularity in Hollywood.

“His work didn’t have a ‘dollar-per-word’ feel to it like some other noir writers,” he explained.

“It was very bare-boned. I think his works lent themselves well to Hollywood as producers and screenwriters can be very impatient and want something ready out of the box.”

Despite the success of his books in the cinema, Woolrich’s reputation in the literary world is less secure.

His biographer Francis Nevins once said of his writing: “Purely on its merits as prose, it’s dreadful,” and rated Woolrich as the fourth best crime writer of his time behind Dashiell Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler.

Gulli disagreed. “Woolrich has always played second fiddle to Hammett and Chandler, but they at times could be a little formulaic,” he said.

”Woolrich was always an inventor, and what I love about him also is that there are no clear-cut endings, things are always a little murky.

“A lot of writers can be very cynical and that passes for art,” added Gulli. “But with Woolrich you can detect beneath it all a slight smile and a touch of idealism.”

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