October 26, 2021

Cocktail Talk: Phantom Lady

phantom-ladyI went down a large Cornell Woolrich hole at one point in my life, and in some ways never came out (perhaps I’m not in as deep as I once was, which isn’t to say my liking of books by said author is less, but maybe to say I’ve read such a fair amount of those available that there aren’t that many more readily available) – heck, check out the past Cornell Woolrich Cocktail Talks for evidence. There are a fair few of them! You’ll get lots of background on this, the noir-y-est (in many ways – I mean, no mystery writer uses the word “black” in more titles for a start, but also he’s such a master of psychological dark moods and mental, as well as action-driven, thrillers that seem going down a dark path) of the pulp writers, perhaps. He also wrote under a couple pseudonyms, the best-known being William Irish, under-which name he became famous enough that I have a copy of The Best of William Irish which I was recently re-reading. Featuring two full-length reads and a handful of stories, the book’s highlight may well be “Rear Window” (from which the legendary movie was made, which you should re-watch right now), which, funny enough, I think was pub’d under Cornell’s own name originally (and originally called “It Had to be Murder”). But if you have a story which a famous movie is based on, you work it in. The whole collection starts with perhaps the most famous William Irish-monikered tale (though that could be debated), the novel Phantom Lady, which I am also lucky enough to have as a standalone book, and which was also made into a movie in 1944, a movie I haven’t seen, but would love to! The book’s chapters all countdown to an execution (28 Days Before the Execution, etc.), which gives an insight into the plot: a man is accused – falsely, we know – of the murder of his wife, with only one possible way to convince the police he’s innocent, finding of a missing woman who can place him at a bar at a particular time. It’s a good read and then some, keeping you moving and twisting around this way and that way, with a few more murders and lots of surprises. Having a bar with a key role doesn’t hurt, either, and neither does the mention of Jack Rose cocktails, among others, in the below Cocktail Talk quote.


He said, “I had a Scotch and water. I always have that, never anything else. Give me just a minute now, to see if I can get hers. It was all the way down near the bottom –“

The barman came back with a large tin box.

Henderson said, rubbing his forehead, “There was a cherry left in the bottom of the glass and – “

“That could be any one of six drinks. I’ll get it for you. Was the bottom stemmed or flat? And what color was the dregs? If it was a Manhattan the glass was stemmed and dregs, brown.”

Henderson said, “It was a stem-glass, she was fiddling with it. But the dregs weren’t brown, now, they were pink, like.”

“Jack Rose,” said the barman briskly. “I can get it for you easy, now.”


–Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), Phantom Lady

November 13, 2018

Cocktail Talk: Cigarette

Image result for night and fear cornellA little more Cornell Woolrich for all those Woolrich-heads out there (and hopefully that includes all of you). Be sure to check out our past Cornell Cocktail Talks, to get a little more background and more cocktail-ing on and with this noir-master – so much so that many of his books have “black” in the title. However, today we’re taking a quote from the book Night & Fear, which is actually a collection of stories that he published in the pulps back in the day. There’s a whole array of numbers in here, police stories, more noir-y numbers, and out-there-reads, which “Cigarette,” the story we’re pulling from here, fits into, though it also has a gangster angle, and that breathtaking page-turning quality most Woolriches wear like a glove. In the below, we have a bar scene with a younger, let’s call him naïve, chap and some more hardened heavies.

“Eddie grinned sheepishly and said, “Good evening, gents. Uh-uh-uh rye highball, but not too much rye.”

The laugh that went up drowned out the rest of it and he had to repeat himself so the barman could hear him. “And find out what the rest of the gents will have.”

Miller killed his drink, winked, and said, “Uh-uh-uh sarsaparilla for me.” He banged his hand down. “I don’t care if I do get drunk!” Another roar went up.

— Cornell Woolrich, Cigarette, in Night & Fear

October 9, 2018

Cocktail Talk: The Black Angel, Part II

Image result for the black angel woolrichBe sure to delve into our first Black Angel Cocktail Talk post, to dig into more about why I like Cornell Woolrich, and what you’ll be in for when you (as you should) read his books and short stories. He doesn’t have a lot of cocktailing always (though I’ve had some past Cornell Cocktail Talks), but in The Black Angel, I found one of my favorite bar descriptions – I love a good bar description – as well as the earlier post (which, funny enough, takes place in the bar being described). I want to go to this bar:

“That’s it, then” he said. “Now I’ll tell you where. I know a little room, a midget cocktail bar, just around the corner from the Ritz. Can’t miss it. It’s called the Blues-Chaser. And it’s like that, really. There’s never too much of a crowd there, and that way we won’t have to run too much interference. We have a date now, don’t forget.” “All right, we have a date.”
. . .
The place itself was intimate, confidence-inspiring, made to order for just such a rendezvous as ours. A regular postage stamp of a cocktail lounge; I’d never yet been in one as small. Heavily carpeted and hushed, but hushed in a relaxing, cozy way, not depressingly hushed. It was a little gem of a place, and I wonder now if it’s still there.

–Cornell Woolrich, The Black Angel

October 2, 2018

Cocktail Talk: The Black Angel

Image result for the black angel woolrichI have a fair amount of books by Cornell Woolrich (writer of Rear Window and many other memorable noir-y numbers, though criminally under-read and under-known today, and also a fella who had a not-very-peppy life, for being a big seller, to say the least), and go through phases where he’s a favorite – well, maybe he always is, but I have to be in the right mood, if that makes sense, or ready for the right mood. His books are very edge-of-your-seat in a way that’s all his own. Not the breakneck pace of some, not the catchy lines and characters of others, but his leads are always in a depressing, serious, jam of some sort (I’m underselling with “jam”), and slowly, with the tension every-increasing, trying to find a way out. Take The Black Angel. The lead lady has a husband, who’s been cheating and who is on death row for the death of his mistress, but our wonderful lead believe he’s innocent and so goes through a serious of super harrowing sort-of undercover escapades to try and find the real murderer – and it gets more nerve-wracking and ultimately depressing from there. But the atmospherics and language are all amazing. And there are some really good bar scenes, too, including the below, about cocktails and dating:

“There’s no good reason for getting stuck, really. It’s the simplest thing in the world. You see the thing through past the cocktails. I meant, a cocktail will get you through practically anything, anyway. If it’s the face that bothers you you’ve got an olive to look at instead. Then with the soup, you step outside a second to buy a pack of cigarettes. You pick some brand you’re dammed sure they won’t be able to bring to your table, in case there happens to be a ciggie girl in the place.”

–Cornell Woolrich, The Black Angel

July 21, 2015

Cocktail Talk: Murder Always Gathers Momentum

murder-gathers-momentumFrom personal experience, I can say that never has there been a more accurate title. Hah! Having never actually committed a murder, I’m actually not super sure about that, really. But what I have done is read a lot of Cornell Woolrich, the master of the darker side of the noir world of the middle of the last century. I’ve had some Cornell Cocktail Talking before, here on the Spiked Punch, but when I find new books of his I haven’t read, I always want more. More! And recently I found a collection called Four Novellas of Fear containing some of his moodily awesome work, including one called, as you might expect by now, Murder Always Gathers Momentum. It’s a bit grim, but so well-paced, and so wonderfully inevitable. And it calls out a classic whiskey brand, too.

Paine fought down the flux of panic, the ultimate result of which he’d already seen twice now. Any minute someone might come in from the street. Someone sober. “All right,” he breathed heavily, “hurry up, what’ll it be?”

“Thass more like it; now you’re being a reg’lar guy.” The drunk released him and he went around behind the bar. “Never anything but good ole Four Roses for mine truly –“

Paine snatched a bottle at random from the shelf, handed it over bodily.

– Cornell Woolrich, Murder Always Gathers Momentum

June 18, 2013

Cocktail Talk: Black Alibi

black-alibiI’ve had some Cocktail Talk from Cornell Woolrich here on this blog already, and sung his praises. Which are deserved, cause he created the whole genre of “noir” as much as anyone, and was a pulp-a-teer of the first rate. His book Black Alibi fits as noir, too, though it’s different in a way, as it takes place in South America, has a killer jaguar (or does it?), and is told from a number of perspectives, including the victims in the book. It took me a bit to get in to, but once I did, I was hooked. There’s also lots of drinks and bar talk, including the following, which is part of one character’s musings about the bar scene throughout an evening.

Midnight to about two was the zenith. Meridian of her “day.” That was when the shows let out. They let out late in Ciudad Real. The Casino Bleu, the Madrid out in the park (she never went out there, though; too far to walk back in case you didn’t connect), the Jockey Club, the Tabain, the Select. Those were the places to seek out then. This was the cream of the night life, swarming with the sports, the swells, the heavy spenders. Most of them had cabaret entertainment; if not, tango bands and dancing at the very least. Benedictine, then. Crème de menthe. Sometimes even Champagne.

–Cornell Woolrich, Black Alibi

February 19, 2013

Cocktail Talk: Waltz Into Darkness

Way back on March 10, 2009, I posted about Cornell Woolrich, the noir-mystery-darkness master, quoting from his book Fright. I’m aghast that it’s the only Woolrich quote I’ve had on here, as I think he’s a darn fine writer, even though he has lots of books that aren’t going to leave you humming a jaunty tune – more walking around wondering why anything is worth it. Waltz Into Darkness is the only book of his I think that has “Darkness” in the title, but that word sums his selection up well (oh, he wrote it originally as one of his nom de plumes, William Irish, by the way). I strongly suggest reading up on your Woolrich even you have only a passing liking for the noir. Or, Benedictine.

It was by now eleven and after, a disheveled mass of tortured napkins, sprawled flowers, glassware tinged with repeated refills of red wines and white; Champagne and kirsch and little upright thimbles of Benedictine for the ladies, no two alike at the same level of consumption.

Waltz Into Darkness, Cornell Woolrich


March 10, 2009

Cocktail Talk: Fright

Cornell Woolrich was one of the top crime writers of his time, though he isn’t as super well known as a couple fedora-wearing others (I supposed in-the-know crime buffs are hip to him, but hey, everyone isn’t in the know all the time)–his time being mainly the 1940s and 50s, though he had outlying books from the 1920s until the 1960s. He wrote under some assumed names, wrote literate (and pretty downbeat by and large) crime and noirish numbers, did some time in Hollywood and had movies made from his books and stories (the most cherished being the Hitchcock classic and generally kick-cinematic-ass Rear Window), and then lived the latter part of his life in a seedy hotel in NY next to or with his mother (who never read a word he wrote). I’m a fan. Not of the living in a seedy NY hotel (though maybe that’s okay, too), but of all the books of his I’ve read. Which leads to the following quote, which is from a book called Fright. Originally published in 1950 (with a dandy Hard Case reprint in 2007) under the name George Hopley, it’s not my favorite book by Mr. Woolrich, but the following quote rings right for today, a frigid day in March, a Tuesday (the gloomiest day of the week), a day that would be best spent musing about life while drinking a host of Manhattans.


Sometimes they were like pinwheels, revolving around a single colored center. The bright red cherry of a Manhattan. He must have been looking straight down into his own glass when that happened. He was on Manhattans.


— Cornell Woolrich, Fright

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