by Francis M. Nevins

   In the first edition of Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black (1940), each of the novel’s five parts opens with a motto, whose respective sources are Rodgers & Hart, Guy de Maupassant, Cole Porter, and de Maupassant twice more. In the first paperback edition (Pocket Books #271, 1945), the first and third of these are dropped and replaced by lines attributed respectively to Poe and the social philosopher Herbert Spencer. The Poe couplet at the beginning of Part One reads as follows:

The Black Angel         How silent is the night — how clear and bright!
         I nothing hear, nor aught there is to hear me.

   Not long ago an Italian author who is preparing an anthology of essays on Woolrich emailed me to ask if I knew the source of that couplet, which doesn’t appear in any known poem of Poe’s.

   Splitting the first line into its component parts and calling on trusty Google produced one and only one hit. According to, the quoted matter comes from the first verse of The Murderer, which is billed as an unpublished poem by Edger (sic) Allen (sic) Poe, rewritten (with many other misspellings) by one coyote103 and posted last March. But lines I quoted above must have been published before 1945 or whatever copyright-paranoid munchkin at Pocket Books substituted them for Woolrich’s Rodgers & Hart quotation couldn’t have known about them.

   A later email from my Italian correspondent solved the problem. The quoted couplet is part of a 70-line fragment first published almost forty years after Poe’s death in George W. Conklin’s Handy Manual (Chicago, 1887). No scholar today believes they were written by Poe but the first three lines ( “Ye glittering stars! How fair ye shine tonight/And O, thou beauteous moon! Thy fairy light/Is peeping thro those iron bars so near me”) are quoted in Thomas Ollive Mabbott’s definitive edition of Poe’s poetry (Harvard University Press, 1969).

   How Pocket Books came across them more than a quarter century earlier remains a mystery.


Let Us Live   The year The Bride Wore Black first came out is commonly considered the year when film noir came into being. But the more movies I see from the years immediately preceding 1940, the more I tend to question that consensus. Turner Classic Movies recently and for the first time ran Let Us Live (Columbia, 1939), directed by John Brahm and starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Sullivan.

   The storyline is pure Woolrich — perverse coincidence and police pressure on witnesses lead to two guys down on their luck being falsely convicted for bank robbery and murder and precipitate a race by the desperate fiancee of one of them to find the real criminals before it’s too late — and the visuals are as shadowy and menacing as anything in the downbeat classics of the Forties. If this isn’t film noir, toads fly.


The Dark Page   Devotees of films noir and their fictional sources will want to check out Kevin Johnson’s The Dark Page: Books That Inspired American Film Noir, 1940-1949. In this coffee-table book, recently published by Oak Knoll Press, each right-hand page is devoted to a lush full-color reproduction of the dust-jacket from one of the novels or story collections which was the source, sometimes very remotely, for a film noir from the Forties. Each left-hand page contains a technical description of the jacket and brief comments on the relevant book and film.

   Mr. Johnson, the owner of Baltimore’s Royal Books — whose website,, is worth checking out — is working on a companion volume which will deal with the literary sources of various films noir released between 1950 and 1965. I understand he ll be present at NoirCon, which will be held in Philadelphia early in April. That website ( is worth checking out too.


   Our Poetry Corner guest star for today is A. H. Z. Carr. Anyone remember him? He was born in 1902 and his early stories appeared in Harper’s, Saturday Evening Post and other top general fiction magazines of the Thirties, but he first registered on mystery readers’ radar when his “The Trial of John Nobody” was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (November 1950).

The Mighty Quinn   His fourth EQMM original, “Tyger! Tyger!” (October 1952), is perhaps the finest short crime story to deal centrally with poets and poetry. Malcolm Ridge, struggling to express his feelings about the Atomic Age, becomes prime suspect in the murder of the owner of a Russian restaurant in Greenwich Village and uses his skills as a poet not only to clear himself and identify the real killer but also to use the experience in conjuring up the exact words his poem-in-progress needed.

   Carr died in October 1971, about six months after his Finding Maubee won the Edgar for best first novel of 1970. Starring in the much later film version, 1989’s The Mighty Quinn, was the young Denzel Washington.