Jerry Wheeler

Created by Cornell Woolrich

Live! Naked! Detecting!

Call it a weakness, but the idea of a stripper sleuth gets me going in all sorts of ways. And this no doubt unhealthy and definitely adolescent obsession started with a short story read at a tender young age that I still can't seem to shake. Yeah, stripper sleuths -- they're not usually private eyes, but hey, they take their clothes off!

Cornell Woolrich's JERRY "ANGEL FACE" WHEELER is a stripper who turns gumshoe to save her kid brother Chick from a murder frame-up in "Face Work," a frequently-anthologized short story that first appeared in the October 1937 issue of Black Mask (predating Gypsy Rose Lee's The G-String Murders by a few years). Of course, while her heart's in the right place, Jerry's no angel -- she's willing to do almost anything (wink, wink) to save her brother from the chair.

The story proved popular enough that it was filmed the next year as Convicted, starring an up-and-coming actress named Rita Hayworth. You may have heard of her.

The film itself sounds interesting, although it does seem to have diverged from the original story. It was filmed in less than two weeks in British Columbia, Canada, to fulfill Hayworth's contract at Columbia. It was a "quota quickie," an American reaction to Britain's attempt to protect its fledgling film industry from foreign (ie: American) domination. Hollywood got around the quota system by quickly setting up a studio in Victoria, B.C. and cranking out a series of mostly appalling B films. Britain soon got wise and excluded Commonwealth films (Canada, of course, being part of the Commonwealth) from the quota count, and the Americans soon closed up shop.

Anyway, in the film, Jerry is no longer a stripper, but a castanet-clicking, ruffle-swirling dancer known as "Mistress of the Rhumba." And although she doesn't even get star billing (that "honour" goes to Charles Quigley), it's Hayworth who nabs most of the screentime, and it's her dance routines that supposedly are the highlight of this seldom-seen film.

SHORT STORIES

  • "Face Work" (October 1937, Black Mask; aka "Angel Face," "One Night in New York")

FILMS

  • CONVICTED
    (1938, Columbia)
    58 minutes
    Black & white
    Screenplay by Edgar Edwards
    Based on the short story "Face Work" by Cornell Woolrich
    Directed by Leon Barsha
    Produced by Kenneth J. Bishop
    Starring Charles Quigley as Burns
    and Rita Hayworth as JERRY WHEELER
    Also starring Marc Lawrence, George McKay, Doreen MacGregor, Bill Irving, Eddie Laughton, Edgar Edwards, Phyllis Clare

RELATED LINKS

Stripper Detectives!

A fantastic site for all things Rita, and the source for the swiped photo above, a still from Convicted. The site's a real labour of love (I recognize the symptons) and well worth a visit for fans. Recommended.

Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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