Re: RARA-AVIS: Film noir musical drama?

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 20 Jan 2006

At 03:14 PM 19/01/2006 -0500, you wrote:
>Just got this notice about tonight's program Opening Night. Kind of a
>strange double-bill.
>CBC TV Program, Thursday,
>January 19, 2006, 8:00 p.m.
>Black Widow/A Long Journey
>Black Widow
>A film noir musical drama loosely based on the Evelyn Dick Torso murder
>case, starring Sarah Slean, Tom McCamus, Mary Margaret O'Hara and Martin
>Tielli of the Rheostatics.

So did you watch it? How was it? How "loosely based" on the original story?

The Evelyn Dick, Torso murder case scandalized Canada immediately after the war. She was the daughter of a janitor at the Hamilton Street Railway sheds, who had a lucrative if somewhat bulky sideline re-selling used streetcar tickets. One of the more recent books about the case suggests that he was sexually abusing his daughter as well. Whatever the reason, Evelyne was enrolled at the city's top, private, Catholic finishing school, straining the financial resources of this Protestant family. Evelyn did not fit in with the other girls, and tried buying the affection of a few, to no effect. It seems likely she was already turning tricks before graduating.

But she wasn't working the streets. Within a short time of graduating she and her mother were living in a home at least twice the size of the modest bungalow where papa still resided, and closer to the downtown action. There was another apartment rented, working space, in one of the most sought-after rental buildings of the time, surrounded by the even bigger homes of the city's industrial and financial establishment. Mom and daughter drove from one to the other in a lightly-used Packard. Rumours spread that the pretty, nun-educated, just-out-of-school girl was servicing the Provinces most elite clientele.

Papa still had some influence on the family, however, hooking his daughter up with John Dick, a Mennonite farm boy from just outside the city, working as a streetcar conductor for the HSR. Evelyn quickly married him, possibly as cover for her business, possibly for other reasons. Dick misunderstood his purpose, loudly protesting that the marriage hadn't been consummated and, indeed, that he did not appear to be welcome in her company. Defining the term half-smart, Dick began to suspect Evelyn's financial means, and took to hiding in the bushes outside her place of business, gathering proof of the number of men who went in and out of the building. A short time after that Dick's body was found by boys hiking on the top edge of the Niagara Escarpment, which bisects the city. Head and limbs were missing.

Hamilton was an industrial city enjoying the war-time boom, the returning soldiers but still small enough that people knew of one another. Everyone seemed to know someone who had seen or met Evelyn. My mother, for instance, later recalled serving Evelyn Dick at the counter of Kresge's 5&10. Those sorts of connections. She was often seen in the company of one of the city's top athletes, and sometimes, it was suspected, big-wigs from Toronto. Supporting these rumours was the counsel hired to defend Evelyn in court. Where did the money come from to hire J.J. Robinette, soon to be the country's top defense attorney? The Dick case is said to have vaulted him into that status, so maybe he didn't become expensive until after winning the case. Evelyn was found not-guilty of the murder of her husband John.

She did serve time, however. During a search of the house Evelyn shared with her mother, police found a suitcase containing the corpse of a strangled baby, partially encased in cement.

After serving her sentence, Evelyn disappeared. Periodically there are rumours of her whereabouts. There have been at least two books based on the case, a theatrical production (later televised, I think) and now, a musical, not to mention careers made and lost.

It pops up about every five years.

best, Kerry

------------------------------------------------------ Literary events Calendar (South Ont.) The evil men do lives after them

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