Sunday, November 5, 2023



VERTIGO is one of my favorite films of all time. You could say that I'm as obsessed with it as James Stewart was obsessed with Kim Novak in the actual film. It wasn't until recently, however, that I read the original novel upon which Hitchcock's classic work was based upon. 

The novel D'ENTRE LES MORTS (translated to English as FROM AMONG THE DEAD) was written in the mid-1950s by two Frenchmen, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. The duo had already written the novel which was the basis for the internationally acclaimed film LES DIABOLIQUES, and this had brought them to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock. 

Contrary to popular legend, D'ENTRE LES MORTS was not written specifically in hopes that it would be made as a Hitchcock movie. One can certainly see why Hitchcock was taken by the novel. I always assumed that Hitchcock and the writers he worked with made major changes to the story when adapting D'ENTRE LES MORTS to the screen, but most of the basic plot elements are in the novel. 

D'ENTRE LES MORTS begins in France, during the spring of 1940. A former detective named Roger Flavieres is asked by an old schoolmate named Gevigne to keep an eye on his wife, Madeleine. The woman has been showing signs of odd behavior, and Gevigne is worried some harm may come to her. Roger starts to secretly observe Madeleine, and starts to become infatuated with her. Roger winds up saving Madeleine after she throws herself into the Seine River, and the two fall in love. Due to a past incident in which Roger saw a fellow police officer fall from a rooftop, he is unable to stop Madeleine from going to the top of an old church tower and throwing herself off of it. Roger is absolutely distraught, and leaves Paris just as the Nazis invade. After the liberation of France, Roger returns from abroad, and while viewing a newsreel in the cinema, sees what he is convinced is Madeleine. Roger eventually tracks down and finds the woman, who says she knows nothing about him or Madeleine. The woman calls herself Renee Sourange, and Roger contrives to get her to go away with him. Roger persists in trying to get Renee to admit she is Madeleine, and even tries to make her over in the supposedly dead woman's image. Finally, Renee admits the truth--the woman who died at the church tower was the real Madeline, killed by Gevigne. Renee posed as Madeleine in order to fool Roger into being a convenient witness. This information causes Roger to snap, and he loses his "Madeleine" once again. 

As anyone with a fair knowledge of VERTIGO can see, the story structure of the film is all there in the novel. The major difference of course is that the novel is set in 1940s Paris, while the film is set in 1958 San Francisco. WWII also plays a part in the novel, though not a major one. 

The novel's Roger Flavieres is no Scotty Ferguson. Roger has a lot in common with the Scotty character in the film, but Flavieres is much more of a dreary loner, a man who doesn't even have a Midge character (the role played by Barbara Bel Geddes in the film) to confide in. Roger's obsession over the book's Madeleine seems to stem from the fact that he is at loose ends--he's now a not very successful lawyer, and he feels guilty over the fact that he's no longer able to be a detective. 

The novel's Madeleine, while described as attractive, isn't the dreamlike version played by Kim Novak in the film. (The novel does mention her at one point wearing a gray suit.) Roger and Madeleine are much more ordinary people in the novel, and after reading the book one can see how much Hitchcock and his writers changed the two main characters to suit the star personas of James Stewart and Kim Novak. 

Nevertheless, many of the important ideas in the movie can be found in the book--such as an explanation for Roger/Scotty's quitting the police force and suffering from vertigo, Madeleine falling from a church tower, Roger/Scotty's overwhelming obsession over a woman he thinks is dead, and a antique necklace giving away Renee/Judy. 

The revelation of the murder plot and the fake Madeleine is not revealed until the very last pages of the book. Hitchcock chose to reveal the truth in about the middle of the film--a decision that is constantly debated and analyzed to this day. Is one choice better than the other?? Due to my bias towards the film, I can't really say. I do think having the revelation in the middle of the film makes all the scenes after it much more intriguing, because every interaction between Scotty and Judy takes on a double meaning. (The ending of the film is also much more fitting than the ending of the novel.) 

The copy of the novel (which I recently purchased from the Edward R. Hamilton discount book catalog) is translated into English from the original French, and is only 189 pages long....and, as you can see from the picture above, has been re-titled to match the movie. The book is a quick read--there's no flab in it--and I think if the novel itself was accurately filmed, it would only be about an hour long story. 

Still, it would be interesting to view a faithfully adapted filmed version of the novel. It would have to be set in 1940s France, with native actors, and, I think, it would be much more fitting if this version were to be in black & white. (The novel reads more like a film noir than a Hitchcock story). It wouldn't have much suspense to it, since just about everyone knows what the story's main twist is. But it would certainly be a challenge to any creative filmmaker. (And it would be much more fitting to do a true adaptation of the source novel instead of remaking the film--remember that ridiculous PSYCHO remake a few years ago??)

For me always the movie VERTIGO will be much, much better than the novel it was based on. D'ENTRE LES MORTS is still a worthy read, especially if you have an obsession with VERTIGO, and a fascination with how the scripts of classic films are shaped and adapted from the source material. 


1 comment:

  1. I'm also fascinate by Vertigo, so this might be something I would enjoy reading. Vertigo has been in my Top 5 favorite films for a long time. But now I have it tied three ways with Casablanca and The Night of the Hunter. It would be interesting to see Vertigo in B&W. I haven't seen the Psycho remake!