Years ago my dark psychological novel The German Money was optioned for film. After my initial excitement, I read successive drafts of the screenplay with a growing sense of loss. My novel was disappearing bit by bit, page by page.
I thought of that when I read disparaging reviews of the recent new PBS film The Lady Vanishes which compared it invidiously to the 1938 movie of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s film about a woman who thinks another Englishwoman has been abducted on a train traveling across Europe was based on The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White. Though it’s widely admired, the movie completely subverts the book’s tone and undercuts its raw emotional power. I find it painful to watch.
The novel haunts me. Iris Carr is a spoiled socialite, alone in the world though she’s surrounded by high-living friends. She seems rude and shallow, but she’s aware that the life she’s living is vapid, and when she gets briefly lost on her Balkan vacation, she realizes how truly isolated she is, and how vulnerable. It’s a shattering epiphany.
Those feelings metastasize on her train ride home when her seat mate disappears, Iris claims a conspiracy, and she’s considered everything from a mere nuisance to hysterical by a wide range of passengers. The book is hard to put down.
The new film version is scary and lovingly true to its source; where it diverges, it only intensifies and concentrates what’s in the novel.
I’m at a loss to understand critics like Mike Hale of the New York Times who wrote:
This new “Lady Vanishes,” directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (“South Riding”) from a screenplay by Fiona Seres, is a perfectly adequate television mystery of the week. But it forgoes the crackling pace, light touch and surprisingly sophisticated sexual banter of the original, opting for melancholy, ominousness and sentimentality. It’s about five minutes shorter than the Hitchcock, but its deliberate pace makes it seem longer. Watching the two in succession is like transferring from the express to a particularly poky, poorly ventilated local.
I couldn’t disagree more. Watching the films in the same order as he did, I found the first one hokey, dated, and verging on the ridiculous with its cartoonish foreigners, trumped-up spy plot, and foolish gun battle. The second movie was deep, disturbing, disorienting–just like the novel. One detail I especially loved is that in the movie (as in the book), Iris is always having to push her way through the crowded corridors, which magnifies her dizziness and confusion and makes her feel even more trapped.
But I doubt Hale or any of the other TV critics who disliked the PBS version bothered to read the novel or they wouldn’t make careless comments like calling this new version a “remake” of Hitchcock’s film. Yes, it shares the name (that’s obviously a PR move), but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a faithful, exciting adaptation of the original novel, and watching it, I wished the writer adapting my book had been even half as talented as Fiona Seres. Luckily for me, that film didn’t get made, and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d be writing!
Filed under: Lev Raphael Tagged: | 1930s crime novels, amateur sleuths, Classic crime novels, crime fiction, Film adaptations, Hitchcock, mystery, mystery writers, Novels, The Lady Vanishes, The Wheel Spins