First and Second Natures

A while ago I watched Hitchcock’s film VERTIGO again.  The more I watch his movies the more I love Kim Novak, more than other Hitchcock female leads such as Grace Kelly and probably right up there with the extraordinary Tippi Hedren.  And the more I marvel at the way Hitchcock movies combines excellence with popular appeal…

Sometimes the director cleverly mined novels of the day when making his movies.  I think most people know that THE BIRDS was based on a Daphne duMaurier novella.  Fewer would know that he used Winston Graham’s book by that name as the basis of the script of MARNIE.  And I bet almost no one knows that VERTIGO is based on a French novel called D’ENTRE LES MORTS (1954), by the highly successful French crime novel duo of Boileau and Narcejac (although the book is still knocking around—I saw a translated copy at BMV on Bloor West last week.)

This writing duo thought of themselves as anti-Golden Age crime writers, melding victim and perpetrator to the deliberate frustration of the reader.  Their story is set in France during that strange period at the beginning of WW2 called the Phony War.  They integrate the strangeness (real/unreal) of the time into their narrative of things and people not being what they seem.  It’s an unsettling read.  Hitchcock captures the sickly aspect of it in Jimmy Stewart’s romantic obsession, but it’s Kim Novak’s louche and layered portrayal of Judy/Madeleine that stays with me when I watch VERTIGO nowadays.

Judy and Marnie?  Don’t we really want these flawed enigmas to get away?  I mean, really get away, not fessing up to Jimmy Stewart or forced into marriage with Sean Connery.

While I was writing AFTER THE WINTER, I had such a clear mental picture of the conniving and secretive “confidential secretary,” Janine Douglas, including the last lovely physical detail.  It was only afterwards that I realized I’d based it on the Kim Novak character in VERTIGO, with some Marnie thrown in.

Remember those iconic scenes near the beginning of MARNIE, when we see her systematically disposing of her old identity and dressing for her new part, right down to the Albert’s “custom fit hosiery?” And then, a paragon of sixties fashion, walking away from us at the railway station, carrying her snazzy new suitcase light with embezzled cash?  I don’t want to give away the ending of AFTER THE WINTER, so I’ll just leave you with this…  What if the movie had ended there?

Leave a Reply