PIERRE BOILEAU & THOMAS NARCEJAC – Vertigo. Dell 977, reprint paperback, April 1958. UK edition: The Living and the Dead, Hutchinson, hc, 1956. First US edition: Ives Washburn, 1957. Translation of D’Entre les Morts, Paris, 1954. Film: Paramount, 1958, as Vertigo (Kim Novak, James Stewart; director: Alfred Hitchcock).


   As the basis for Hitchcock’s film, the book by Boileau and Narcejac shows an interesting contrast in attitude and approach to the story: where Vertigo the movie is melancholy and romantic, Vertigo the book is merely sad and cynical, mainly because the authors undercut the story at every turn with a detachment that was probably meant to be objective but comes off as merely snide.

   In the film, for instance, when Scotty rescues Madeleine from drowning, it sparks a romantic (and sexual) connection between them that suffuses the rest of the story. In the book, the authors play up the mundane aspects of the aftermath, with the couple marking time sitting around a cheap bar in borrowed clothes, finding nothing to say to each other.

   Later on, the affair with Judy (Renee in the book) becomes a tawdry thing, played out in cramped hotel rooms and bad restaurants, with the hero dogging around after a woman who is obviously sick of him.

   All of which may be more realistic than Hitchcock’s brilliantly realized amour fou (I don’t say it is more realistic; just that it may be) but makes for definitely less satisfying drama.

   In fact, there is a twist in the book that is not in the movie; it’s a delicious little turn, rising naturally out of characters behaving as they should, yet totally unexpected and supremely ironic. Boileau and Narcejac simply toss it away — just write it and forget it, and never exploit what could have been a major development. This ain’t objectivity, it’s just bad writing.