DAPHNE du MAURIER – The Scapegoat. Victor Gollancz, UK, 1957. Doubleday, US, hardcover, 1957. Pocket Cardinal C-276, paperback, 1958. Later reprint editions are plentiful.

THE SCAPEGOAT MGM, 1959. Alec Guinness, Alec Guinness, Nicole Maurey, Pamela Brown, Annabel Bartlett. Bette Davis. Screenplay by du Maurier, Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal. Directed by Robert Hamer.

   This sees Daphne du Maurier running smack into Graham Greene Territory by way of The Prince and the Pauper.

   John Barratt is a burnt-out British professor looking for some meaning in an empty life who runs into his exact double, a French aristocrat who has made a hash of his life and is getting bored and irritated — so he runs off with the Barratt’s identity, leaving Barratt to walk into a rich and messy life, where everyone — his wife, mother, daughter, sister, etc. — believes him to be the count, and he finds himself wandering through the tangled debris of their relationships and trying to sort things out.

   du Maurier handles it with a very convincing realism and a feel for the personalities involved. Barratt doesn’t make everything right; he blunders, does a little good, hurts some feelings, and is just possibly on his way to straightening things out when the real count shows up, as we knew he would, at the most dramatically opportune moment.

   At which point things got so suspenseful that I found myself sitting up past my bedtime to finish it, which is very rare for me. And I have to say that du Maurier’s ending, while hardly satisfactory, left me pondering the meaning of it all and wondering if there were any.

   The movie was disappointing, particularly considering the fine cast: Alec Guinness, is fine as the lead: first befuddled, then bemused and finally resolute. In a small but showy part, Alec Guinness plays the scheming aristocrat with subdued venom. Pamela Brown is dealt a rather shallow role but Annabel Bartlettt, plays the daughter with a sprightly intelligence and precocious beauty that look incredibly promising — all the more pity this was her only film. As for Bette Davis, her few scenes as the family matriarch seem to cry out, “I am a Guest Star!” throwing things badly off-balance

   In fact, the movie jettisons most of the intricacies of the book and settles for a pat murder-scheme story as a poor substitute for du Maurier’s complex tale. There is an engaging wrinkle toward the end, but this too gets pitched away. What’s left is well done but sadly ordinary.