A Hitchcock Novelty

There are a few legends about why Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make this into a movie:

One is that he was tight-fisted with the authors, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, so they took the rights elsewhere; one is that another director beat him to the dotted line by mere hours. The more interesting legend, though, is that after Hitchcock saw how Henri-Georges Clouzot (that “other director”) turned The Fiends into the brilliant, classic thriller film Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques Poster

…he immediately snapped up the rights to this novel by the same authors:

And what movie did it become?

Here’s a hint: this is the Portman Mansion.

The Portman Mansion

You probably don’t recognize it from that angle. Designed by the well-known Arts & Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck, it used to stand on Gough street, at Eddy, just a few blocks north of us. It was torn down in 1959, not too long after it had been recast with a new name for another story, one that in the transition from French novel to American screenplay had been moved from Paris to San Francisco:

The McKittrick Hotel

That probably wasn’t hard to guess—what other Hitchcock movie do San Franciscans talk about?but it came as a surprise to me. Until these curious little pulp paperbacks came across the pricing desk, I had no idea Les Diaboliques and Vertigo were based on novels, let alone novels by the same French authors.

I’m also surprised they’re both rare, in most, but especially this version, and out of print in all others. You’d think a publisher would be eager to slap on a cover with “Now the best movie ever made (according to Sight & Sound)!” or “The one that got away from Hitchcock (and made it to Clouzot)!”, no? (Though it seems Bloomsbury and BFI did just that.)

(Photo of the Portman Mansion from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library via www.noehill.com)

Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.

One thing I like about working in a small bookstore like Bibliohead is the odd variety of books we encounter. The way buying and selling works in a store of this size, we can go a strange while without seeing some classic you’d expect to pop up regularly. Until today, for example, we’ve been out of George Eliot for several weeks.

The counterpart to this is the fascinating, wild books no one will ever ask for. I don’t expect someone will ever walk into Bibliohead and say, “Hey, do you have the program for the opera Tom Waits and Robert Wilson adapted from Alice in Wonderland?”

But if she did, I could say, “Yes!” Because we do. And it has eleven different translations of ‘Jabberwocky.’

It also has a libretto section in English, essays by Woolf, Auden, Chesterton, and Beerbohm translated into German, several color and b&w plates (including curtain designs and some torturous-looking concept art for set pieces), and a bunch of other Carrolliana, like illustrations and a word-puzzle of his design. Maybe Robert Wilson felt generous and decided to give the audience both an intermission and something to do during it.

Check back every now and then for other curious books. We have lots here!