Ira Levin died on November 12th. His obituary in The Times refers to Polanski’s film of Rosemary’s Baby and suggests that “the atmosphere of evil that pervaded the screen had its origins in Levin’s fictional skills.“
Indeed – one of the most seamless book-to-film transitions around, and an adaptation that honours its source material to great effect. In my opinion it stands alongside Ted Tally’s screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs as an example of best practice in adaptation.
But although Rosemary’s Baby is the work that gets most of the attention, A Kiss Before Dying is the Levin novel that I’ll cherish most. It’s pretty well unfilmable, for reasons you can only understand by reading it – Levin’s cool-headed manipulation of viewpoint and reader perception have no cinematic parallel. Gerd Oswald and Lawrence Roman tried adapting it in 1956, and James Dearden in 1991; both versions rendered the story as a routine psycho-stalker tale, which it’s anything but.
And Levin, the bastard, was twenty-three when he wrote it.
This year also saw the passing of novelist and screenwriter Marc Behm, on July 12th. Behm’s novel The Eye of the Beholder is right up there with the Levin for me – one of those books you finish and close with awe, and, if you’re in the game yourself, not a little envy.
It was Maxim Jakubowsky, anthology editor and proprietor of the Murder One bookshop on Charing Cross Road, who put me onto this transcendent Private Eye novel. It’s a mythic search tale with an unforgettably obsessive tone and, perhaps because it began in Behm’s mind as a screenplay idea, it fared well when filmed by Claude Miller as Mortelle Randonnee in 1983. The movie starred Michel Serrault and Isabelle Adjani. A later English-language remake with Ewan McGregor fared less well.
I saw a TV screening of Mortelle Randonnee under the title of Deadly Run, and spent years trying to track it down on tape or DVD. Alas, when I finally located it, I found Fox Lorber’s subtitled release to be a shortened and much less effective version which even lacks the crucial final shot.