Years ago my dark family novel The German Money was optioned for film. After my initial excitement, I read successive drafts of the screenplay with a sense of loss. My novel was disappearing page by page.
In the end, the production deal fell apart and I was relieved: If the screenplay had been made, it would not have been my book at all I was watching.
I thought of that reading the reviews of the new PBS film The Lady Vanishes. Many compared it invidiously to the 1938 movie of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock based on The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White.
Though widely admired, his film completely subverted the book’s tone and undercut its raw emotional power. I find it painful to watch, almost amateurishly silly, one of Hitchcock’s weakest films.
However, the novel haunts me. Iris Carr is a spoiled socialite, alone in the world though she’s surrounded by so-called friends and suitors. She seems shallow, but she’s aware that the life she’s living is empty and that she’s been far too lucky in life. All that changes when she gets terribly lost on her Balkan vacation and realizes how isolated she is, and how vulnerable.
Those feelings intensify on her train ride across the Balkans to Trieste when her English seat mate disappears, Iris claims a conspiracy, and passengers call her everything from a mere nuisance to hysterical.
The new movie is splendid and frightening, and very true to the novel. But I doubt the critics who disliked it bothered to read the novel or they wouldn’t be calling this new version a “remake” of Hitchcock’s film when it’s not. Watching The Lady Vanishes, I wished the writer adapting The German Money book had been even half as interested in capturing the essence of my book.