Muriel Spark is an endless delight and not nearly enough good films have been based on her books. This film for television has a stellar cast and does a reasonable job of portraying her macabre humour, though it loses the subtlety of her novel (as inevitably movies seem to do) making it a little more homophobic (rather than just some of the characters being so) and spelling out the meaning in case viewers couldn’t put it together themselves. Spark has a delightful time playing with the tropes of drawing room mysteries and putting them to an altogether different aim. Well worth your time and available on YT if no where else.
Ida Lupino brings her genius to the helm of this Karloff-hosted Thriller episode. If you think early television was mostly toothless, watch what happens to Ursula Andress. Bonus: modern dance-inspired witches sabat!
I was sure I had written this up before but I searched for it and didn’t find it. This Sphere edition is so much nicer than the bland corporate packaging of the St Martin’s Griffin edition I did end up buying. When you’re on a Highsmith kick and buying everything, the covers are less important (though still proud to own the kickass edition of This Sweet Sickness).
There are two kinds of writers: those who are articulate about the process and those who are not (ditto most arts and artists). Highsmith is not one. If you want a handbook on the topic, this is not the one to teach you. Of course if your publisher offers to pay you to write one, most writers will accept the challenge. But this is not the Highsmith School of Suspense Fiction School, which she recognises. So she turns to the tortured history of her novel The Glass Cell (a good Film for a Friday) in hopes that it will clarify how she does what she does. The case study is so singular that it could hardly be useful in inspiring a budding writer.
Highsmith outlines the evolution of the novel, which ‘was not inspired by any specific story idea but evolved simply out of the desire to write such a book–which is perhaps no bad reason for writing a book’ (chapter 10). She traces the idea from a prisoner’s fan letter (‘I don’t think my books should be in prison libraries’), to reading a book about convicts, to developing intellectual rather than emotional’ threads ‘none of them spectacular’. After that she tries to add some motivation for the characters. A key turns into a dog. What ifs multiply. A wife becomes unfaithful. The first two versions were rejected by her publisher.
‘I thought my story was not bad, but perhaps it could be better. When one thinks this, even faintly, it is best to write it over.’
The interesting part of this book is of course her voice, the anecdotes and the little insights that she may not even realise she’s offering. Speaking of her admiration for Graham Greene Highsmith makes plain her pleasure in reading him. ‘There is no doubt that a study of the whole field of “the best” in suspense writing, whatever that is, can be of benefit professionally to a suspense writer, but I would just as soon not pursue this study.’
Highsmith, in all her ambivalence there — and it’s entertaining.
See all the overlooked gems at Patti Abbott’s blog.
I meant to get another book review done this week, but it’s been surprisingly hectic hereabouts. So here’s a little Zasu Pitts and Constance Bennett plus Basil Rathbone as a cad in Sin Takes a Holiday. Art Deco bonus points for design!
Here’s Zasu and Thelma Todd:
Cindy Sherman’s surreally effective film starring the amazing Carol Kane
There are a few holes in my film diary: an embarrassing one has now been remedied. Criterion has an absolutely mesmerising release of Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows with the radiant Jeanne Moreau. I swear there’s not a frame that doesn’t sing. Of course there’s the fine soundtrack by Miles but you probably already knew that. If you haven’t seen it — or haven’t seen it lately — it’s about time, don’t you think?
Get spooky with this adaptation of a Gogol story:
The first filmed version of ‘grandmother of noir’ Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall. More recently there’s The Deep End. Both interesting in what they use and what they leave out. The novel is terrific. Teaching it again in the spring.
Join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and agonise over your art. Ken Russell directs a fabulous cast, full of eye-searingly vivid images. Just what you need.