Friday 3 June 2011

The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb: the British First Edition (Hamish Hamilton, 1954) and the Film (Charles Laughton, 1955)

Final post in this short series on books which begat famous films. And today's book is the other title I picked up in that odd little secondhand bookshop in Newhaven I mentioned yesterday:

This is the UK first edition of The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1954 – originally published in the US by Harper & Brothers in 1953. Anyone who knows their film history should be aware of the movie this one inspired: the 1955 Charles Laughton adaptation, starring Robert Mitchum. Although a box office failure on its original release – a consequence of which being that Laughton never got the chance to direct another movie – it's since been recognised as one of the most important motion pictures of the twentieth century, and has become something of a cult – which is why we included it in 500 Essential Cult Movies, the excellent film title I oversaw in my Ilex Press managing editor role last year. Indeed, in a frankly alarming example of inter-blog synergism, I'm blogging about that very tome and Night of the Hunter over on the Ilex blog today. It's almost like I planned this, isn't it...?

You can read about Night of the Hunter from a movie perspective – including some of the other films it inspired – in that Ilex post, so let's confine ourselves here to the novel. Set during the Depression – not, as Wikipedia once claimed (it's since been corrected), in the aftermath of the American Civil War – it concerns ex-con Harry Powell's efforts to determine where his cell-mate, Ben Harper, has hidden the loot from a bank robbery. Misrepresenting himself as the prison chaplain, Powell inveigles himself into the poverty-stricken lives of Powell's wife, Willa, and her children, John and Pearl, who sense that there's something terrible about this "Preacher" with "L-O-V-E" tattooed on the fingers of his right hand and "H-A-T-E" on the fingers of his left. That memorable image is just one of many in a story that is unrelentingly sinister and oppressive, a Southern Gothic nightmare based on the true story of Harry F. Powers, who murdered two women and three children and was hanged in 1932.

There's a first rate recent review of both the novel and Laughton's adaptation on the James River Film Journal blog – and quite by chance, one of the images illustrating that post is the cover of the British first edition, captioned with the question, "Don't ask me where to find this creepy copy". The answer to which is, right here in the UK. Because while the American first edition sports a dustjacket designed by Susan Foster (which you can see on the right there), the jacket of the UK first was illustrated by Roy Sanford, about whom I've been able to discover little other than he also illustrated covers for the 1952 Hamilton first edition of Nancy Mitford's Pigeon Pie and, especially notably from my point of view, the 1951 Hart-Davis first of Ray Bradbury's The Silver Locusts, a.k.a. The Martian Chronicles, a collection of stories that remain among the best things I've ever read.

There are currently only sixteen copies of the Hamilton edition of The Night of the Hunter for sale on AbeBooks worldwide, ranging from £20 to £80 (there are a couple of signed copies going for more than that). At least half of those are later printings, however, whereas my one's a first impression. It's got heavy foxing on the page edges, but considering I paid a fiver for it, I can't really complain; plus that wonderfully ghoulish and apposite dustjacket is in excellent condition.

There was a curious piece of paraphernalia hiding in my copy as well:

A couple of letters, from a "Mon" to an unnamed lover, describing how much she misses him and how she's looking forward to his return from... wherever he is. They're rather sweet – if a little incongruous considering the dark, disturbing nature of the novel. Funny the things you find in books sometimes...

And that's it for the movie/novel posts, although do please pop along to the Ilex blog to read my Night of the Hunter piece over there as well, if you'd be so kind. (Apart from anything else it'll look good if I'm generating traffic from Existential Ennui.) Next up here though, I've got two weeks of themed posts planned. The second of those weeks will be on a longtime favourite of mine, suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith, but the first will be on a rather newer discovery: spy fiction author Anthony Price and his series of brilliant, brainy espionage novels. Coming right up...

Thursday 2 June 2011

Meyer Levin, Compulsion, Rope and Leopold and Loeb: the Films, the First Edition (Frederick Muller, 1957) and the Big Book Look

Next in this short run of posts on books which begat well-known films, a British first edition of a novel I picked up in the seaside town of Newhaven, just down the river Ouse from Lewes (the East Sussex town where I live and work, lest we forget). Newhaven's town centre has, unfortunately, seen better days, with lots of boarded-up, empty shops. But there is a funny little junk shop-cum-bookshop on the parade, which I popped into on a recent speculative jaunt to the town, and emerged clutching two first editions – both of which, coincidentally, inspired famous films. Let's have a look at this one first:

Meyer Levin's Compulsion was published in hardback by Frederick Muller in the UK in 1957 (originally published in the States in 1956 by Simon & Schuster). It's a fictionalised account of the 1924 Leopold-Loeb murder case, whereby Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb killed fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by a desire to commit the perfect crime. Levin's novel is split into two halves: Book One is titled "The Crime of the Century", and Book Two is titled "The Trial of the Century" (the case was one of the first to be dubbed thus in the US). In his Foreword, Levin states that he wrote the novel "not... for the sake of sensation", but "in the hope of applying to [the case] the increase of understanding of such crimes that has come, during these years, and in the hope of drawing from it some further increase in our comprehension of human behaviour."

Compulsion was turned into a film by director Richard Fleischer in 1959, starring Orson Welles, Dean Stockwell and Bradford Dillman... but it was preceded by a perhaps more famous movie – based on the same case – in 1948: Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. Which just happens to be one of my favourite Hitchcock films. Indeed, it's one of the flicks we included in the book 500 Essential Cult Movies, which I oversaw in my Ilex managing editor role, and which, all being well, I'll be writing about on the Ilex blog later this week.

Anyway, the dustjacket on this copy of Compulsion is, as you can see, a little tatty, but even so, UK first editions of the novel – and first printings, which this one is – aren't terribly common; AbeBooks has only five listed from UK sellers and fourteen in total, most of which are either later printingss or missing their jackets. The jacket design isn't credited on the flaps:

But, quite by chance, I do happen to know who created it, having blogged about this person before. It was designed by Paul Bacon, who's particularly famed for his jazz album sleeve designs, and who I covered fairly extensively in this post and this post. Bacon, you might recall, was the designer credited with originating the "big book look", whereby type is featured very large on a cover and any images quite small – and Compulsion is widely regarded as the first example of this design style. So the novel is notable in ways beyond just its movie ties and the Leopold/Loeb case.

So, just one more post to come in this short run – and the next book I'll be looking at – in a British first edition, with a very rarely seen dustjacket – is a powerful piece of fiction which inspired two equally powerful movies...

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Philip K. Dick: Total Recall and We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – the Movie vs. the Original Short Story (in The Preserving Machine and Other Stories)

Kicking off a short run of posts on novels and stories that begat very well-known movie adaptations, we have this:

The 1972 Science Fiction Book Book Club edition of Philip K. Dick's The Preserving Machine and Other Stories, published by Redwood Press. It's an anthology of short stories, all of which originally appeared in science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories, Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the 1950s and '60s, and which were then collected for a Gollancz hardback in 1969, which was then reissued three years later in this SFBC edition. (Still with me at the back?) I bought this copy in Much Ado Books in Alfriston, East Sussex on my birthday day out wayyyy back in March – and I still haven't blogged about all the books I bought that day, which'll give you some idea of how far behind I am on book-blogging. Still, the beauty of writing about old books is, there are no pressing deadlines on the buggers: they're already old, so it hardly matters when I get round to blogging about 'em.

Anyway, the reason this copy of The Preserving Machine and Other Stories caught my eye wasn't because it's terribly scarce or valuable in this edition – there are a few copies of the SFBC printing for sale on AbeBooks for around a tenner, although the original Gollancz edition goes for more like upwards of eighty quid – but because of one of the stories in it:

"We Can Remember it for You Wholesale", on page 129 there. Y'see, that story was the basis for one of the greatest (I'll brook no argument here) sci-fi action flicks ever made: Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall (1990). Now, Dick's stories have, of course, provided the inspiration for many films – Blade Runner, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, to name but three – although not having read any of the stories that led to those films I can't offer any insights into how faithful any of them are to Dick's originals. But if the case of "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" and Total Recall is anything to go by, they might not be as removed from their source material as I've been led to believe.

What's surprising about "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" is how close it is to Total Recall – at least, up to a point. Both the story and the movie follow Douglas Quaid, an everyday guy in a loveless marriage who is inexplicably drawn to Mars. Realising that he'll never be able to go to the planet in person, Quaid visits the offices of Rekal, Incorporated (travelling there and back in a taxi driven by a robot – as in the film), where he elects to undergo a process that will insert the memories of a trip to Mars into his brain – a trip where he adopts the role of a secret agent. Trouble is, before the process can even begin, Rekal's technicians discover that those memories already exist in Quaid's mind: he is a secret agent, and he did go to Mars. Having now remembered his other life, Quaid finds himself pursued by shadowy security forces intent on killing him.

Where the short story and the movie part ways is directly after this point. In the film, Quaid/Arnie heads off to Mars and gets involved in a Martian revolution. All of that was bolted on to Dick's story by Verhoeven and his writers, Dan O'Bannon et al; Dick's tale ends with Quaid returning to Rekal voluntarily to avoid being killed, there to have another, more outlandish memory implanted to override the secret agent/Mars one – leading to a nice twist that's even more insane than what's gone before. But although the story and the movie diverge here, prior to this juncture they run along remarkably similar lines – right down to those robot taxis.

I always believed there was more depth to Total Recall than many people gave it credit for, and as it turns out, that's because it hews so closely to Dick's original tale, which is thought-provoking and just a little bit mental. Much like the film, in fact.

Next up, I have a book which inspired one film and has close ties with another – and the novel itself was inspired by a notorious real life murder case...

Tuesday 31 May 2011

The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard: The True First Edition? (Science Fiction Adventures, Vol. 4, No. 24, January/February 1962)

After that Donald E. Westlake addendum yesterday, let's have a quick look at one last '60s science fiction magazine before we get back to the books. Although the lead story in this particular magazine would, within months, go on to become a book...

Science Fiction Adventures Vol. 4, No. 24 was published by Nova Publications in January/February of 1962. As you can see from the table of contents:

the line-up of stories is limited to just two novelettes and a short. Two of the writers of those stories – Australians David Rome (real name David William Boutland) and Lee Harding – probably won't be terribly well known to most folk. But the third author most definitely will – as will, more than likely, his story, which is the issue's (untitled) cover feature, as painted by Brian Lewis.

The Drowned World was J. G. Ballard's second novel. It's a post-apocalyptic tale set in a world where the polar ice-caps have melted, submerging the cities of Europe and North America in lagoons. It was published in hardback by Gollancz – under one of that publisher's famed yellow dustjackets, seen above – in 1962... but that wasn't the first appearance of the story. Because the truncated novelette version which appeared in the January/February 1962 issue of Science Fiction Adventures actually predates the expanded novel by some months. So this:

is, in effect, the true first edition of The Drowned World.

I bought my copy of Science Fiction Adventures on eBay; I've got no idea how much it's really worth – I can't find any listings for it on AbeBooks or Amazon – but it's certainly scarce. And since a first edition/first impression of the Gollancz hardback would set me back around £1,500, it'll do me fine – even if the story is abbreviated.

And that really is it for the magazines for a while, although the next post will still be on a science fiction tip. But it'll also be on a movie tip – as will subsequent posts, as I take a look at a bunch of books that all gave rise to rather famous film adaptations...

Monday 30 May 2011

A Westlake Addendum: Donald E. Westlake Cameo in The Ax (Le couperet)

I hadn't planned on posting owt today, merely preparing tomorrow's post on that SF magazine I mentioned. But then the ever-vigilant Matthew Asprey popped up in the comments on this post from September of last year on Donald E. Westlake's 1997 novel The Ax. And since his comment was on a Westlake tip, and it's Westlake who I've been blogging about all week, I could hardly look a gift horse in the mouth. Matt, it seems, had been happily watching – and enjoying – Costa-Gravas's 2005 movie adaptation of The Ax – alias Le couperet, a film I wasn't even aware existed – when at the twenty-two minute mark he spied this literary reprobate hoving into view:

Yep, that's Donald E. Westlake himself, making a brief cameo in the French film adaptation of his novel. As Matt notes, "He just happened to be in France, I guess." Full marks to Matt for his eagle eye, and many thanks to him for allowing me to post the pic.

Right then. After that little Bank Holiday treat, it's on to that final science fiction magazine...

Sunday 29 May 2011

Donald E. Westlake's Sci-Fi Magazine Stories: Meteor Strike! (Amazing Stories, Vol. 35, No. 11, November 1961); Alex Schomburg / Virgil Finlay Artwork

Let's round off this run of posts on cult crime fiction author Donald E. Westlake's early-'60s science fiction magazine short stories with a flourish: a tale from 1961 which is actually the cover story of the issue in which it appears:

Amazing Stories Vol. 35, No. 11 was published in the States by Ziff-Davis in November 1961. Westlake's story in this issue is longer than the others I've been blogging about this week; at over thirty pages it's identified as a novelet in the issue's table of contents:

And unlike most of Westlake's SF magazine stories from this period, it's afforded the rare honour of cover feature status, with the great Alex Schomburg painting a scene from it on the front. But Westlake's artistic good fortune with this issue doesn't end there. Virgil Finlay – whose beautiful, swishing, stippled drawing I blogged about in this post and this post (and one of whose illustrations for Charles Eric Maine's "Counter-Psych" novella from this very issue of Amazing can be seen on the back cover above) – provides the artwork for Westlake's tale in the interior – a tale that's one of the least whimsical of Westlake's SF efforts around this time, and one that has never been reprinted since.

"Meteor Strike!" is a third-person account of a mission to transport seven aluminum crates from Earth to a maintenance satellite orbiting the Moon, a trip that, according to the exacting detail Westlake includes in the story, takes well over a month in five stages. The cargo is being overseen by Glenn Blair, tough, big-boned, mid-thirties Chief Cargomaster for General Transits, Ltd. But Blair and his men only manage to get the crates as far as Station One, the space platform orbiting Earth, before the mission is derailed: a meteor crashes into Section Five of the station – and Section Five just happens to be where Blair's cargo is being stowed ahead of the next stage of its journey. Thus Blair and his co-workers volunteer to undertake a dangerous spacewalk in order to fix the hole in the station wall and save their precious cargo.

Whereas the preceding Westlake SF stories I've blogged about all foreshadowed the author's more comedic caper novels – to a greater or lesser degree – "Meteor Strike!" has more in common with the distinctly unfunny Parker novels Westlake would soon be writing as Richard Stark. It's not as grim, nor as violent, but in its prosaic approach to its subject matter and sober stabs at a feasible near-future, it strives for a factual depiction of space exploration that chimes with the Parker series' matter-of-fact presentation of crime. Certainly the way it describes in depth the process of shipping cargo, of men doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, presages Westlake/Stark's methodical detailing of the heists in the Parker novels, notably in The Man with the Getaway Face (1963). Mind you, he still can't resist rounding the story off with an ironic payoff, as we learn what exactly's contained in those crates that makes them so valuable. Although if you know anything about Westlake, those contents will bring a wry smile to your face.

And that's it for Westlake science fiction stories for a while. I've got a bunch more SF magazines from 1962 and '63 which contain Westlake stories, so I'll be writing about those at some point, and I have a copy of Ed McBain's Mystery Book mag from 1961 which includes a non-SF Westlake piece – indeed a non-fiction Westlake piece. That's all for the future, but before we leave the magazines for a while and return to some books proper, as a kind of transitional post – and mirroring the post that began this particular SF run – I've got one last SF mag to show you: a 1962 issue of Science Fiction Adventures which boasts the first draft of perhaps J. G. Ballard's most famous science fiction novel.

First, though: this.