Sunday, May 28, 2006

Martin Scorsese calls Val Lewton’s noir horror films, like Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, “beautifully poetic and deeply unsettling...some of the greatest treasures we have.” But Lewton also wrote novels. Published in 1932 by Vanguard Press, reprinted in 1950, and back in circulation thanks to Scottish publishers, Kingly Reprieve, No Bed of Her Own is the best of his nine novels, and served as his Hollywood calling card. According to Russian-born Lewton, “When RKO was looking for producers, someone told them I had written horrible novels. They misunderstood the word ‘horrible’ for ‘horror’ and I got the job.” Of course, Lewton’s novel is very good. A dark tale, it follows Rose Mahoney as she descends the ladder of degradation, ending up on the mean streets of Manhattan, doing whatever it takes to survive, including prostitution. This story of greed and desire might have been adapted for the screen if not for the Production Code. Snapping the rights without reading the novel, Paramount saw it as a vehicle for their star Miriam Hopkins. They quickly realised the book was unfilmable, and turned it into a gambling story, entitled No Man of Her Own, starring Gable and Carole Lombard. Like his films, Lewton’s novels were knocked off quickly, some within forty-eight hours. Nevertheless, No Bed of Her Own would suggest themes Lewton later explored in his films, such as, how life can suddenly throw a person into worlds they never expected to inhabit. This is as much a Depression classic as Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us. Get it while you can.

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