On that trip to Paris a couple of weeks back I gave myself an excuse to browse the stock of the Bouquinistes, those riverside bookstalls along the Seine, for a copy of the source novel of one of my favourite films. All I knew of Les Yeux Sans Visage was that it was written by Jean Redon, and that when it's spoken of at all it tends to be dismissed as lurid trash fiction.
Which would hardly matter to me, as I don't read French fluently... I can blunder through a text with a dictionary to hand, but that's as far as it goes. And since much of the literature that I loved when I was growing up was also considered to be trash fiction, that wouldn't deter me either. Georges Franju's film based on the novel reads, in synopsis, like a low-grade shocker; on the screen it's a thing of memorable, terrible beauty.
And you know how it is. I just like looking for books. The browsing was the point. Were I to find a copy, it would have been more for souvenir purposes than for reading. I didn't even hold out much hope - all the evidence pointed to rarity.
According to some sources, Redon was supposedly one of the noms de plume of prolific fictioneer Frédéric Dard, but that appears to be a misconception springing from Dard's contribution of a back-cover quote for the paperback. In it, he describes Redon as a former journalist, film publicist, screenwriter and now debut novelist. Perhaps someone once misread a bibliographical note and that's where the misattribution began.
When I raised this on a newsgroup, Remy Lechevalier told me:
"The story, as I was always told it, was that Redon sold his first novel Les Yeux Sans Visage to Fleuve Noir for their 'Angoisse' collection of fantasy/horror novels. At the same time, he had written a movie treatment of the novel ; both were accepted at about the same time and publisher and producer worked together on how to coordinate. The book was postponed by a couple of months and a picture from the movie then hastily slapped on the cover. But it was not meant initially as a true movie tie-in. The book was written first."
I didn't find the book. But I'd stoked my own curiosity to the point where I checked out French eBay when I got home, and got a nice copy there for a reasonable bid - that 1959 Fleuve Noir first edition tie-in with images from Franju's film on the jacket.
Was the novel was ever translated into English? I'm guessing probably not, as it doesn't even appear to have stayed in print in France. Googling just brings up hits for the movie.
(which was co-scripted by the Boileau/Narcejac writing team, they whose twisty tales of suspense inspired Hitchcock's Vertigo and Clouzot's Les Diaboliques - I've English translations of a number of their novels, which are faithful but read like language exam exercises, and make me wonder if, someday in my Copious Spare Time, I might be able to make a better fist of an English Les Yeux)
And here's a trivia point. In the first version of Eleventh Hour I based the character of Lita Valentine, the woman who procures vulnerable host mothers for cloning technician Sidney Hayward, on Alida Valli's Louise, who performs a similar function for the ruthless and driven Dr Génessier in Les Yeux.
Having now seen the US pilot, it seems that Davis, Cannon & co must have been reading the vibes and channelling more than the script. The IMDB doesn't list the actress yet and my copy didn't have credits, but when I find out her name I'll let you know.