A Screenplay by Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn and Enrique Urbizu
Based on a novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte
1. TELFER HOUSE:
ANDREW TELFER, a scrawny seventy-year-old, is writing a note at
his desk in one corner of a big, book-lined room. Dangling from
the central chandelier is a noose. A chair stands beneath it.
TELFER looks up for a moment. Blankly, he eyes a framed
photoportrait on his desk: a beautiful, thirty-something blonde
returns his gaze with an enigmatic smile.
He stops writing and folds the sheet, scrawls something on the
back, and leaves it on the desk. Then he walks to the centre of
the room and climbs on the chair. He puts his head through the
noose and tightens it around his neck.
He kicks away the back of the chair, but it doesn't fall.
Frantically, he tries again: this time the chair topples over.
The chandelier squeaks as it swings on its hook, but it holds.
Fragments of plaster come raining down.
TELFER's neck isn't broken: he starts to choke. His feet perform
a convulsive dance in mid-air only six inches above the floor;
one of his shoes comes off.
The CAMERA leaves the dying man and MOVES IN on the bookshelves.
To the accompaniment of choking sounds, it PANS across the
serried rows of volumes until it reaches a gap that shows where
one of them has been removed.
The choking sounds cease.
The CAMERA enters the black void left by the missing book.
Absolute, abysmal DARKNESS.
3. MANHATTAN APARTMENT INT/DAY
The Manhattan skyline seen through a picture window. Above it,
reflected in the windowpane, the face of an OLD WOMAN seated with
her back to the room. Her expression is impassive and self-
absorbed, her twisted mouth suggests she's a stroke victim. She
seems quite uninvolved in the action behind her.
CORSO (O.S.) An impressive collection. You have some very rare
editions here. Sure you want to sell them all?
We now discover the speaker, BOB CORSO: a tall, lean, rather
unkempt man in his 30's. Steel-rimmed glasses, crumpled old tweed
jacket, worn cords, scuffed brown oxfords. He could almost be a
shabby university teacher if it weren't for the street-wise glint
in his eye.
He replaces a book on a shelf. Standing beside him is the Old
Woman's SON, a middle-aged man with a puffy red face. Her
DAUGHTER-IN-LAW looks on, one hand cupping her elbow, the fingers
of the other playing avidly with her lower lip. The SON is
cuddling a large Scotch on the rocks like it's an integral part
of his anatomy. His tone is too lugubrious to be true.
They're no use to Father, not anymore -not now he's passed
away. His library was his own little world. Now it's just a
painful memory for Mother here.
CORSO glances at them over the top of his glasses, then at the
OLD WOMAN. It's clear that the OLD WOMAN's true source of pain is
their rapacious desire to convert her late husband's library into
CORSO picks up a notebook, adjusts his glasses with an
instinctive, habitual movement, taps the notebook with his
Well, at a rough, preliminary estimate, you have a
collection here worth around two hundred thousand dollars.
DAUGHTER-IN-LAW (almost jumps): Two hundred thousand?!
He smiles sweetly at the DAUGHTER-IN-LAW.
The OLD WOMAN continues to stare blankly at her reflection in the
window. Behind her, the SON sidles up to CORSO, who indicates the
volumes in question.
How much were you thinking of...