A post for Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday, though not actually about the Master of Suspense himself but only some of his imitators. Elements that remind us of Hitchcock include: psychology: especially paranoia and obsessive sexuality; travelogue: a series of multiple exotic locations, often climaxing at famous landmarks and monuments; glamour: top movie stars (usually the best looking ones), wearing costumes by top fashion designers; humor: sophisticated, quipping repartee; and a self-conscious eye: often incorporating unusual angles or points of view or shot sequences that call attention to their existence, and the fact of looking. These elements are not always all present simultaneously or at all.
With only a couple of exceptions I’ve restricted the list to films made during Hitchcock’s lifetime. And I’ve left certain obvious things off, such as the James Bond films (not because they don’t fit, they do, but because they constitute an entire branching sub-genre themselves), and the Mel Brooks parody/tribute High Anxiety (1978). Also (interestingly) despite his clear fascination with terror, Hitchcock was noticeably, almost stubbornly, unconcerned with the supernatural, thus we leave off certain films like The Uninvited (1944), for example, whose location and atmosphere are reminiscent of Rebecca (1940), or Portrait of Jennie (1948), which has a Hitchcockesque tone. Both are disqualified for being ghost stories, which Hitchcock never indulged in.
Above Suspicion (1943)
Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray are a couple of American newlyweds drafted by British secret service to spy on the Nazis during their European honeymoon. The film is set in 1939, before American involvement in the war, thus they will be “above suspicion” by the Germans. With its theme of European tourism and innocent bystanders being drawn into international webs of espionage, the film is reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935) Secret Agent (1936), Foreign Correspondent (1940), and Saboteur (1942).
This classic film has actually surpassed any similar Hitchcock movie in becoming idiomatic for an evil husband (Charles Boyer) trying to make his wife (Ingrid Bergman) think she’s insane. It has much in common with Hitchcock’s earlier Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941). Bergman was to become a Hitchcock regular, starring in Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946) and Under Capricorn (1949). Joseph Cotten, who plays the hero in this, was the villain in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, released the previous year and would also star in Under Capricorn (1949).
The Stranger (1946)
Orson Welles loved spy stories. The strain was strongest in his radio work, although you can also see it in his involvement in such projects as Journey Into Fear (1942), The Third Man (1949), and Mr. Arkadin (1949 — I like its British title better: Confidential Report). With The Stranger, Welles was trying to prove his commercial viability in the wake of the box office failure of his earlier pictures Citizen Kane (1940) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). No one was more commercial than Hitchcock. The Stranger’s theme of an evil monster who has managed to integrate himself into an idyllic American small town is reminiscent of Shadow of a Doubt (Welles gives a chilling dinner table speech here much reminiscent of one that Cotten gives in the latter film); the idea of still-active post-war Nazis was explored by Hitchcock that same year in Notorious.
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Robert Siodmak directed this thriller. Dorothy Maguire plays a mute serving girl who may be a serial killer’s next intended victim. Serial killers had been a favorite subject of Hitchcock’s since the time of The Lodger (1927); he returned to it in Shadow of a Doubt, Psycho (1960) and Frenzy (1972). The film’s opening set piece, which happens in an apartment above a movie theatre reminds us of a similar lay-out in Sabotage (1936). The film has eerie theramin music on the soundtrack, as in Spellbound. The big creepy isolated old house Maguire works in is like the one in Rebecca (and all Gothic dramas); and the titular staircase actually presages one that plays a highly memorable role in Vertigo (1958).
The “house haunted by memories” is like Rebecca; the slow poisoning of a wife (Gene Tierney) like Notorious; the tormented, controlling creep of a husband (Vincent Price) is like many Hitchcock characters. This movie is set in early 19th century upstate New York but Hitchcock occasionally did period pieces, notably Jamaica Inn (1939) and Under Capricorn (1949). Given Hitchcock’s love of Gothic melodrama, and his receptivity to female writers (see Du Maurier, below) one has to wonder if the Bronte Sisters had been a major influence on him as a youngster.
Joan Crawford loves Van Heflin just a little too much. The theme of traumatically-induced amnesia is similar to Spellbound; the sick love obsession is like the one that would be at the heart of Vertigo. It is interesting, given the number of Hitchcockesque films Crawford appeared in, that she would never get to work with the Master.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Invalid Barbara Stanwyck accidentally overhears a murder plot over the phone. As in too many Hitchcock films to count, she is drawn into the thing, feeling morally bound to solve the mystery and prevent the crime from happening. The eventual realization that her own husband (Burt Lancaster) may be a killer also echoes Sabotage, Rebecca, Suspicion, Notorious and would recur in Dial M for Murder (1954), whose telephone themed title reminds us of this one. Hitchcock would also use the invalid theme in many movies, notably Notorious and Rear Window (1954). Wendell Corey, so memorable in Rear Window, is also in this film.
Sudden Fear (1952)
Again with Joan Crawford, and again with theme of a murderin’ schemin’ husband (Jack Palance) and a bit o’ gaslightin’. She then turns the tables in a most satisfying twist. The fact that her character is a playwright can be taken as a justification for the elaborateness of her revenge plot.
My Cousin Rachel (1952)
This one is based on a novel by one of Hitchcock’s favorite writers, who provided source material for no less than three of his films: Rebecca, Jamaica Inn (1939) and The Birds (1963): Daphne Du Maurier. Hitchcock could easily have directed a film of this story as well. Richard Burton (in one of his earliest starring roles) falls in love with a young woman (Olivia de Havilland) who may have murdered his best friend and cousin (she was his cousin’s wife, thus the title). Its atmospheric setting in a castle on the Cornwall coast connects it to both Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. Du Maurier made the area her home, and frequently laid her melodramatic yarns there.
This one is amazing — so much like the Hitchcock of the 50s, yet predates a lot of that work. Joseph Cotten is the jealous husband of Marilyn Monroe (and rightfully so. To my mind, this is the sexiest of all Monroe’s performances. It’s enough to drive every heterosexual male in the audience out of his friggin’ mind). Cotten murders Monroe’s lover, then fakes his own death, and then terrorizes a fellow tourist (Jean Peters) who has accidentally learned the truth. Having the sexual obsession with a blond at the center of the story is quintessential Hitchcock, as its setting at an iconic tourist destination (Niagara Falls, obviously) which in particular reminds us of Redwood Forest in Vertigo and Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest (1959).
Black Widow (1954)
An interesting and unjustly forgotten suspense thriller written, directed and produced by Nunnally Johnson, who’d also produced and written My Cousin Rachel. A Broadway producer played by Van Helfin is accused of murdering a young schemer (Peggy Ann Garner, best remembered as the girl in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). He is forced to flee and solve the mystery himself, which of course he does. The “smart New York settings” really remind me of the Hitchcock of the period, especially Rope (1948) — it has the same kind of fake but gorgeous cyclorama paintings outside the windows of the swanky apartments — but also Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and North by Northwest. A topic for another time, but somehow this movie doesn’t quite gel. It’s one of Johnson’s first outings as director and there are problems of pace. And somehow he manages to underuse his stellar cast, which includes Gene Tierney, George Raft, Ginger Rogers, and Reginald Gardiner. Interestingly Gardiner’s first film had been Hitchcock’s The Lodger.
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, often called the French Hitchcock. It is said Hitchcock had wanted to direct a film of the novel this movie was based on, but Clouzet beat him to securing the rights. Like Hitchcock, Clouzet had been influenced by German Expressionism, and was known for suspense thrillers. In this one a pair of women (Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzet, the director’s wife) murder the cruel tyrant (Paul Meurisse) who dominates both their lives at a provincial boys school, and events only get weirder after that. The bathtub murder scene is said to have inspired the shower scene in Psycho.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Hitchcock never directed Agatha Christie stories, nor for that matter conventional murder mysteries per se, but Witness for the Prosecution does have its superficial similarities with The Paradine Case (1947), and for most of its running time anyway is about the familiar Hitchcockian theme of an innocent man wrongly suspected of murder. I Confess (1953) and The Wrong Man (1956) were two Hitchcock films from the same period which riffed on this theme.
The Scapegoat (1959)
Another film based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel. This one plays on the familiar Hitchcockian theme of the double, which we get in films ranging from Strangers on a Train (1951) to Vertigo. Here drab, lonely Alec Guinness is vacationing in France when he meets a man who is his twin in every way (also played by Guinness). The other man vanishes, leaving Guinness to take over his life, which includes wealth, an enormous estate, and the people in his life, including a wife, daughter and mistress. Bette Davis plays his drug addict mother! Then of course the wife is murdered. The double turns out to have been the culprit and it is on the original Guinness to prove he wasn’t guilty. This film was remade in 2012 with Matthew Rhys in the Guinness part.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is frequently compared to Hitchcock’s Pyscho. Interestingly, given the fact that Powell didn’t usually direct this kind of film (to put it mildly) and Hitchcock was known for it, Powell’s film actually came out five months before Hitchcock’s. The voyeurism of Vertigo clearly influenced Peeping Tom. I find the fact that Peeping Tom‘s psychopathic creep is German for some reason to be vaguely Hitchcockian, and obviously the self-conscious detail that the villain is a film-maker, as well. It is the latter fact that makes Peeping Tom the true antecedent of later films like Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) and De Palma’s Murder a la Mod (1968), which is one reason those two films don’t have their own entries on this list.
Midnight Lace (1960)
This film is like a family reunion for former Hitchcock actors. Doris Day from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)! John Gavin from Psycho! John Williams from Dial M for Murder! Herbert Marshall from Murder (1930) and Foreign Correspondent! With Rex Harrison, Myrna Loy and Roddy McDowall! Day is said to have gotten so involved in her character’s terror in this film that she gave herself a nervous breakdown. It’s all about a gaslighting plot; the antagonist repeatedly terrorizes Day but only when she’s alone, so there’s no one around to witness it. People around her begin to suspect she is going crazy.
I Thank a Fool (1962)
An interesting little artifact I stumbled across on TCM not long ago. Susan Hayward (in one of the best performances of the late phase of her career) plays a former nurse who’s done prison time for a mercy killing she comitted. She is then hired by the Prosecutor who originally put her away (Peter Finch) who then seemingly proceeds to frame her for the murder of his insane wife (Diane Cilento). Insanity, a remote mansion, being wrongly accused of murder, and other elements remind one of Hitch
This one is too well-known for me to have to say much about, I hope! Cary Grant was a veteran of several Hitchcock pictures, with North by Northwest as the most relevant one here. Peter Stone’s script was plainly written to channel the best of all Hitchcock tropes and scenes. Saul Bass, who’d designed memorable title sequences for Vertigo and North by Northwest did them for this film as well. And to my mind Audrey Hepburn has much in common in terms of screen of screen presence with frequent Hitchcock leading lady Grace Kelly.
This one is less obviously Hitchcockian, but I have my reasons. Peter Ustinov is a small time crook who finds himself drafted against his will into a double bind, forced to help a gang of high end thieves, and forced to help the police. Coerced into playing the double agent, and to have to lie to both police and the crooks, is a nightmarish predicament characteristic of Hitchcock. That, the exotic Mediterranean setting and the scenario of high-end heists (both of which it shares with To Catch a Thief) inspire me to include it here.
That Man from Rio (1964)
Ostensibly a Bond parody, this Italian-French co-production is more like a stylish Hitchcock adventure such as North by Northwest — its hero is not a professional spy whose job is to have such adventures. Jean Paul Belmondo is a sailor on leave whose girlfriend gets kidnapped by some antiquities smugglers, so he goes off in pursuit. His adventures take him to Brazil, where the famous landmarks of Rio have the same kind of visual prominence that American ones do in Hitchcock films. Plus this film (like Charade) is very rich in humor, a trait of all of Hitchcock’s double chase films.
Peter Stone’s follow-up t0 Charade, designed to be the same kind of Hitchcock tribute, directed by Edward Dmtryk. In place of the leads from the previous hit, there are two more than worthy replacements: Gregory Peck (who’d been in Hitchcock’s Spellbound and The Paradine Case) and Diane Baker (who played the sister in Marnie). Peck plays an accountant who suddenly finds him sucked into a maelstrom of intrigue — because he is actually an important scientist with amnesia.
Bunny Lake is Missing (1965)
A plot of the gaslighting sort: Carol Lynley is a young mom who drops her daughter off for her first day of school. The daughter vanishes and there is no proof that she ever existed. This plot (and the eventual arrival of an actual psycho) in combination with a cast of major stars (Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, Kier Dullea) approximate the magic of a Hitchcock experience. Directed by Otto Preminger.
Rock Hudson was often a kind of second string stand-in for top tier guys like Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. He is used in that capacity here as a psychiatrist who is drafted by the CIA to help a valuable scientist regain his memory. His character is famous, a target of reporters, an element that reminds me of North by Northwest. Hudson is taken to visit the scientist several times for psychiatric sessions, blindfolded (so he won’t know the location). Later, he is kidnapped by international criminals who want to find the scientist themselves. At the climax, Hudson must locate the scientist himself using his wits and sense of hearing alone. I hope I don’t have to spell out why this one is Hitchcockesque — it just is!
Produced and directed by Stanley Donen, who’d directed Charade, and co-written by Peter Stone from Charade and others. Cary Grant was originally sought for the lead role, but this was just at the time he was in the process of retiring. Gregory Peck, who’d been in Mirage, became the choice for the hero, an Egyptologist who is kidnapped and swept away to the Middle East so he can do a job of translating. The love interest is the most beautiful woman in the world, Sophia Loren. The plot is unbelievably convoluted, nearly impossible to follow. The international settings, thrills, sex and glamour float it along, but one thing missing from the equation is humor. It’s there in the script, but Gregory Peck was not a funny man. When he delivers the quips, they fall to earth like pyramid stones.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Audrey Hepburn as a blind lady in a New York City apartment being terrorized by a psycho (Alan Arkin) and gaslighted by his more artful partners (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston, the latter of whom had been in Mirage). The men are after some heroin that was in a doll that someone gave Hepburn’s photographer husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr) at the airport. Her predicament of being trapped, helpless and alone in a Greenwich Village apartment is reminiscent of Rear Window, among other things.
This is Brian de Palma’s first truly Hitchcockian film and in some ways his best, as it is more original and is less about literally quoting and re-creating Hitchcockian film techniques. Sometimes his earlier film Murder a la Mod is called Hitchcockian, but as we write above, it is more like Antonioni or Godard. In Sisters, Margot Kidder may or may not be a pair of separated Siamese twins, one of whom is a psycho murderer. Other “faux Hitchcock” De Palma movies include Obsession (1976), The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Body Double (1984), and Raising Cain (1992). By the 1980s this strain of his work became increasingly tiresome, just empty exercises in technique.
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier story about a grieving couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) who are in Venice following the death of their child (The husband has a job restoring an old cathedral). This one, with its intimation of ghostly hauntings and psychic premonition, is more supernatural than Hitchcock would have liked, but it is based on Du Maurier and does end with a meat cleaver murder.
Still of the Night (1982)
Surprising effective pastiche of numerous Hitchcock films casts an early career Meryl Streep as a blonde Hitchcockian femme fatale, and she pulls it off, in a manner not unlike Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. She possessed a gentle loveliness…but is she Loony Tunes? Roy Scheider also somewhat against type as a somewhat sheltered psychiatrist who gets pulled in to this murder mystery, written and directed by Robert Benton. And I must say it is far superior to Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian odes, though his came earlier. De Palma was too enamored of Psycho, which is at the farthest extreme of the Master’s work, hardly representative at all. This one has elements of North by Northwest, Spellbound, Vertigo, Rear Window, Marnie, To Catch a Thief, and no doubt others I am missing.
This is my only outlier timewise, and I include it for what I hope will be an obvious reason: it is essentially Roman Polanski doing Hitchcock. I remember thinking that very thing in the cinema when I saw it in on its original release; that moment was essentially the origin of this long germinating piece. I have been formulating this list for decades. (There are others I have left off, perhaps I will do a part two at some point). The plot is essentially The Man Who Knew Too Much, with a doctor (Harrison Ford) seeking his kidnapped wife (Betty Buckley) rather than a kidnapped child, shot against the picturesque background of Paris, all on account of some accidentally switched suitcases.