Ten Films Alfred Hitchcock Should Have Made
Maybe "could have made" would be more apropos for these ten films easily classified as Hitchcockian (only films made while Hitchcock was still active were considered, foreign films made in homage to Hitchcock were not considered).
Police detective Dana Andrews, investigating the murder of the title character, falls in love with her portrait. It’s not giving much away to say that Andrews has his world turned upside down when the murder victim (Gene Tierney) turns up alive. Vincent Price, Clifton Webb, and Judith Anderson, the prime suspects in her murder, are equally surprised. Otto Preminger's noirish murder mystery is a classic in its own right, but one cannot help but wonder what Hitchcock's devilish Cockney humor would have done for the finished product in place of what some characterize as Preminger's icy Teutonic detachment.
Rebecca meets Suspicion in George Cukor's classic about troubled heiress Ingrid Bergman marrying suave fortune hunter Charles Boyer. Returning to London to live in the old dark house of Bergman's youth in which a murder was committed, Boyer cold-bloodedly attempts to drive his fragile bride crazy. We get to see the effect from the point of view of the damsel in distress, one that remains in the popular lexicon, the “Gaslight Effect.” Joseph Cotten, a familiar face from Orson Welles’s ensemble and several Hitchcock films, eventually comes to the rescue.
The Spiral Staircase (1946)
Theater 80, a famous East Village revival house in the pre-video era, specialized in classic double features, cleverly pairing many of its shows thematically. Robert Siodmak's old dark house thriller The Spiral Staircase was always shown with Hitchcock's old dark house entry, Rebecca. Indeed, The Spiral Staircase was one of the projects David Selznick suggested to Hitchcock as a follow-up to Notorious. A serial killer is on the loose, with a thing for "afflicted" women. Dorothy Maguire, rendered mute by a past trauma, is the next target. And she's trapped in the old dark house in which she is employed as maid along with her bedridden employer Ethel Barrymore, two feuding brothers, and a pair of dimwitted servants. The title staircase ultimately enters into it, spiraling like the poster art for Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
The Stranger (1946)
Actually, Hitchcock did make this movie, or something uncannily similar, four years earlier under the title Shadow Of a Doubt. The hidden menace in this Orson Welles knock-off is an escaped Nazi war criminal (played by Welles himself) rather than Hitchcock’s psychopathic killer (Joseph Cotten), Loretta Young as Welles's wife matches the role of Cotten’s niece (Teresa Wright) in Shadow Of a Doubt, and Edward G. Robinson is the man who suspects and uncovers Welles's true identity, as Wright did to Cotten. Both films are set in small-town America, an innocent locale often used in post-war America to heighten the feeling of paranoia and suggest communist big-city subversion.
The Fallen Idol (1949)
Bobby Henrey plays the young son of the French ambassador in England, left home alone in the cavernous embassy for the weekend under the care of Baines (Ralph Richardson), the butler the boy idolizes, and Mrs. Baines (Michèle Morgan), the maid the boy fears and detests. When Mrs. Baines accidentally dies from a fall after an argument with her husband, the boy comes to believe that his hero murdered his evil wife. Director Carol Reed and writer Graham Greene concoct an entertaining film filled with enough humor, suspense, and weird camera angles to please any Hitchcock fan. And Mrs. Baines is right up there with Rebecca's Miss Danvers as the classic evil woman. The Third Man, another Reed-Greene collaboration starring Orson Welles, could also fit this category.
Night of the Hunter (1955)
Charles Laughton's only attempt at directing is an effectively creepy tale of two children left in the care of their evil stepfather (Robert Mitchum), an evangelical preacher who uses his position to deceive everyone the terrorized children turn to for help. He's after the money their mother hid before she died. The kids escape, but the relentlessly terrifying Mitchum stays on their trail. Though it doesn't resemble any specific Hitchcock film, this movie has an unmistakably Hitchcockian feel, from the black humor in Mitchum's sermons to the brooding after-dark rural landscapes the children must navigate. Laughton had a chance to learn from Hitchcock firsthand, having appeared in two of his films.
Cape Fear (1962)
Robert Mitchum again plays the relentless villain. Why didn't Hitchcock ever think of using him? Here, he plays an ex-con who comes back to get revenge against the prosecutor (Gregory Peck) who sent him up the river. Not content with simple violence, Mitchum insists on terrorizing Peck and his family first, anticipating a cinematic staple of later decades, the [fill in the blank] from hell. Peck's legal tricks and police connections cannot help him against the superbly devious psychopath. J. Lee Thompson, a frequent collaborator of Peck’s in the 1960s, was the unlikely director of this suspense classic, which was unfortunately remade poorly by Martin Scorsese in 1991.
Most of Hitchcock's imitators adopted the genres of murder mystery and old dark house. Those who imitated his espionage thrillers did a better job of masking their, ahem, inspiration. Mirage is a little-known film of corporate and political espionage about a scientist (Gregory Peck again) who loses his memory during a Manhattan power blackout and then finds himself pursued by a variety of people he cannot remember who want something from him that he cannot remember. Director Edward Dmytryk clearly takes his cue from Hitchcock, starting with the Hitchcockian one-word title down through the double chase Hitchcock favored. More familiar Hitchcock-style espionage films from the 60's that could have fit this bill are Charade, in which Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn take on a shady gang of thugs on the trail of a rare postage stamp, and Paul Newman and Edward G. Robinson as nobel prize winners involved in political intrigue in Stockholm in The Prize (reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain).
Simone Signoret, in a role that recalls her turn in the classic French suspense film Diabolique (itself a Hitchcockian exercise), plays a mysterious stranger who enters the lives of a rich New York couple (Katherine Ross and James Caan) who live in a house filled with strange and wonderful toys and games. The trio enter into a complex series of murderous games of deceptions in which the plot twists and turns so many times that it’s difficult to tell who is double-crossing whom. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s and Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth takes the same concept a lot farther than this long-forgotten trifle, but that film was too stagy and came too late to fit in this category.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
It's hard to believe in retrospect that Alan Arkin could be such a menacing bad guy, but Audrey Hepburn is just perfect as the blind girl he menaces. Less subtle than Hitchcock, and with a MacGuffin that was not at all Hitchcockian (a heroin-filled doll), Wait Until Dark is still a classic exercise in Hitchcockian suspense, especially when the lights go out and Arkin is as blind as Hepburn. As frightening as this film is, imagine what Alfred could have done with that plot device.
Ten Films Alfred Hitchcock Should NOT Have Made
Some obvious mistakes (Hitchcock made so many films, they could not all be masterworks), but also some decent films that just don't fit into the overall Hitchcockian canon. Not considered are films from before 1934, the year The Man Who Knew Too Much established Hitchcock's international reputation.
The Secret Agent (1936)
A bland and dated espionage thriller about a trio of bickering English spies (John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, and Madeleine Carroll) who eliminate the wrong enemy, leaving the real spy (Robert Young) on the loose. Coming right after The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps and just before Sabotage, Young and Innocent, and The Lady Vanishes, this was Hitchcock's one minor misstep during his most productive series of British films.
Jamaica Inn (1939)
Itching to come to Hollywood, Hitchcock half-heartedly completed his British contractual commitments by adapting a Daphne du Maurier novel (something he would do more successfully a year later in America with Rebecca). Though not as bad as some critics insist, Jamaica Inn would not be missed if dropped from a Hitchcock retrospective. A big part of the problem is that star and co-producer Charles Laughton insisted on playing the character of the villain, and since he was prominently featured, any suspense as to the identity of the bad guy was ceded almost from the start. The film was, however, a box-office success.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
A screwball comedy in the style of the period, with Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery playing an upscale couple still in love despite their divorce. Though not at all bad as far as screwball comedies go, Hitchcock made this as a favor to Lombard and because his preferred project was delayed by the war. What Hitchcock admitted was a directorial effort as a hired hand is as a result no more than an amusing aberration in his career.
The Paradine Case (1948)
Between the massive success of his wartime and post-war Hollywood films on the one hand (from Rebecca through Notorious) and his remarkable run in the 1950's from Strangers On a Train to Psycho, Hitchcock made four troublesome films. One of them, Rope, is a personal favorite, but some dismiss its experimental long takes as too gimmicky. There is little argument, however, about the other three. First came The Paradine Case, a stiff courtroom drama about an upstanding woman on trial for murdering her husband and the degradations that befall her during the trial. Mediocre by Hitchcock's standards, and mediocre in comparison to Billy Wilder's Witness For the Prosecution, a later film in which Charles Laughton virtually reprises his role as judge from The Paradine Case.
Under Capricorn (1949)
Hitchcock may have been a little to full of himself this time. Concentrating too much on technique (the long takes and color photography that he first used in Rope), relying too much on the reputation of star Ingrid Bergman, and reveling in his first return to England as a ballyhooed Hollywood director, he forgot to make a real movie. It is no surprise that some French critics say that this is Hitchcock's best film. Too bad Jerry Lewis wasn't in it, hein?
Stage Fright (1950)
Not a bad movie, certainly not on the order of The Paradine Case and Under Capricorn, this film nevertheless suffers from a failed experiment in narrative technique. The film starts with a flashback of star Richard Todd's involvement in a murder allegedly committed by co-star Marlene Dietrich. It turns out that this flashback is wholly untrue, and that Todd committed the murder and was trying to frame Dietrich. The idea of generating sympathy for a wrongly accused man who turns out to be guilty is satisfying, but tricking the audience by means of a false flashback is something even Hitchcock admittedly regretted doing.
The Wrong Man (1957)
A decent film, but it came at the wrong time, during Hitchcock's most productive period, following Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Trouble With Harry, and the remade The Man Who Knew Too Much, and followed by Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds. Henry Fonda's only appearance in a Hitchcock film is in the true story of a Brooklyn man wrongly accused of armed robbery but unable to prove himself innocent. What could Hitchcock have done at this point in his career with an actor like Fonda had he not been enamored of this real life subject matter that was more worthy of TV? We'll never know.
Yikes! What is Psycho doing in this category? Hitchcock's best-known film, and to many his best film, a film he should NOT have made? Not really. But one can't help lamenting the unintended impact Psycho had on the horror genre. Too many filmmakers have been inspired by Psycho to make gratuitously gory horror films, mistakenly believing that it broke new ground for them in its graphic depiction of violence. Don’t they realize that Hitchcock never showed the knife touching Janet Leigh’s flesh? And don't they realize it's a comedy?
Hitchcock loved working with Grace Kelly. He tried to lure her out of the retirement Prince Rainier imposed upon her to play the title character of Marnie. But when that fell through, he tried to force feed us his "new" Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedrin, the beleaguered star of The Birds. The resulting film is as static and stiff as Hedrin's acting. She was never really heard from again (unless you're a cult fan of The Harrad Experiment), and rightly so, and was surpassed by her daughter, Melanie Griffith.
It's not clear why Hitchcock chose to make this film adaptation of Leon Uris's novel, nor why he stuck to it even though he was extremely unhappy with the project. Perhaps no one is too keen on finding out because it may mean having to watch the film again for clues. Undoubtedly one of Hitchcock's worst, if not the worst.
Ten Films Alfred Hitchcock Wanted to Make (But Didn't)
Almost all of Hitchcock's 53 feature films were adapted from existing sources (novels, plays, stories, etc.). Here are ten subjects he was known to have chosen as film projects, but which never made it to production.
Lawrence of Arabia (1935)
No, that's not a misprint. Nor is it really the same film that David Lean made nearly thirty years later. What Hitchcock actually had in mind was an adaptation of the novel Greenmantle by John Buchan, author of The 39 Steps, as a follow-up to the success of the latter. Greenmantle was a fictional story based on the character and exploits of T. E. Lawrence, the real-life title character of Lawrence of Arabia, with Richard Hannay, the main character in The 39 Steps, taking on the Lawrence role. Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant in the role of Lawrence/Hannay and Ingrid Bergman as Grant's co-star. But he couldn't afford to buy the rights to the novel.
A Night to Remember (1939)
Again, the film Hitchcock would have made would not have been an adaptation of the famous account of the sinking of the Titanic (filmed in the 50's). But when David O. Selznick first signed Hitchcock to a Hollywood contract, the film he wanted Hitchcock to make first was about the Titanic. Hitchcock, however, was still contractually bound to make Jamaica Inn for his English studio. By the time he arrived in Hollywood, Selznick changed his mind and wanted him to make Rebecca instead.
The Devil's Disciple (1941)
George Bernard Shaw's play was to have been Hitchcock's next project after Foreign Correspondent. But Shaw refused to release the film rights because it was a satire about America and England during the Revolutionary War, and he felt it inappropriate to have it filmed while America and England were allied in the fight against Nazi Germany. Hitchcock made Mr. and Mrs. Smith instead. The Devil's Disciple was eventually made in 1959 as a Burt Lancaster-Kirk Douglas collaboration.
Malice Aforethought (1945)
Suspicion was based on a novel by Francis Iles called Before the Fact. Hitchcock wanted to adapt another novel by the same author (a pseudonym for journalist and mystery writer Anthony Berkeley) titled Malice Aforethought, one of the first "inverted" mysteries, written in 1931, where the identity of the criminal is known from the start and we wonder if he'll get away with it rather than "whodunnit". But Hitchcock didn't think he could get a star actor (and he always preferred stars) to take on the central role of a doctor who murders his wife, so he never pursued the project. He had Alec Guinness lined up to pay the role, but Guinness did not begin to become famous until his first two major supporting roles a year later in David Lean's pair of Dickens adaptations, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Malice Aforethought was eventually made into a TV series by the BBC in 1979 and shown in the U.S. as an entry in PBS's Mystery series.
The Bramble Bush (1953)
One of Hitchcock's few attempts at writing his own screenplay was this adaptation of David Duncan's novel about a man who steals another man's passport without knowing that the passport owner is wanted for murder (the novel, originally titles The Bramble Bush, was released under the more lurid title Worse Than Murder when it was published as a pulp paperback). Being at a point of self-doubt in his creative powers, and unsatisfied with any of the pedestrian adaptations he commissioned from other writers, Hitchcock gave up the idea to instead film a proven Broadway hit that he got the rights to, Dial M For Murder.
The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)
Before making North By Northwest, Hitchcock started work on a film version of a 19th century sea legend about a ship, the Mary Celeste, that was discovered in full sail with nothing amiss -- except that there was no one aboard. Gary Cooper, who never appeared in a Hitchcock film, was slated to star (and did in the film version that was made by others). Hitchcock and collaborator Ernest Lehman gave up on the project because they saw too many obstacles to overcome in the story, not the least of which was a weak courtroom drama following a powerful beginning.
The Three Hostages (1965)
Another novel by John Buchan that Hitchcock considered adapting, featuring the same character that Robert Donat played in The 39 Steps on the trail of a group of Bolsheviks who have kidnapped three children of prominent English parents. Hitchcock dropped the idea because it involved hypnotism, which he didn't think would work on screen, even though he had already used hypnotism in Spellbound. One of three aborted projects Hitchcock worked on between the completion of Marnie and the start of Torn Curtain.
Mary Rose (1965)
Another of the three unsuccessful projects, a science fiction story right out of The Twilight Zone about time warps and ghosts and celestial visitations that was based on, of all things, a play by J.M. Barrie, best known for authoring Peter Pan. Hitchcock decided to postpone the project because he didn't like the idea of ghosts and never went back to it. The third project never got very far, never even being titled.
Of course, Hitchcock made a movie called Frenzy in 1972. That movie, based on the novel Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square, was released under the title of an original screenplay Hitchcock completed five years earlier. Like the actual Frenzy, that story was about a serial killer of women, but it follows the actual killer and police attempts to trap him rather than an unjustly accused innocent.
The Short Night (1980)
The project Hitchcock was pursuing at the time of his death in April 1980. Based on the memoirs of George Blake, the notorious English double agent who spied for the KGB, as well as on a fictional version of that same story. Hitchcock planned on altering the story, adding an American CIA agent (Walter Matthau), assigned to kill the fictional version of Blake. But he instead falls in love with the spy's wife (Catherine Deneuve). Shooting was all set to begin in Finland when Hitchcock fell ill.