Dial L for Literature: The History of Hitchcock in 9 Book-Based Movies

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in ‘Hitchcock’/Photo © Suzanne Tenner/Fox Searchlight
Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in ‘Hitchcock’/Photo © Suzanne Tenner/Fox Searchlight

Throughout his storied career, Alfred Hitchcock often found inspiration on the page. He so enjoyed the works of British author Daphne Du Maurier, he based three of his films on two of her novels (“Jamaica Inn” and “Rebecca”) and one short story (“The Birds”). Now the film “Hitchcock,” out November 23, takes us behind the scenes of a game-changer for the legendary director. Based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, it shows the master of suspense at a time when he had a vision others didn’t understand until the watershed final print.

Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho made it to the screen in 1960 with most plot points intact, but the filmmakers engineered some changes in the movie adaptation. Mary Crane is renamed Marion for the movie, for instance, and the print version of the infamous shower scene is more brutal, with Crane losing her head, not just her life. In honor of "Hitchcock," starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, here’s a sampling of other Hitchcock films with a literary past (may contain spoilers).

"The 39 Steps" (1935)
Richard Hannay, the hero of John Buchan's novel of the same name, lands in intrigue thanks to a spy who asks his help before dying -- but in the film she’s a woman instead of a man. The film also adds another woman who hinders and helps Hannay, several scenes and locations, and a different meaning for the thirty-nine steps themselves.

"Sabotage" (1936)
This film was based on Joseph Conrad's novel The Secret Agent (often confused as the basis for Hitchcock’s film “Secret Agent,” which itself is based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham). “Sabotage” changes the political Tsarist-era agents of the Conrad book into foreign agents with no obvious political ties. Also, the head of the terrorist group in the film runs a cinema, not a shop, allowing movies shown in the film to echo the story.

"Suspicion" (1941)
What started as an inverted detective story in the novel Before the Fact by Anthony Berkeley (writing as “Francis Iles”) became a straightforward suspense tale on film. In both stories, the homely Lina McLaidlaw marries handsome charmer Johnnie Aysgarth, only to learn he’s a criminal and a cad. While Hitchcock toys with how much of Johnnie’s ill intent is part of Lina’s imagination, the book presents a startling resolution for how far Lina will go for love.

"Strangers on a Train" (1951)
This tale of two men who meet on a train and each agree to kill someone for the other varies significantly between the film and Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name. In both versions, protagonist Guy Haines (an architect in the book and a tennis pro in the film) at first doesn’t take the other fellow seriously. Complications ensue when the other man pressures Haines to hold up his end of the deal. Differences lie among what they are, and especially what happens to Guy.

"To Catch a Thief" (1955)
The French Riviera and retired jewel thief John “The Cat” Robie anchor both the film and David Dodge’s novel of the same name. In both, Robie investigates a new Cat who is using his methods, making police suspect he’s returned to crime. The identity and comeuppance of the new Cat vary, as does the romance between Robie and heiress Francie Stevens.

"The Trouble with Harry"
The film moved author Jack Trevor Story’s novel of the same name from a small English town to a small town in Vermont, but the blend of wit and mystery remain intact.

"Marnie" (1964)
Both the film and book depict an attractive thief who is blackmailed into marriage once caught in the act. Winston Graham’s novel of the same name was set in England; the film is set in the United States. Although the heroine in each version has a past trauma that causes her behavior, the film gives her a more positive outcome.

"Frenzy" (1972)
Both the film and Arthur La Bern’s novel “Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square” follow Robert Rusk, a London strangler whose friend Richard falls under suspicion (his last name varies). The film reveals the killer’s identity to the audience quickly and also includes darkly comic scenes. Also, the book takes place shortly after World War II, where Richard’s guilt over his participation in the Dresden firebombing unwittingly leads police to suspect him. The film moves the action to the 1970s and uses more conventional means (such as an ill-timed argument) to cast doubt.

"Family Plot" (1976)
Based on Victor Canning’s novel, “The Rainbird Pattern,” the film changes the pseudonym of the ne’er-do-well nephew at the center of the story, as well as details of his big score. Wealthy aunt Julia Rainbird still offers a fake psychic and her boyfriend money to locate him, but Hitchcock reportedly pushed for more comedy than the book contains.

So... what's your favorite Hitchock film?