Alfred Hitchcock didn’t need a therapist or 12-Step group to discuss his obsessions and compulsions. Instead, the master of suspense was such an exhibitionist when it came to his emotional baggage, he embedded evidence of his most deviant impulses (voyeurism: “Rear Window”) and compulsive behavior (his signature profile silhouette wasn’t exactly his most flattering angle) throughout his body of work.
As a result, the personal revelations often feel like old news in “Hitchcock,” the new biopic, opening today, based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which stars Anthony Hopkins in the title role and Helen Mirren as his long suffering wife and collaborator. The film does, however, deliver a few unexpected discoveries in its portrait of the artist as a paranoid madman, who quieted his demons by bingeing on beautiful blondes, late-night comfort food, and most significantly, books. Some of Hitchcock's best scenes capture the august filmmaker poring over an early copy of Psycho.
In fact, taken as a whole, Hitchcock’s filmography offers a glimpse at a carefully curated bookshelf containing some of the most innovative and subversive literary fiction of his time. Incidentally (or not), Hitch favored female writers with a taste for tragedy or transgression. And if it’s true that you are what you read, Hitchcock’s source material arguably provides a better (rear) window onto the man behind the (torn) curtain than any biography or biopic. So, let's continue from where we left off with a syllabus of books that inspired his films.
Based on: Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane
Worth noting: Dane was an eccentric English novelist and playwright whose versatility knew no bounds. Best known for her mystery novels and her dramatic play “A Bill of Divorcement,” which was adapted into the eponymous film, starring Katharine Hepburn and John Barrymore; Dane also wrote the screenplay for the Greta Garbo version of “Anna Karenina.”
Based on: Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham
Worth noting: This collection of short stories, based on Maugham’s experience as a British intelligence officer in WWI, became the prototypical secret agent saga, without which James Bond and Jason Bourne might not exist.
Based on: Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Worth Noting: A venerable voice in the long tradition of female British mystery novelists, Tey’s The Daughter of Time was voted the greatest mystery novel of all time by the British Crime Writers’ Association.
Based on: Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Worth Noting: Du Maurier wove elements of crime fiction into a Brontë-esque 19th Century romance and spawned one of the biggest literary blockbusters of her time.
Based on: Original screenplay by Dorothy Parker
Worth Noting: A testament to Hitchcock’s taste for female literary firebrands, he tapped the wittiest wordsmith in New York letters to write the screenplay for this mistaken identity thriller.
Based on: Vertigo by Pierre Boileau
Worth noting: Boileau worked as part of the French crime collective, Boileau-Narcejac, which produced the cerebral policiers that formed the basis for films such as “Diabolique” and “Eyes Without a Face.”
Based on: The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier, published in the short story collection The Apple Tree
Worth noting: Du Maurier’s wrote this novella about a farm community attacked by kamikaze seagulls after watching a farm hand fend off an avian ambush.
Based on: Topaz by Leon Uris
Worth noting: Uris, known for his hefty bestselling works of historic fiction, was originally hired to adapt his Cold War spy novel but abandoned the project when Hitchcock was unsatisfied with the complexity of his villains.
Further Reading on Hitchcock: