Even if you've spent the last 100 years in a coma and haven't seen any of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, you've probably at least heard of his iconic ones. A master of the psychological thriller, superb at building suspense in every frame and at the same time working beautifully with comedy. Every movie is a timeless classic! However, many of his films are based on equally excellent books, which are certainly worthy of your attention. Now, Alfred Hitchcock presents.
If you thought, trembling: “Oh, no! I'm Hitchcock's biggest fan, I've watched Psycho and Rebecca to bits, would I be interested in reading the books on which those films are based?", then relax. Alfred Hitchcock was never known for any close examination of the source material.. Moreover, he usually read the book once, at best, and then grabbed the most interesting things from it to use in his own movie. "The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop.” If this quote has shaken the maestro's bright image in your mind, we apologise. The good news is that even if you've seen all of Hitchcock's films, you can still enjoy reading the books that inspired him and be surprised to find that some of them have very little to do with the adaptation.
Movie: The Birds (1963)
Book: The Birds, by Daphne du Maurier (1952)
This story is a real must have for anyone who has ever seen a Hitchcock film about the bird apocalypse. Mostly because it differs strikingly from its movie adaptation in a much better way. Du Maurier's original story is far more sinister: there' no sunny California or big cities, just windy and gloomy Cornwall, which on any given day looks like a place that brings death. Bird attacks are becoming a real ecological collapse. Isolation from the outside world, growing threat and a precarious future full of frightening uncertainty. You'll be terrified – and delighted.
Movie: Strangers on a Train (1951)
Book: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950)
As soon as a story about a "murder exchange" that went wrong appeared on bookstore shelves, Hitchcock instantly fell in love with it and decided to get the screen rights. And while his Strangers on a Train has become an undeniable cinematic classic, the original book is every bit as good. And, again, much darker. Patricia Highsmith was not constrained by the running time and therefore she twisted the plot, playing with themes of paranoia, ill fate, guilt and the close, dark bonds that can arise between people by coincidence. After reading the book, you will be suspicious of all your fellow travellers for a long time to come.
Movie: Psycho (1960)
Book: Psycho by Robert Bloch (1959)
As in the previous case, Hitchcock fell in love at first sight with Bloch's book. "Psycho" gave him the opportunity to capture suspense in simple, familiar things like the downpour outside the window, the roadside motel, the shower curtain, the figure of the old woman always sitting in the chair with her back to the window. Suddenly, every reader and viewer was faced with the fact that they were always at risk. The divergence from the book isn't too much for Hitchcock this time around, but Robert Bloch's book is another great chance to revisit the tiny Bates Motel on an empty road and look inside the head of the madman whose family ties produced a monster. As Bloch himself wrote, "Real horror is not in the shadows, but in that twisted little world inside our own skulls".
Movie: Rebecca (1940)
Book: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
As dismissive as Hitchcock was of the books, he adapted Rebecca very carefully, and that film won him an Oscar. Coincidence? It could be, but the original novel is bound to appear on your booklist. Daphne du Maurier changed the standards of psychological thrillers by creating suspense in the most mundane and everyday scenes, exploring jealousy, anger, love and real obsession. The unnamed protagonist marries a mysterious aristocrat, Maximilian de Winter, but she is haunted by the ghost of the former Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, in a luxurious mansion. There is no mysticism in the book, and the ghost appears in the sense that after a person dies, everything around you reminds you of him or her. And it generates a sense of imminent impending tragedy.
Movie: The 39 Steps (1935)
Book: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
This Hitchcock movie is one of the forerunners of the Bond franchise, a brisk and intense thriller about a man who finds himself embroiled in a struggle with a secret spy organization. But the book that was the inspiration for the script tells a much weirder story. First and foremost, Buchan's Thirty-Nine Steps is a superb example of a thriller about a man on the run. The protagonist finds himself in the crosshairs of a sinister German spy network after hosting an American spy in his home. The occasional tenant is dead, enemies are breathing down his neck, which means you have to run, run for your life and for the sake of the whole world. A very engaging read.
Movie: Rear Window (1954)
Book: It Had to Be Murder by Cornell Woolrich (1942)
One of Hitchcock's most successful films is unusual, intense, vivid and, of course, based on a book. The difference between the original and the adaptation, in this case, is not that big, but both versions are definitely worthy of attention. A professional photographer spends all his time in a small flat because of a broken leg. His nurse and a few friends visit him, but all his leisure time consists of watching his neighbours' windows and their quiet life... until he realizes that a crime has been committed in one of the flats. A suspenseful, gripping and yet very chamber-like story unfolds within the pages of the book, and you'll miss a lot if you don't read it.
Movie: The Lady Vanishes (1938)
Book: The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White (1936)
We recommended this book in an article about trains in literature, but we mention it again: the story is still great. And in this case, you can read White's book without fear of spoilers because Hitchcock took from it only the general concept and some details, but otherwise, the plots are seriously different. But their overall storyline is perhaps one of the most intriguing in the history of detectives. The protagonist Iris is travelling on a train when she suddenly notices that her compartment mate, Miss Froy, has disappeared without a trace. What's more, the other passengers not only failed to notice her absence, they assure us that no Miss Froy was in the carriage. So what happened? Where could a person from a moving train have gone and why are the others silent about the disappearance? The story came out entertaining and suspenseful, both Hitchcock's and Ethel Lina White's.
When immersing yourself in a cinematic classic, don't forget the literature that spawned it.
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