Over 90 years after the release of his first motion picture, Alfred Hitchcock's films continue to thrill audiences with their elaborate chase scenes, impeccable style, and riveting cat-and-mouse narratives. The filmmaker's cinematic output earned him 46 Academy Award nominations, six of which he won. But Hitchcock wasn’t always the polished and confident Master of Suspense.
Hitchcock began his career in the silent film era. By learning how to heighten suspense through camerawork alone, Hitchcock made the camera the most important character in many of his films. Later, Hitchcock incorporated music, twist endings, and marketing strategies to turn his movies into critically acclaimed masterpieces. This list includes the films that inspired Hitchcock’s early career, and those that influenced the director during his prime.
Director Cecil B. DeMille was often cited as one of Hitchcock’s biggest inspirations. During a 1939 press dinner, Hitchcock reportedly claimed that Forbidden Fruit was one of his 10 favorite films. The movie was a remake of DeMille’s previous film, The Golden Chance. Hitchcock himself remade one of his own films, The Man Who Knew Too Much, after a 22-year-gap when Paramount Pictures agreed that the film would do well with a new adaptation.
Forbidden Fruit is a Cinderella story, which DeMille was known for. When a lowly seamstress is encouraged to attend a fancy party, she catches the eye of a wealthy man. The catch? She’s already married and wants to remain loyal to her husband, even though he’s a thief. The potent combination of romance and suspense echo much of what Hitchcock would soon become known for.
In the silent film era, Hitchcock visited the sets of two Fritz Lang movies while on a trip to a German studio. The chase scenes and ominous camera angles inspired Hitchcock, particularly with his 1927 film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, which is about a serial killer targeting blonde women. The Lodger is considered to be Hitchcock’s first thriller, and served as the beginning of his reputation as a master of suspense.
Destiny literally brings Death to life as a haunting character that follows people around—most notably a woman and her boyfriend. When her boyfriend dies, she follows Death around and he promises her that he will bring her lover back if she can save one of three people whose lives are in jeopardy. The plot moves to each of these people who live all over, from the Middle East to Venice to China.
French director and screenwriter Henri-Georges Clouzot beat Hitchcock out for the rights to this movie’s screenplay by reaching the authors just a few hours before Hitchcock could. The film inspired Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho, with its twist ending and marketing strategy. The infamous shower scene in Psycho took notes from the bath scene in Les Diaboliques, leading one viewer to write to Hitchcock claiming that after seeing the two films, his daughter was afraid to shower and bathe. Hitchcock allegedly advised her to go to the dry cleaners instead. Just as Hitchcock told his audiences not to spoil any part of Psycho, Clouzot also released a warning at the end of Les Diaboliques telling viewers to allow people to experience the thrill firsthand.
In Les Diaboliques, two women plot to kill the strict head of a boarding school, Michel Delassalle. Christina Delassalle is the headmaster’s wife, and Nicole Horner is his mistress—both hate him and want him dead because of his emotional abuse. However, their plan goes awry when Michel’s drowned body disappears and ends up in police custody. The ending is shocking to say the least, and it’s no wonder why Hitchcock fought so hard to get the rights to the story.
Director Michael Powell had a close friendship with Hitchcock, which is evident in the similarities in many of their films. Peeping Tom was released two months before Psycho, and a failed press screening doomed the film from the start. Hitchcock elected not to have a press screening for Psycho, which may well have saved the movie from a similar fate. Psycho and Peeping Tom share physically similar victims, shockingly human killers, and murders from the victims’ point of view. The main character in each film also has an obsession with secretly watching people.
In Peeping Tom, Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) films women as he murders them, watching the footage afterwards, creating a “documentary.” After befriending another tenant in his apartment building, Helen (Anna Massey), he reveals the origins of his sick passion.
Blow-Up was universally praised as a masterpiece when it was released, resulting in two Academy Award nominations, one for Best Original Screenplay, and the other for Best Director. Hitchcock admired Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni techniques in the film, reportedly even saying that he was 100 years ahead of Hitchcock. Hitchcock tried to mirror these skills in his 1972 movie, Frenzy, by using real London locations and a similar “dreamy” color scheme.
Blow-Up follows fashion photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) who takes a photo of what seems like two unsuspecting lovers in the park. When the woman, Jane (Vanessa Redgrave) gets angry and demands to take the roll of film, Thomas evaluates the photo and discovers a gruesome detail that makes him a target for attack.
Featured still from "Diabolique" via Filmsonor