If you caught up on the legendary Alfred Hitchcock's movies during the pandemic: (a) Good work, and (b) there's still more to be done.
The master of suspense may be the only director whose style and themes are so distinctive that his touch is immediately recognizable in the movies he influenced. There's even a word for it — "Hitchcockian" — and the list of filmmakers who have paid homage to/stolen from the master include Kenneth Branagh, Joel Edgerton, Park Chan-wook and the guy some would say built an entire career on it, Brian De Palma.
Any Hitchcock element you can think of has popped up in De Palma's movies. Start with "Hitchcock blondes," icy beauties whose placid exterior may hide a duplicitous heart: Kim Novak in "Vertigo" or Janet Leigh in "Psycho." With De Palma, it's Rachel McAdams in "Passion" or Melanie Griffith in "Body Double." The cool thing about De Palma's blondes is that they update the originals: Hitchcock seemed to enjoy punishing women (because he feared their real-life rejection, suggested New Ulm native Tippi Hedren of "The Birds" fame), whereas De Palma has Griffith turn the tables on the villain. P.S.: Griffith is Hedren's daughter in real life.
Hitchcock was so fascinated/repelled by the unreachable blonde that he seems to have never imagined the possibility of two of them in the same movie. If he had, it would have involved another classic device: doubles. He loved to pair similar-looking actors to suggest good, evil and the way the two become intertwined. The prototype is "Strangers on a Train," in which a psycho embroils a mild-mannered guy with psycho tendencies in a "perfect crime" scheme. There's something similar in his "Rope," and examples from Hitchcock's heirs include "Memories of Murder" from "Parasite" Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho.
"Memories of a Murder" also has a "wrong man," which is such a classic Hitchcock device that he named a movie about the unfairly accused Henry Fonda "The Wrong Man." Hitch loved a guy who goes on the run from the cops and the bad guys while attempting to clear his name, as in "The 39 Steps" and "North by Northwest," and that pops up in other filmmakers' work, such as Jonathan Demme's "Last Embrace."
Hitchcock no longer gets credit for the greatest film in that genre, since Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones made the wrongiest "wrong man" movie ever, "The Fugitive" (which reminds us that Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" created the template).
Given that he was born in the Victorian era, it's probably not surprising that Hitch was fascinated by Sigmund Freud's discredited theories, which make movies that once seemed au courant feel campy now. I'm thinking about "Spellbound," where parallel lines make Gregory Peck freak out, and something similar in "Marnie" that involves the color red.
It's hard to take that stuff seriously now, so Hitchcock heirs are apt to make fun of those tropes: Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" takes place in a similar mental hospital to the one in "Spellbound," and Branagh's "Dead Again" hinges on an obsession with sharp objects.
More than 40 years after his death, Hitchcock's influence continues to pop up, in "Gone Girl," this year's remake of "The Invisible Man" and even "Parasite." Here are a few more of the most entertaining Hitch-nots.
Edgerton, who also directed, and Jason Bateman are "Strangers on a Train"-like doubles in a sneaky thriller that messes around with our perception of what constitutes "goodness." The three-person movie (the other one is Rebecca Hall and her hair isn't blond, so you can trust her) should have been a bigger hit.
Just about everything by the master includes a scene where we get so wrapped up in the bad guy's efforts to elude authority that, without thinking, we shift our allegiance to him. That's the whole premise of this clever Austrian nominee for the best foreign-language film Oscar, in which a small-time thief bumps up against big-time evil.
A bordering-on-necrophile forces a woman who resembles his dead lover to assume her identity in De Palma's near-remake of "Vertigo." Cliff Robertson, reportedly not a nice person on set, steps into Jimmy Stewart's shoes in "Obsession," which is relentlessly indebted to its inspiration, including a score by "Vertigo" composer Bernard Herrmann.
It resembles Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" and "North by Northwest" and stars the lead in both, Cary Grant. Which is why a lot of people think this comic mystery is a Hitchcock movie. Whoever directed it (Stanley Donen), it's a witty gem in which a socialite (Audrey Hepburn) proves more than capable of outwitting a mystery man (Grant).
Doubles, one played by "Game of Thrones" star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, muddy the issue of good and evil in a thriller based on a novel by Jo Nesbø. There's also a bit of "The Trouble With Harry" in how this Norwegian roller coaster ride gleefully undercuts our expectations with every scene.
Kenneth Branagh serves an homage to "Citizen Kane" as well as Hitchcock's "Spellbound" and "Notorious" in a mystery that shifts between the 1990s (in color) and the 1940s (in black-and-white). A woman (Branagh's then-wife Emma Thompson) fears her lover (Branagh) may kill her in a crime that echoes one from the past. It's ridiculous, Branagh's Amerrrrrican accent is awful, and it's big fun.
Meryl Streep makes her Hitchcock blonde more interesting than her predecessors. We're unsure if she's chilly and remote because she killed her lover, a patient of psychologist Roy Scheider (who, of course, is mysteriously attracted to her) or because she fears for her life. There are hints of "Spellbound" and another Hitchcock trope: the good guy having to reach out a hand to the bad guy to save him from a fall, from "Saboteur." With a bonus appearance from "The Birds" star Jessica Tandy.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367