DATELINE: Giants in Separate Corners
Recently the question came to us: Why did the two great forces of mystery and suspense never collaborate?
The answer may be surprising. They were both highly successful, popular and beloved: one in film and one in literature. They were both British, lived and died around the same time, and trod the same grounds of creativity.
A few claim Hitchcock was a misogynist: but his greatest collaborators were women (apart from his wife Alma). He enjoyed the works of Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca, The Birds) and Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train).
Apart from that fact, both Hitch and Agatha loved to use the setting of trains for their greatest works! Hitchcock could have directed Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, his peak, and most think he did direct it: but it went to Billy Wilder who used Hitch’s techniques to great effect. Hitchcock could have directed Ten Little Indians in 1945, but chose to avoid the Christie works altogether.
Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that he disliked the genre of the ‘who done it.’ He found it antithetical to his idea of what made for cinematic story-telling. He likened the genre to a crossword puzzle, with revealing clues as the main point of the story. It was bread and butter for Christie, but Hitchcock hated the notion and revealing the killer at the end of the story.
You may think two of Hitch’s intriguing films, at the least, were of the who done it school: Psycho actually revealed who the killer was, but not in the way you expected it to be in the final reel. Stage Fright was one of Hitch’s least favorite films and he filmed it because he was told it was a Christie story, but turned out to be one of his weakest entries.
In Shadow of a Doubt in 1943, Hitchcock had two minor characters discuss how to murder each other—and referred to Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective of Christie, in less than flattering terms.
It’s almost tragic that Hitchcock did not direct Witness for the Prosecution or Murder on the Orient Express to see how he might have handled the material. Both films are brilliant stories and wonderful films, but the echoes of Hitch are omnipresent.
So, we were left without any collaboration between the two greats of 20th century murder mystery. It’s not much of a mystery, but it is a tale of audience misfortune.