In the early ’60s, flush with the international success of his first three feature films – The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player and Jules and Jim – French director François Truffaut addressed what he felt was one of the principal flaws of American film criticism: a failure to recognize the genius and artistry of Alfred Hitchcock. Until that time, Hitchcock had been regarded by American critics as an acknowledged moneymaker and masterful entertainer, but he wasn’t really considered an artist. Truffaut meant to set the record straight.
In a letter to his film idol proposing a book-length set of interviews with the older man, the young Truffaut stated, “If overnight, the cinema had to do without its soundtrack and become once again a silent art, then many directors would be forced into unemployment, but, among the survivors, there would be Alfred Hitchcock, and everyone would realize at last that he is the greatest film director in the world.”
Hitchcock was flattered, of course, and agreed to do the book. It was published in 1967 as Hitchcock by Truffaut and has remained a classic in film studies ever since. In 1968, however, Truffaut went one step further, paying homage to Hitchcock with the film The Bride Wore Black, a witty thriller (à la Hitch) about Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), a bride who’s widowed on her wedding day and subsequently sets out to wreak her own justice on the five men responsible.
Though the film was initially dismissed by French critics, The Bride Wore Black proved to be an international success and its critical reputation has grown steadily over the decades. Just released in a stunning limited-edition Blu-ray format, the movie has never looked better.
Shot in gorgeous color by Raoul Coutard, who did the cinematography for Truffaut’s early films and many more for Jean-Luc Godard, the movie utilizes several technical and thematic tropes made famous in various Hitchcock classics. The bride’s first victim, for instance, is pushed off a balcony, but the way the sequence is edited deliberately recalls two similar instances in Hitchcock films: the fall from the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur (1942) and, even more famously, Raymond Burr pushing James Stewart out the window in Rear Window (1954).
In addition, the screenplay for Bride, written by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, is adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich whose short story also provided the basis for Rear Window. (Three other Woolrich stories were used for episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents on television, and Truffaut later adapted yet another Woolrich novel for Mississippi Mermaid a year after The Bride Wore Black.)
Perhaps the most obvious Hitchcock tribute, though, is Bernard Hermann’s score. He was Hitchcock’s long-time collaborator, responsible for such memorable scores as those for Vertigo, Psycho and The Trouble with Harry, to name a few.
Curiously enough, the clever conclusion of The Bride Wore Black, a long unedited scene with a murder off-camera, might well have been the inspiration for one of Hitchcock’s most famous scenes years later in Frenzy (1972), the filmmaker’s second-to-last production. I like to think it might have been the older man’s own conscious homage to the young Frenchman who was responsible, at least in part, for making Hitchcock an icon in the American film canon as well as at the box office.