Screenwriter Charles Bennett’s impact on the film industry makes another appearance

by Megan Bianco

Six years after the world and film history were exposed to, and reminded of, one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets — the life and career of screenwriter Charles Bennett — the man himself is the subject of a two-volume follow-up to his posthumous autobiography: “The Rise of the Modern Thriller.”

Published originally in 2014 and edited by Bennett’s own son, John Bennett, “Hitchcock’s Partner in Suspense” delved into Bennett’s personal experiences as an early, semi-regular writer of scripts for Alfred Hitchcock movies. The book also covered the second half of his career, in which he collaborated with another Hollywood heavyweight, Cecil B. DeMille.

Considering how many iconic and famous filmmaker and major studios Bennett was working for throughout the 20th century, it’s still baffling to think that it took until the writer’s death in 1995 — the same year he was honored with the Laurel Award by the Writer’s Guild of America — for him to land on the film community’s radar. Bennett was responsible for crafting the scripts of huge hits, including “Blackmail” (1928); “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934); “The 39 Steps” (1935); “Sabotage” (1936) and “Saboteur” (1942) for Hitchcock; “Reap the Wild Wind” (1942); “The Story of Dr. Wassell” (1944) and “Unconquered” (1947) for DeMille; and “King Solomon’s Mines” (1937); as well as “Joan of Paris’ (1942) and “Forever and a Day” (1943) for Robert Stevenson.

Bennett received his sole Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay with “Foreign Correspondent” (1940), also his penultimate collaboration with Hitchcock.

While “Partner in Suspense” was a traditional, straightforward biography, “Rise of the Modern Thriller” (penned again by son John) focuses on Bennett’s artistic impact on the film industry and his professional relationships, particularly with Hitchcock. Readers get an in-depth recount of the writer’s process and inspiration for his stories.

One aspect that’s especially fascinating is how Bennett had formatted and practiced his own equivalent of the now-recognized hero’s journey structure over a decade before literary professor Joseph Campbell famously coined the concept. It should also be noted the new books feature some serious accusations of plagiarism against Hitchcock that movie fans probably won’t like.

John Bennett, who is now a retired school teacher based in San Clemente, California, was happy with the positive reviews “Partner in Suspense” received from critics and historians, and feels the new additions continue to dig further into his father’s tale.

“Only part of the whole story was told with the first book,” he said.

Volume 1 begins with a forward written by renowned Hitchcock biographer Patrick McGilligan, and both volumes of “Rise of the Modern Thriller” are now available for purchase through online bookstores.

Megan Bianco


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