"Bridge of Spies," a Cold War-set thriller opening Friday, marks the fourth film pairing Academy Award winners Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. That ties Spielberg with fellow director Ron Howard for flicks starring their shared go-to leading man.
For those who like their movie math old school, the latest Spielberg-Hanks collaboration offers another significant tie: That's also the number of films Alfred Hitchcock made with perhaps his greatest leading man, Jimmy Stewart (sorry, Cary Grant).
The new movie takes place in the same threatening, unstable post-World War II years during which Hitchcock used Everyman Stewart as a vessel of fear and doubt, with varying degrees of resilience, from 1948’s "Rope" through 1958’s "Vertigo." Now "Bridge of Spies" presents another opportunity for Spielberg and Hanks to span the twin spheres of world and movie history.
Both Spielberg and Hanks, of course, long and often have been compared to their cinematic predecessors. Spielberg, a Hitchcock acolyte, most displayed the twisted DNA of film's "Master of Suspense" in early efforts like "Duel" and "Jaws." Hank's long run in a wide variety of movies tied by playing relatable characters (mostly) worth rooting for matches Stewart's rise from pre-war screwball comedies ("The Philadelphia Story") to the sweetest Capra-corn ("It's a Wonderful Life") to dark westerns ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance") to becoming an unlikely vehicle for Hitchcockian audience manipulation.
Spielberg and Hanks’ own collaborations range from a World War II-set classic ("Saving Private Ryan") to semi-comic, semi-existential quirk ("The Terminal") to a breezy 1960s-style chase film with a witty Hitchcock-like vibe ("Catch Me If You Can").
“Bridge of Spies,” though, could end up someday on a TCM double bill with Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much," in which Stewart's American tourist character is thrust into an increasingly dizzying spiral of international intrigue. In the fact-based "Bridge of Spies," Hanks plays a Brooklyn lawyer tapped by the CIA to negotiate the release of an American U-2 pilot as the Cold War nears one of its frostiest point.
The screenplay was penned by Matt Charman, a movie-world relative newcomer, with Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmaking brothers whose brilliant career oozed with the Hitchcock influence from their dark 1984 debut, "Blood Simple."
The Coens, along with Spielberg and Hanks, no doubt, are secure enough in their own places in celluloid annals to withstand – and even appreciate – such lofty comparisons, especially as their movie outputs grow and mature. Check out a preview of "Bridge of Spies" as Spielberg and Hanks again set out to prove they’re in a league with Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart – and in a league of their own.
Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.