Synopsis: Oscar Winners Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are spellbinding in this provocative story about the making of one of cinema’s most iconic films. Plagued by both a reckless ego and nagging self-doubt, Hollywood legend Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) becomes obsessed with a grisly murder story that the studios won’t back. Determined, he risks his reputation, his home and even the love of his wife Alma (Mirren), as he sets out to make the film. Ultimately, Hitch wins Alma over, and the two collaborate to create an enduring masterpiece – Psycho. Also starring Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel.
eyelights: the dynamic between Hitchcock and Alma. Helen Mirren. James D’Arcy. Michael Wincott. the biting dialogues.
eyesores: Anthony Hopkins’ make-up. Scarlett Johansson. Jessica Biel.
“And that my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.”
‘Hitchcock’ is a 2012 docu-drama about the making of the Alfred Hitchcock classic ‘Psycho‘. Based on the book, ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho’, by Stephen Rebello, it documents how Hitchcock tried to get the picture made, despite studio objections and the financial and personal troubles that this caused Hitchcock and his spouse, Alma.
What’s interesting is that the picture puts a spotlight on Hitch’s relationship with Alma. Not content with merely showing us how ‘Psycho’ was born, the filmmakers decided to weave the Hitchcocks’ marital troubles through the film, also showing us just how significant a contribution Alma made to Hitch’s career – and in particular to ‘Psycho’, which languished without her involvement.
Hitch and Alma are portrayed as a team. She worked hard behind the scenes and often had to keep him in check, as he had poor eating and drinking habits. But there’s trouble brewing: she feels under-appreciated, is worried about their financial state and is becoming keen about a writer she’s collaborating with – which inevitably would make Hitch jealous.
The dialogues are superb. Hitchcock was well-known to have a terrific sense of humour, but I always wondered how much of it was staged for his public persona and how much was spontaneous. In ‘Hitchcock’, it’s shown as an extension of his everyday personality: he and Alma have a number of biting, witty, exchanges, and it also translates in his other interactions, personal and professional.
I don’t know enough about Alfred Hitchcock’s life to ascertain exactly what is real and what was enhanced/invented for the enjoyment of cinemagoers, but there were plenty of elements that I recall from interviews and documentaries that I’ve seen in the past, such as the fact that Alma was very involved with the scripts, or that Hitchcock was obsessed with his leading ladies.
Ultimately, though, the picture revolves around the making of ‘Psycho’. It delves into the film’s roots, which are the Ed Gein murders (which Robert Bloch based the novel on). Hitchcock is obsessed with Gein, and he imagines the events at the Gein house a number of times throughout the picture, going so far as interacting with Gein in his imagination or in a feverish delirium.
It shows us just how confident Hitch was about making the picture, putting their family home on the line to get it made, and doing it on a comparably small budget to boot. He even went so far as to buy all the copies of Bloch’s novel (so that no one would know the ending of his picture) and devised a marketing strategy that ensured the film would be talked about.
He was, after all, the Master of Suspense.
Anthony Hopkins is quite good as Hitch; I was particularly impressed with his accent and manner of speaking (although he looked almost nothing like him). But it’s Helen Mirren who steals the picture, as Alma. While she may be nothing like her true-life counterpart, Mirren is the picture’s emotional centre and delivers in every single moment she’s on screen.
She has this smouldering moment when Hitch gives Alma crap for going off to collaborate with another writer when he’s under pressure: Alma quickly puts him in his place, illustrating quite plainly how devoted she is and always has been, putting to rest any suggestion to the contrary. And then goes off to save the day by helping re-edit the picture after Hitch calls it “stillborn”.
Mirren is ON.
The people chosen to play this picture’s ‘Psycho’ cast are a mixed bag, however: Scarlett Johansson does an okay Janet Leigh, but all we see is Scarlett, not Janet, and Jessica Biel never really blends in as Vera Miles. The only truly great choice is James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, who not only looks the part but affects many of the actor’s verbal and physical mannerisms.
Interestingly, Patricia Hitchcock is entirely absent in this picture. Not only does she never show up during the Hitch and Alma scenes, but she isn’t even on the set of ‘Psycho’, even though she had a small part in her father’s picture. I wonder why that is. Was it a decision on the filmmakers’ part, or did Pat ask not to be represented (as surely she must have been consulted on this movie)?
The filmmakers inserted a few nice touches into the picture, such as the opening sequence at Gein’s house which merges into the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme and Hitch introducing the picture. Similarly, there’s a bookend that hints at the making of his next picture, ‘The Birds’. His iconic profile is also used to great effect in a few instances.
And then there are the ‘Psycho’ references, such as the subtle hints that Danny Elfman inserted in his motion picture score (interestingly, he had re-recorded the original score for Gus Van Sant’s remake of ‘Psycho’), the candy corn, Beethoven, or the Bates house (which wasn’t positioned properly in this picture – one of many discrepancies that director Gervasi overlooked).
For all its unusual flaws and absences, ‘Hitchcock’ is a well-made and thoroughly enjoyable picture; it flies by breezily and it is both dramatic and humourous at once. Granted, it may play like a TV movie in some ways, and the performances aren’t all stellar, but it comes together nicely anyway and there are some turns that support the picture all on their own.
And while it may only prove of genuine interest to fans of Hitchcock and/or of horror films, to them this picture is highly recommended.
Date of viewing: November 3, 2014