Alfred Hitchcock is one the most famous and recognizable film directors in cinema’s history: his name, his voice, his profile, his films. His influence upon film makers and his obsession for the perfect “Hitchcock Blonde” (Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak and Grace Kelly) are stuff of legend, as is his love for his wife, Alma Reville, a talented assistant director, screenwriter, and editor in her own right. Along with the filming of his biggest hit, Psycho, at the age of 60, this is setting for Sacha (Anvil: the Story of Anvil) Gervasi ’s wonderfully touching and entertaining biopic, Hitchcock.
Cross-published with Widescreen Warrior.
While Anthony Hopkins makes an engrossing and convincing title character, it’s Helen Mirren as Alma that provides the film its anchor, much like the real-life woman did for Hitchcock himself. Her performance is sincere, conflicted and strong and her influence on her co-stars is significant. The film has a superior supporting cast with Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins. Hitchcock ends up a little overblown but ultimately satisfying look at the director, his obsessions, and the challenges he faced in his career, not only in making Psycho, a movie no one fully supported, but the strain he puts on his own heath (physical and mental) and his marriage. Funny, charming, historically fascinating, Hitchcock is a peek behind the scenes of the talented director and the talent at his side, what he brought out in them and what they brought out in him.
Hitchcock begins with the release of North By Northwest where a reporter challenges the director with the supposition, “How are you going to top this, Hitch?” Adding insult to injury, the reporter adds, “At 60 years old, wouldn’t it be better to just quit while you’re ahead?” This sets Alfred and his wife, Alma, -and the studio, for that matter- on a desperate search for Hitchcock’s next film. She wants another mystery or suspense film, the studio wants another North By Northwest, but Alfred has his mind set on adapting a book from writer Robert Bloch. This book is “Psycho,” Bloch’s SF Hugo award winning 1959 novel loosely based on the real-life serial killer, Ed Gein. While Alma is not necessarily behind the material, she supports Alfred 100% even when the studio is dead set against it, complaining about it being a horror film, a “B” picture. “What if this horror film were directed by someone who knew what they were doing?” Hitchcock tries to convince them, unsuccessfully. Hitchcock, his wife and his agent Lew Wasserman are forced to raise the finances themselves, which they do, striking a great deal with the studio. With his finances on the line, Hitchcock, obsessed with his leading actresses and dedicated to his craft, places his health and his marriage in jeopardy as well. It seems everything is riding on the success of Psycho.
Anthony Hopkins stars as Alfred Hitchcock with full-on makeup to match the famous director’s equally famous physique. He mimics Hitchock’s voice and mannerisms perfectly, entirely convincing even when the make-up seems to waiver from scene to scene. It is so successful a performance, it is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role upon the film’s conclusion. He also carefully balances the role’s charisma, charm and obsessions, some of which could be considered quite creepy, without sacrificing any sympathy for the character. Hitchcock, the director, is an unquestionable talent; Hitchcock, the man, is flawed and insecure. It’s his growth, found just below the story’s larger elements, that drives the film, that provides it with a touching and rewarding conclusion. Hopkins brilliantly emotes all these conflicts, realizations and passions beneath the necessary costuming and dialect. This is especially wonderful when Hitchcock realizes that writer Joseph Stafano (Ralph Macchio) has the background to pen his script or when actor Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy) convinces, unknowingly, that his is the perfect Norman Bates. But nothing beats his delightful symphony of terror outside the theater doors as the audience (and Hitch himself) react to Psycho’s shower scene memorably scored by Bernard Herman – there’s rarely been a more sensational and entertaining realized presentation of one man’s triumph.
The heart of the film throughout is Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville. Her performance as Hitchcock’s rock and strength, and his true muse, is remarkable. While her emotional conflict with fellow writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) is not as convincing or well executed as the film wants it to be, it is important to the film and the character’s growth, as well as Alfred’s struggles and maturity. Alma’s strength is marvelously portrayed as she is required to step in to Hitchcock’s directorial shoes when Hitch succumbs to poor heath. The scene illustrates not only that she is Hitch’s equal, in many ways, but also equally respected in Hollywood, if not more so. She commands the crew and stands up to the studio; it’s extraordinary. Above that, it’s the bond she has with Alfred that guides the director, the making of Psycho and the script for Hitchcock. While the film is titled after its famous director, it could have just as easily been titled “Alfred and Alma.” Hitchcock is much stronger for having Alma at his side and so is Hopkins for having Mirren as his co-star.
Alfred Hitchock: “I will never find a Hitchcock blonde as beautiful as you.”
Alma Reville: “Oh, Hitch, I’ve waited thirty years to hear you say that.”
Alfred Hitchcock: “That, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense.”
The rest of the cast is unparalleled (Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbard, Michael Wincott, Jessica Beil, Danny Huston), but it is Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy who make the biggest impression. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh in a role that is written as a woman with conviction, morals, and talent. Johansson is extraordinary beautiful as the actress starring as Psycho‘s doomed Marion Crane. When she steps out of her dressing room in the recognizable wardrobe from the film, it’s jaw-droppingly magnificent. In addition, her handling of Hitchcock is well developed, addressing both his obsession with her as a Hitchock blonde and his techniques in getting the perfect shot from his cast. This leads to an especially poignant scene between Janet and Alma, building respect for both parties. Johansson is charming, admirable and dazzling – a perfect star, the perfect Hitchcock blonde. James D’Arcy is uncanny as Anthony Perkins evoking the actor’s mannerisms and vocals with astonishing reverence. It’s difficult to tell the actor from the role, perhaps even more so than Hopkins as Hitchcock. D’Arcy is totally immersed as Perkins. It’s a brief but memorable, standout performance.
With a script that tends to become over-bloated and overcomplicated, it’s the core relationship between Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville that drives Hitchcock, allowing the movie to be a successful, touching look at the director, his wife and the challenges he faces at a crucial point in his career. It glosses over other elements of the story, the obsessions, the political studio conflicts and even the monumental risk the director took in financing what was thought to be such a bad investment. The script could have easily focused on any of these elements to tell this story; but, by concentrating on Hitch and Alma’s relationship, the audience is treated with a sweet, emotional love story. The Hitchcock at the end of the film is not the same as the one after the release of North By Northwest, and neither is Alma, to the film’s strength. Arguably the growth is not as grand as many biopics portray, but that does not make the significance of his growth any less important or less entertaining. Along the way, the audience is treated with a brief glimpse of Hollywood in 1960 and into the mind of one of Hollywood’s most talented and influential directors. Hitchcock should not be overlooked, it should be enjoyed for it portrayal of a loving, supportive relationship of a mature couple and the challenges they face within themselves and with each other. Oh, yeah, and there’s also this little bit about their making Psycho, cue music.