After seeing the Sacha Gervasi drama called simply Hitchcock there’s little chance that you will leave the theatre knowing anything more about the infamous Hollywood film director from England than you did going in, but you will still have had a great time being in his company for a couple of hours, all the same.
Based on the Stephen Rebello book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – a must read, by the way, for any fan of film – Hitchcock tells of exactly that; the behind-the-scenes goings on of what happened when Alfred Hitchcock decided to make what he referred to as a “Really good horror picture.”
A murderer called Ed Gein from Wisconsin was the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho. After the success of his last film, Hitchcock was looking for something completely different and found it within the pages of Bloch’s horrifying novel. Even though Paramount wanted nothing to do with it, Hitchcock was determined to get the film made, so he gambled with his own money and financed the film himself.
“They want you to direct a James Bond film,” His wife, Alma (a perfect Helen Mirren) tells her husband. “Casino Royale.” “I’ve already made it,” responds Hitchcock with total disinterest. “It’s called North by Northwest.”
What follows is a fascinating and totally entertaining look at how Hitchcock pulled everything together in order to make his film. Unlike his previous work, there was so much hanging on the success of Psycho that to fail at the box-office would cause Hitchcock to lose everything. “You’re sixty years old,” cries one reporter at the premiere of North by Northwest, “Shouldn’t you quit while you’re ahead?” But Hitch couldn’t quit. From his perspective, the best was yet to come and Psycho was going to be it.
Anthony Hopkins approaches his portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock in much the same way he did as Richard Nixon. He doesn’t do an impersonation – there’s never a moment when you’re ever fooled into believing you’re seeing the real thing – yet he embodies the famous director by employing familiar body movements with a speech pattern that inflects Hitchcock’s slow and deliberate underlining of vowels for emphasis. It’s both effective and very funny. When a studio exec demands to see scenes from the unfinished film so that Paramount won’t be embarrassed by the work, Hitchcock immediately responds with, “Unlike the last five Martin and Lewis films you’re so proud of.”
In the same way that Broadway shows about other Broadway shows are so much fun, films about the making of other films rarely fail to entertain. Depending on how well acquainted you are with the original source material, you can’t help feeling both amused and intrigued on things you feel you recognize. When the censors object to the Janet Leigh shower scene stating that she can’t be nude, Hitchcock responds with, “She won’t be nude,” then adds, “She’ll be wearing a shower cap.” After shooting a scene all day with actor John Gavin, Hitchcock tells his wife how good looking the man is, and then states, “Plywood is more expressive.”
There have been stories of Hitchcock’s obsession with his icy blonde leading ladies for decades to the point where many have believed that James Stewart’s tormented character in Hitchcock’s Vertigo is really about Hitchcock himself. To a degree we see some of that obsession for ourselves in Hitchcock, but not enough to feel that the trait has been fully explored, and maybe that’s the biggest problem with the film; it’s merely a lightweight, surface look at the man, the relationship with his wife, Alma, and his leading ladies, but who really cares? With great performances from a well chosen cast and more genuinely funny moments than most recent comedies, Hitchcock is such a deliriously entertaining piece of work that to have made it into a full-on, warts-‘n-all dramatic biopic would have spoiled everything.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 minutes Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)