5 November 2012 | gregsrants
Best When It Focuses on Psycho Rather than Hitchcock's Marital Relations
In 1960, famed director Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho, the film to which his name would be more associated than any other film in his heralded career. In the new bio-film Hitchcock, Psycho is the backdrop for the story between the proclaimed 'Master of Suspense' and his wife and muse Alma Reville.
Directed by Sasha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil), the film stars Sir Anthony Hopkins as the odd-shaped director and Dame Helen Mirren as his wife Alma. We pick things up in 1959 and Hitch's ("Just call me 'Hitch'. You can hold the 'cock'") introduction to the story of serial killer Ed Gein. Hitch had just released North by Northwest starring Cary Grant and he was fascinated in the story of Gein that was the inspiration for Robert Bloch's novel, Psycho.
Hitch aggressively pursued the optioning of the story and began to adapt it as a theatrical release. But Paramount Studios, to which Hitchcock was employed, was not eager to bring the gruesome tale about a transvestite and his murderous relationship with his dead mother to the big screen. Even with Hitchcock's clout (he had already released over 40 theatrical films by 1959) was not enough to sway studio bosses, and Hitchcock eventually had to finance the film himself and mortgage his home in an effort to get the film into production (this risky move proved lucrative as Hitchcock earned an estimated $15 million by fronting his own money for 60% of the gross profits).
The film takes us through all aspects of the production of the film from financing through casting; from fights with the ratings board through the limited release of the film in only 2 theatres nationally.
But at the heart of the film is the relationship between Hitch and his wife, Alma. Hitch is hardly represented as a caring and understanding sort. Hopkins plays him as an arrogant, demanding sod who wanted to control over his leading ladies as her secretly admired his blonde actress hires unprofessionally in his private office. He was a heavy eating, heavy drinking auteur that never won an Academy Award despite such revered films as Rebecca, The Birds and Vertigo having been crafted by his immense talent.
Alma, on the other hand, is portrayed as the 'wizard behind the curtain'. She helps guide Hitchcock through his film journey's doing re-writes on scripts and providing directorial and production support. All the while, Alma is always pushed out of Hitchcock's limelight. And with Hitch's increasing jealousy over Alma's time spent with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) coupled with the financial burden of financing the film, the relationship between the two hits troubled water.
Director Sasha Gervasi works off a screenplay by John J, McLaugnlin based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello and a good portion of the film is fascinating stuff. It's like watching a live-action movie about a making-of feature you would watch on a Blu-ray disc. From the casting interviews with Anthony Perkins (played dead on by James D'Arcy) and Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) to how Hitchcock didn't want to use music during the infamous shower scene but was convinced by his wife and the editors or how upon first cut of the film or how the test audience (which consisted of suits, agents and censors) loathed the film and its violent content; the peak behind the closed set doors was captivating viewing.
Unfortunately, when the film sways away from the production, it is less involving. Hitch and Alma had a collaborative and sometimes combative relationship, but their affection for each other was the least interesting part of the film yet the most consuming.
There is a great supporting cast that includes Jessica Biel as actress Vera Miles, Ralph Macchio and Toni Collette and the look and feel of the era seems captured earnestly. But the movie is squarely on Hopkins' shoulders who, at times, looked odd though the make-up effects. There are times that he loses himself in the role (we loved Hitch acting like a Maestro outside the theatre as he listened to the audience's screams). But there were a few times that we could have imagined Hannibal Lecter uttering the scripted lines.
Our overall response to the film is warm and it deserves a recommendation. Back in 1959, there were no documentarians or a team of staff videotaping behind-the-scenes action for a potential Blu-ray special feature. So it was nice to travel back in history and have documented some of the events that lead to one of the most popular horror films ever made. And for that, we are grateful.