Hitchcock is a behind the scenes telling of the making of Psycho (1960) and the relationship between its Director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife and long time collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). The plot encompasses Hitchcock’s search for a follow up to the hugely successful North by Northwest and then the difficult production of Psycho, ending at its Premier. Although Psycho and its production provide the backdrop, the plot is really about love, jealousy and aging. Hitch and Alma had been married for almost thirty-five years by 1960 and one of the avenues the film explores is the fractious relationship which they share. Hitch’s obsessions with his leading ladies, here Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) is something which Alma has put up with for decades but when the writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) takes an interest in Alma, Hitch’s jealousy effects their relationship and his work.
Hitchcock isn’t a bad film and it’s always nice to see behind the scenes of a Hollywood production but even if it had been great there would still be one problem and that is that it isn’t Psycho. All the way through I thought to myself that I wish I was watching Psycho and the underwhelming central performance and flabby plot just made me think back to what is in my opinion one of the greatest films in history.
It’s difficult to talk about Hitchcock without mentioning TheGirl, the TV movie based on the Director’s next film The Birds. That movie was on TV just a couple of months ago and received criticism for its harsh portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock goes much easier on the Director but still hints at his misogyny, controlling personality and mood swings. Because of The Girl we have two recent Alfred Hitchcock impressions from two very fine actors. I assumed given the budget and theatrical release that Hitchcock would be the better film but having now seen both I can’t honestly say that. I also believe that Toby Jones’ Hitch was superior to Anthony Hopkins’. Hopkins looks the part in silhouette and in profile but head on he just looks like Anthony Hopkins in a fat suit. His performance is also less nuanced than Jones’ but he gets the voice spot on. Both films are of some interest merely because they themselves are set around the making of such well known and influential movies.
I was interested to see the making of Psycho and had no idea that Hitch struggled so much to get it made. I was aware that the shower and toilet scenes were under scrutiny from censors and that the transvestisms and murder were obviously controversial but I didn’t know that Paramount refused to fund it and were even against its release. Some of the most interesting scenes take place inside the censor’s office where Hitch battled the still very powerful Hay’s Code which severely censored the films of the post war period. It’s shocking today to see how much influence the conservative, Communist fearing, Bible bashing censors had over the movies. As well as the censorship issue I also enjoyed the little chats between Janet Leigh and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) who was a former Hitchcock lead herself. Miles showed the jaded side of a Hitchcock lead while Leigh was still naive, impressionable and fresh faced.
I was generally less interested in the private life of the Hitchcocks. Although Helen Mirren was very good and was probably the stand out performer I just wasn’t bothered by their family problems. The theme of aging was much more interesting though and while Hitch vocalised his fear of growing old and unwanted, Alma kept her thoughts more silent and subtle but Helen Mirren successfully vocalises them through her performance. A problem with making a film about such well known people is that a lot of people will go in knowing about the success of Psycho and that the couple were married for life so there is little jeopardy. As the film isn’t able to make enough on its own it relies on the facts that are then presented in an often dull manner. Despite this I was still pleased during the climactic scenes, especially the conducting sequence.
As I mentioned I wasn’t overly impressed with Anthony Hopkins but he wasn’t bad. Helen Mirren was excellent and the supporting cast were mostly fine too. Scarlett Johansson looks the spitting image of Janet Leigh from hair, eyebrows, expression even as far as breasts (not that I was really looking). Jessica Biel is great as the scorned Vera Miles and James D’Arcy shines as Psycho lead Anthony Perkins. Michael Stuhlbarg rounds off a central cast with a very good performance as Hitchcock’s dedicated agent. The are plenty of in jokes to keep Hitchcock fans entertained but occasionally these were a little too obvious and very un-Hitchcock and the film rolls a long at a decent pace but it can never escape the fact that you are watching a film about a great Director rather than one of his classic films.
- Andrew Garfield was wanted for the role of Anthony Perkins but a prolonged Broadway show made him unavailable.
- The movie was shot in just 36 days.
- There is a brief after credits shot of Hopkins as Hitchcock, in profile, in any empty cinema.