Thursday, August 22, 2013

hitchcock's true romance

Last week was Alfred Hitchcock's birthday. One of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Hitchcock was funny, talented, and more than a little bit quirky. This past year two films attempted to tell behind-the-scenes stories of the man and his films. A made-for-cable movie, The Girl, premiered on HBO and focused on Hitch's obsession with actress Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds. Not to diminish what Hitch may have put Ms. Hedren through, but it was not a great film, focusing on hearsay of the most prurient kind. Also released this year was Hitchcock, based on Stephen Rebello's book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The film does include some fun peeks into the making of the famous horror film, but the true center of the story is the relationship between Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife, screenwriter and editor Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).

Alma Reville
Helen Mirren as Alma
Hitchcock is a far better film than The Girl (which isn't really saying much). But true Hitchophiles may wish for a bit more "making of" footage than the filmmaker's inserted dream sequences, where the great director talks to Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, the inspiration for the book by Robert Bloch and the film. Film buffs will enjoy being reminded how completely unusual Psycho was for its time. Because of its graphic subject matter, Hitch's studio, Paramount, wouldn't finance the film, so the director (and his wife) had to put up the money. Hitchcock used his television crew from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to film Psycho. When the studio would only releas the film to a very limited amount of theaters, Hitchcock countered with some brilliant publicity gimmicks — buying up all copies of the Bloch book, so that no one would know how the story ended, and by decreeing that absolutely no one would be allowed into the theater after the movie had started.

Hitch swears the cast and crew to secrecy on the set of Psycho - L-R: Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins
Hopkins may not look exactly like Hitch, but he does a great job with his voice, especially his over-enunciated speech. He could have slowed down some of his phrasing even more. Mirren gives a wonderful, acerbic performance as Alma. She may not closely resemble Mrs. Hitchcock, but she captures the frustrations involved in being married to a man who always had to have a "Hitchcock blonde" standing by. The pair bicker and try to one-up each other throughout the film, but they also manage to convey their great love for one another. Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville were married 54 years, from 1926–1980, when Hitch died. Alma died two years later, in 1982.

Hitchcock and Alma on vacation
Alma (Mirren) helps Hitch (Hopkins) edit Psycho
Hitchcock tries to amp up the drama by having Alma indulge in a flirtation with fellow screen writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) who wrote Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train. Their collaboration on a new project while Hitch is working on HIS film inflames Hitch's jealousy and inspires his rage, which he channels into the famous shower scene. Maybe. It's pretty well-known that the shower scene was completely story-boarded and not a spontaneous expression of Hitch's personal rage on the set. What the film does do is underline how essential Alma was to Hitch and his films. It may slightly overplay her contributions to Psycho, but it does show how her discerning eye and opinion was Hitch's absolute first and last stop during his creative process.

Although the film and romance belongs to Hopkins and Mirren, the supporting cast does a good job with their interpretations of well-known actors. Jessica Biel especially stands out as Vera Miles, a woman, who like Tippi Hedren, was being groomed to be a star, a Hitchcock blonde, but who fell out with the director after becoming pregnant prior to his starring her in Vertigo (the part then went to Kim Novak). James D'Arcy is an uncanny Anthony Perkins. Scarlett Johannsson tries to charm as Janet Leigh, but apart from her figure, doesn't really suggest the actress or the era.

Janet Leigh (Johansson) and Vera Miles (Biel)
Quibbles aside, Hitchcock is an entertaining peek into the relationship between Hitch and Alma and Hollywood's first slasher film. After viewing this biopic one might want to screen the original and reflect on all that went into making this black and white horror classic.
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