BROADCAST ON UK TV: December 26
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The true story of the troubled relationship between two people from 1962 to 1964. The first: Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘Master of Suspense’ and world-famous director of films like Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and Rebecca. The second: Tippi Hedren, the model he picked to star in his films The Birds and Marnie. A great filmmaker he definately is, but Hitchcock soon becomes infatuated with his new starlet, an infatuation that soon threatens to go out of control…..
The first of two new films about Alfred Hitchcock, this TV movie can almost be considered a sequel to the upcoming Hitchcock, where Anthony Hopkins assays the Master Of Suspense in a film about the making of Psycho and the relationship between him and his wife Alma. The events depicted take place just after Psycho during the making of his next two pictures The Birds and Marnie, though the focus here is on Hitchcock’s troubled relationship with the star of those two films. It’s commonly accepted that Hitchcock tried to mould Tippi Hedren into a great star and in the process grew very controlling and certainly committed one cruel act; he had birds thrown at and tied to her for five days whilst filming the climax to The Birds. It’s also accepted as fact that the two had a huge falling out during Marnie and refused to speak to each other afterwards. She wanted to go to accept an award, something that would have stopped production for a few days, and he wouldn’t let her, after which she said something derogatory about his weight and that was that. Maybe.
Many years later, it was claimed by some, most notably biographer Donald Spoto and Hedren herself, that in fact the portly director was infatuated with Hedren. This in itself was nothing new, considered his feelings for other co-stars like Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly were not only much talked about but were obvious in his work, with the adoring and erotic way his female stars were presented on screen. However, with Hedren it turned into an obsession, and the increasingly Svengali-like Hitchcock eventually made a sexual proposition to her, the turning down of which caused Hitchcock to make her virtually blacklisted through Hollywood so she didn’t have much of a film career afterwards. I think that anyone who watches Marnie can see that its director had a ‘thing’ about its star, but who do we believe? I personally believe Hedren’s story. I have been a huge fan of Hitchcock’s films for years and remain in awe of his incredible talent, a talent that was able to combine commerce and art like few others, and who, in a career spanning 67 titles, rarely fell too far below his own standard. However, it is patently obvious even if you haven’t read up on him that he had serious ‘issues’ about women, and therefore it isn’t really surprising that eventually it all went a bit out of control.
HBO’s The Girl tells the story entirely from the points of view of Hedren, Spoto and Jim Brown, Hitchcock’s assistant director on many films. It seems to have spawned a large number of rather bone-headed reviews by people who consider any smirch of a genius an insult and want to carry on believing that Hitchcock was a really nice chap. I don’t think he was a very nice chap at all, but my love of his films has not diminished and probably never will. It seems to some that The Girl is a poor film because it just tells one side of the story. Certainly it does demonise Hitchcock to the point where he ceases to become a rounded character and is just a nasty, evil villain who torments Hedren because he couldn’t ‘get it up’ any more. I could have done with a scene or two trying to explain Hitchcock’s feelings and acts somewhat. However, this is not really the major problem with the film, about which I think people are criticising the wrong things. The major problem is just that it isn’t very good.
For a start, The Girl doesn’t flow, with lots of tiny scenes and scenes which look like bits have been lopped off them [though to be fair, that’s a common flaw with TV at the moment and not just films]. It looks and feels like it’s set in the 1950’s rather than the 1960’s and scenes which show scenes from The Birds and Marnie being filmed are so ineptly done that if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock movie, it’s doubtful you’d want to see one now. A recreation of the telephone box scene from The Birds almost makes a mockery of Hitchcock’s genius and when we get to the rape scene from Marnie with the camera focusing on Hedren’s face as, in Hitchcock’s words, “he sticks it in her”, Sienna Miller’s expression is very different from the expression made by the actual Hedren in the film. It’s as if Miller had never looked at the actual film scene. But then, The Girl often shoots itself in the foot in this manner, such as in Hedren’s screen test for Hitchcock, where Hitchcock was actually very calm and easy-going but the film gives a different impression. When you can easily view the original thing on Youtube, it just helps to give the impression that the makers of this film just didn’t care too much.
Here and there things are invented or omitted, and even Hedren has said that the film doesn’t show that her relationship with Hitchcock was very pleasant for a while. This might not be too much of an issue if it all helped make the film entertaining. If you’re going to exaggerate and/or invent things, then it’s best to go down the Mommie Dearest route and make it fun, but The Girl takes itself extremely seriously [though listen out for some funny limericks] and is not much fun at all. It tries to be a sombre, downbeat piece, but is just not well made enough to work in this manner. The basic story is still compelling whether you know about the background or not, and you will really feel for Hedren. Toby Jones’s facial prosthetics don’t really make him look much more like Hitchcock, but he certainly nails the voice and the manner, though he’s limited by the script. Miller, who in some shots looks like Janet Leigh, in some shots looks like Kim Novak, and in some shots looks like Vera Miles, but never looks much like Tippi Hedren, is woefully inadequate in her role. Except for the voice, in which she makes no attempt to duplicate Hedren’s rather airy yet sad speaking manner, Miller does try bless her, but her extremely limited acting talent holds her back.
Of course it’s highly unlikely that these events could have happened these days, but The Girl still just about manages to stand as a cautionary tale of how the weak can be exploited by the strong in Hollywood and how genius can so easily go sour. Sadly, it just isn’t well done enough [and no, throwing in some Hitchcock-borrowed shots doesn’t help] to really take seriously, despite being made with undoubtedly [despite what some of the ‘Hitchcock could do no wrong/ was an angel’ fools may say] good intentions. Some script rewriting, for a start, would have helped it considerably. I did found it interesting to watch, and I’m kind of glad it was made, but somewhere down the line things went a little wrong.