IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock opens his latest film North By Northwest to considerable success, but is troubled by a reporter’s insinuation that it is time to retire. Seeking to reclaim the artistic daring of his youth, Alfred turns down various film proposals in favour of an adaptation of a lurid horror novel called Psycho by Robert Bloch, which is based on the crimes of the a serial killer named Ed Gein. Alfred’s wife and artistic collaborator, Alma, is initially against the idea but warms to it as she thinks of the startling idea of killing the female lead early in the film. The studio heads prove more difficult to persuade, forcing Alfred to finance the film personally, but the censors are already against the project and the studio not much more sympathetic…..
Every now and again we seem to be treated to two films about the same subject within months, and now it’s the turn of the director Alfred Hitchcock. Even those not much interested in old movies will be familiar with the ‘Master Of Suspense’, the genius who was able to meld art and entertainment like few others, and kept on doing it through six decades, while even now the term ‘Hitchcockian’ is used to describe a certain kind of film, and filmmakers continue to be influenced by his work [which of course Yours Truly is gradually making his way through on this very website]. Towards the end of last year, The Girl made it onto TV screens, and now we have Hitchcock. I suppose it could be fruitful watching The Girl just after Hitchcock, because the events it details followed straight on from it, the latter about the making of Psycho, the former taking place during the production of the two films Hitchcock made afterwards, The Birds and Marnie. Hitchcock even finishes with a reference to The Birds.
However the two films are very different. You can read my review of The Girl here https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/12/the-girl-2012-tv-movie/ , but it was basically a dramatisation of actress Tippi Hedren’s account of how the portly director became obsessed with, and tormented her. It got mostly poor reviews from people who seemed to take issue with Hedren’s story, and I have read some pretty nasty comments about Hedren connected with this film [yes, I do believe her, which in no way conflicts with my awe of Hitchcock’s filmmaking brilliance], but this seemed to overshadow the fact that The Girl just wasn’t very good, awkward and mostly unconvincing. Hitchcock is a better made effort, though oddly it also seems like a TV movie at times. With something of the feel of My Week With Marilyn about it, it’s a breezy, even nostalgic effort, and just about worth your time. It gives a more balanced version of Hitchcock, a great artist with unhealthy obsessions which are endured by his wife Alma. The film is often at its best when it depicts their odd but in the end successful marriage which lasted 56 years until Hitchcock’s death in 1980. Their main focus seemed to be on work, namely Hitchcock’s films, on which she was a virtually silent collaborator, rather than physical passion. Some of their scenes together are really bittersweet and even rather uplifting.
I only say some though, because scriptwriter John C. McLoughlin feels the need to overstate Alma’s input, to the point of having her come on set to actually direct a vital scene when her husband is ill [actually it was the second-unit director who did it]. Sub-feminist rewritting of history tells us in this movie that Alma was the true genius, not Hitchcock. We also get other nonsense about Hitchcock suspecting Alma is having an affair with a scriptwriter, which bogs the film down when it should be focusing on the making of one of the most influential motion pictures of all time, a film which virtually invented the slasher movie amongst many other things. It rushes through the actual making of the film and often totally contradicts the facts and makes up things. Everyone who worked with him says that Hitchcock was totally calm and laidback to the point of seeming to ignore things [he often said he liked pre-production more] on his film sets, but here we have him getting more and more hysterical as he talks Janet Leigh through a scene, and even acting out the part of Norman Bates whilst filming the shower scene. Perhaps it’s to tell us that “we all go a little mad sometimes”.
Hitchcock is supposedly based on a book called Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho, but doesn’t actually use much of the information in it, and when it does, it usually just skims over it. One of the most important contributions to Psycho was Bernard Herrmann’s all-string score, in particular the slashing sounds for the shower killing, sounds a scene which Hitchcock originally didn’t want to have music. Herrmann went away and scored the scene anyway, then, when the scene was shown to Hitchcock, the director agreed Herrmann was right. Herrmann is hardly in the film and the whole subject reduced to a ten second exchange with the wrong dialogue and, you got it, bloody Alma being the one who thinks of adding the music. What a lie and an insult to one of cinema’s greatest composers. A similar thing can be said about Saul Bass, who storyboarded the shower scene and some say even directed it, or certainly had major input. He’s barely in the film either. The movie would rather waste time on fabrications and pointless dream sequences involving Ed Gein, the guy who inspired the book of Psycho and also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deranged. It doesn’t even tell you that the main reason Hitchcock was able to make Psycho with such a low budget was because he used the crew from his TV show.
Hitchcock doesn’t shy away from things like his infatuations with his leading ladies, but those who lambast The Girl, which was at least based on people’s accounts [Tippi Hedren and biographer Donald Spoto], would be better occupied criticising Hitchcock for depicting things which nobody has actually claimed happened, like the director peeping at actresses through a peephole. At least the acting, for the most part, does the job. Helen Mirren [doesn’t she look good for her age?] looks nothing like Alma but plays her part as written very well. James D’Arcy does look like Anthony Perkins and mimics him so well it’s scary. Scarlett Johansson continues to actually act [something she started last year]. But Anthony Hopkins does not convince as Hitchcock, especially when compared to Toby Jones. His accent wavers, he never seems to even attempt to get Hitchcock’s delivery right, and no amount of makeup can hide the fact that he’s just too old. The actor does still have great charisma and is good playing a great film director. But he’s not Hitchcock, and that leaves yet another gaping hole at the heart of the picture.
It’s not always good having knowledge about something. I’ve been a fan of Hitchcock for over twenty years and have read at least the major books written about him, even if I’ve obviously forgotten much information over the years. I still wanted to love Hitchcock and did enjoy it in parts, but found it an irritating and frustrating experience for much of the time. I guess if you’re not a Hitchcock aficionado than you’ll probably like the film more. Me, I felt like The Man Who Knew Too Much. It’s my loss. My rating for this film is my personal one, but I reckon if you’re not ‘up’ on Hitch, you can add a star or more, and that’s no bad thing.