A movie about the making of one of my favourite movies, Hitchcock is a pretty good film in its own right. It is braver than a standard biopic and highlights the role Alma Reville played in not only the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho but in the career of her husband. Directed by Sacha Gervasi, it plunges into the activities of Alfred and Alma and illustrates the friction behind the masterpiece.
Much is made of the difficulty of living with an artist, of sharing time with someone who may hold film as their first love and may submerge themselves in the business of creation. It appears, however, that Alma and Alfred shared an understanding in which the two were intertwined in Alfred’s imaginative life. It is, as stated at the end of this film, “our career.”
Anthony Hopkins is Alfred Hitchcock, the legendary director. He has just come off the success of his 1959 film North by Northwest and is looking for something different. Hitch tells his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) that he wants to be excited by something again, to feel the same buzz that made him feel alive making his earlier pictures. In chasing that excitement, he comes across a book called Psycho by author Robert Bloch. He was hooked on its Ed Gein-inspired tale.
Hitchcock details how the filmmaker worked to get Psycho approved, how Hitch and Alma funded it themselves and how their marriage was impacted. Throughout the process, the director is visited by the seeming spectre of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) and has an interesting relationship with blonde star Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson).
It can be hard to tell where history ends and fantasy begins with Gervasi’s picture, but perhaps the expansive suspense narrative is part of the appeal. The screenplay, written by John L. McLaughlin, is based on the Stephen Rebello book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The 1990 book is considered an essential narrative on the making of the film (and on movie-making in general, really).
Obviously Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) was one of Hitchcock’s writers, working with the director on the films Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train, but it’s hard to know exactly how much of the relationship between Whitfield and Alma was based in reality. In Gervasi’s vision, it functions as a catalyst for the often cantankerous Alfred to recognize the significance of his wife.
Gervasi gives this a lot of theatrical punch, showing how it influences Hitch and how suspicion drives him – perhaps even to the disadvantage of Psycho. He reaches out for Alma’s help after the film crashes and burns initially, so she fixes the problem and helps redeploy her hubby. This is a noble touch, a nice way of suggesting how the artist’s family and acquaintances can play corresponding roles.
Alfred Hitchcock is my favourite filmmaker. I have recently scrapped most of my reviews of his movies and have started over, starting what is an undeniably long-winded and fragile project by reviewing his films in some sort of sequential order. Having this glimpse at the master of suspense, delivered in sharp routine via Sir Hopkins no less, has revived the project.
Yet at the same time, I didn’t love Gervasi’s picture. It seemed small on particulars (though I suppose those sorts of things are dull for modern audiences) and focused too much on a would-be affair and other possibilities. But it’s still a pretty good shot and a satisfying flick jammed with good performances and lovely form by Johansson, someone who would undoubtedly be a Hitchcock blonde.