Saturday, December 1

REVIEW: Hitchcock

Directed by Sacha Gervasi
2012 Drama
1 hour 38 mins
From 20th Century Fox

Anthony Hopkins
Helen Mirren
Scarlett Johansson
Toni Collette
Danny Huston
Jessica Biel
Michael Stuhlbarg
James D'Arcy
Richard Portnow

It was a given I would see this film.  Maybe not as certain that I would be the first one to enter the theater for the opening day matinee, although I was.  Hey, sometimes I get eager.  I just wanted to be entertained with a movie about Hollywood and starring actors who know how to strut their considerable stuff and it all came to be.  It was a given.  I can count on me paying taxes, dying and liking this type of film.

Hitchcock is not really a biography.  It's about a brief period of time in his life and even then it's been Hollywoodized a bit... for dramatic purposes, I think they say.  But the drama (certainly not enough for the young or older fidgety ones) is there and the essence of the man is certainly there to behold.

It is about two things... his partnership with longtime wife, Alma Reville, and the making of his greatest and most financially-rewarding film, Psycho.  I have not read the book on which the film is based, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello.  Lining my bookshelves, however, are Janet Leigh's book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller, Leigh's autobiography There Really Is a Hollywood, the Tony Perkins biography Split Image and two fabulous books by Hitchcock chronicler Donald Spoto, The Dark Side of Genius and Spellbound by Beauty.  I might as well add my quite recent viewing of The Girl, Tippi Hedren's story of her relationship with the portly director.  And that's not even specifying the countless biographies or autobiographies of other people he worked with.   So I just wanted to enjoy another ride on the Hitchcock roller coaster (front car). 

While Psycho is the film he is most closely identified with, it was difficult getting the green light to make and more or less spelled the beginning of the end of a magnificent career.  I think of his career in four stages... the English years, the early Hollywood years (late 30s and 40s), the 1950s, and after Psycho.  With two or three exceptions, his films of the 1950s are why he is famous.  They are his best work overall.  They are also the years in which he exerted the most control over that work.  His genius is so obvious.

It's a shame that that genius didn't apply to his personal life.  In and around Hollywood the name Hitchcock really always meant not just Alfred Hitchcock, but Alma Hitchcock... or Alma Reville as she was always known.  She was a partner to him in most of his work, specifically as a writer but she did a lot more.  He did nothing without her input and she was as canny about things as he was.  She made many of the final decisions that we assume he probably made.

She was his only wife and a damned good one although their marriage for most of the years was a sexless one.  Away from her, he was a weird one, particularly with a few of his leading ladies.  Folks may think he was weird with all of them in a fanciful, oddly romantic sort of way, but that's not the case.  In the beginning he had no or little say in who acted in his pictures and consequently he didn't care for a number of those hired.  Even after he could cast his own films, he didn't like quite a few of them.

His first love-hate relationship with his actresses seems to be Madeleine Carroll, a beautiful blonde who may have set the tone for some of those blondes that followed.  It's been said that he was in love with Ingrid Bergman but their relationship was a difficult one and despite her own legion of lovers, she kept Hitchcock at bay.  It is well-known that Grace Kelly occupied his brainwaves for years to come.  There was a brief hot spell for Vera Miles and then came Tippi Hedren, who suffered enough for all of them.

While all of his love affairs with his leading ladies were sexless and full of juvenile silliness, Hitchcock imagined he was hard and sinewy and handsome.  But he was trapped in a most unattractive package and forever suffered because of it.  He imagined himself the stud via tacky dirty jokes and sexual remarks and intruding into the personal lives of his female stars.  He was never very close to any of his male stars.  He once said I acted like a rich man keeping a woman

Alma kept him on track in most ways.  She was everything to him except his fantasy woman, which is sad indeed.  She told him the truth, whether he wanted to hear it or not, and there were times that she could and would overrule him and he would generally see the wisdom of her ways.  In many ways she was his mommy and the blonde actresses his girlfriends and imaginary sex toys.  He could be cruel and sadistic with some, but not with Alma.  Clearly without her, there would be no Alfred Hitchcock, genius director.

There was criticism of him tackling Psycho.  Why would the grand master of directing want to stoop to the level of a cheap horror film?  Personally, I always thought it was a horror-thriller film and God knows it looked cheap.  But such was the magic of the Hitchcock name.

He had way different opinions of the actresses hired to play the Crane sisters.  Janet Leigh seems an unusual choice for a Hitchcock actress (in much the same way Doris Day was a few years earlier) and while she was blonde and good-looking, Hitchcock didn't develop one of his romantic notions about her and always treated her well.  She was always very respectful when speaking of him.  He did, of course, provide her with the defining role of her career.

Vera Miles was another story.  Hitchcock was once quite smitten with her, intending to mold her into his next Grace Kelly.  She had worked with him in The Wrong Man and before she was to begin Vertigo, she got pregnant and the director was furious.  How dare she get pregnant.  How dare she care about home and hearth more than him and her career.  Hitchcock was seething with vengeance  and never missed an opportunity to badmouth her.  It's rather surprising perhaps that he hired her for Psycho but when one understands that he had to finance the film himself and was therefore pinching pennies, she came cheap because he had her under contract for one more film.  But by most reports he treated her shabbily during filming, gave her dowdy clothes to wear and an unflattering wig.  (Miles was actually bald during the filming because she had just completed Five Branded Women, a war film in which heads were shaved.)

The director wasn't very kind to John Gavin either whom he claimed was wooden (which of course he was).  Gavin's role in this film is miniscule.  Shown off marginally better is the Tony Perkins part played with an eerie resemblance by James D'Arcy.


(The above photo is simply a publicity shot of the real Vera Miles, John Gavin and Janet Leigh.  It could stand as a trivia question on one of my quizzes... something like why is this NOT a scene from the film?  The answer is because Leigh and Miles had no scenes together.  Leigh took a shower before Miles entered the story.)
Needless to say Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are at the top of their form.  Aren't they always?  Toni Collette is perfection as Hitchcock's secretary.  Scarlett Johansson was winsome as Leigh and Jessica Biel troubled as Miles, although neither particularly looked like the actresses they were playing.  Danny Huston as a writing partner of Alma's, driving Hitchcock to jealous fury, was done with his usual charm, although I believe the character was manufactured for the film.  Funny, too, that Huston was in a film about a famous Hollywood director when he is the son of John Huston, an equally famous director of the same time.

For those who hold Hollywood-based movies in the same high regard that I do or who are devoted fans of Hopkins and/or Mirren or great acting in general, this is the film for you.

Favorite Film #20

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