10 Apr 2013


Alfred Hitchcock was a masterful director, being a highly intelligent, and a rather complex person he also had a wonderful insight into the human psyche. He created some of the great thrillers of the last century ( it looks peculiar when I write last century doesn’t it?); The Birds, North by Northwest, 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo and of course Psycho.

Mr Hitchcock is the inspiration, and the hero of writers, directors, critics and lovers of good film. He is revered in the film community as a man that changed the way films were made technically and artistically. As such to many he is sacred, and I think that is why this film has received so many mixed reviews.  Psycho redefined the horror genre and a film about the making of it will get a great deal of scrutiny from film historians, critics, and fans alike.

Before I provide a synopsis I would like to make a quick comment. I have noticed that some reviewers and writers refer to Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Hitch’. This was his nickname to his friends, and family etc., and it seems very presumptuous and disrespectful to me.  If you didn’t know him personally then I am not sure what right you have to be that familiar when you talk about him. 

That done here is a synopsis.

1959 Hollywood and Alfred Hitchcock ( Anthony Hopkins) has just released the highly successful  North by North-west, and at the premiere a news reporter asks if he should retire? Bothered by the thought he decides that he needs a new and exciting project, and he chooses to purchase the option for the Robert Bloch novel Pyscho. The book is inspired on the real life adventures of the murderer Ed Gein.  The project hits a rough patch with the studio and censors alike.  Work pressures are brought home affect his relationship with his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) who is seeking a project of her own. And one is offered by an old admirer  Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

I cannot say anymore without giving away spoilers so ensue shower hijinx.

Much has been written about Alfred Hitchcock, and his films. This film is loosely based on, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, written byStephen Rebello.  I say loosely because this film isn’t really about the making of Psycho at all. Psycho  is a brilliant piece of murderous film that was well marketed and was the genesis of the slasher horror film. But that isn’t what this film is mainly about. And this is the problem for most people.

I think what people expected was a historical drama, probably along the lines of  Lincoln where the steely eyed genius sits like a Tsar watching his movie unfold like a sixties bond villain. A film that is a vehicle of praise for Alfred Hitchcock’s work and abilities, but in fact what they got was a love story.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his long suffering wife Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and Toni Collette as Peggy Robertson.Hopkins is in a fat suit for the entire film, but carries it well. And as you can imagine with such an ensemble cast the performances are very good.  But these are not just characters; they are real people, figures from film history. They need to be more than good performances they need to be faithful performances. I am sorry to say that I cannot tell you if they are or not. They appear to be though.

The film is about a married couple, and humanizes Hitchcock in a way which appears to be highly uncomfortable for many.  While I know that the film takes several liberties with the truth behind the making of Psycho, it does seem to portray one simple truth which is that they loved each other. I suspect most people, even now have at least heard of Alfred Hitchcock, but outside cinema circles few know about his wife, and lifelong collaborator Alma Reville.

I have been quite conflicted over this film, it deliberately plays a bit fast and loose with the historical events of the making of  Psycho, one being the peculiar omission of Patricia Hitchcock, the daughter of Alfred and Alma. But you could also argue that it isn’t much of a film without drama, and conflict? I have read more critics and reviews than I normally do before writing a post about a movie,  due to my conflicting feelings about Hitchcock.  One biographer slated the movie because of the tension portrayed between Alfred and Alma. They were happily married. He is of course a more renown authority on Alfred Hitchcock than I, however it doesn’t seem all that plausible that such a successful marriage that lasted such a long time didn’t have its ups and downs.

Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock were married for over fifty years and were by all accounts devoted to each other. She shunned the lime light, but was also an integral part of any project he was part of. Alma Reville was his assistant director when they made films in England in the 20’s, and was a highly intelligent woman.

After much deliberation with my cinematic conscience I have decided to let myself like this movie. Why when it is not historically accurate?Isn’t that hypocrisy? Probably, but then I am an unrepentant hypocrite.  Ask my long suffering partner.

This is film is in many ways a dramatic work of fiction based on real people, during a tiny, but integral part of cinematic history. But one thing is true; these crazy kids were devoted to each other.  And that is what the film reflects. The relationship between Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock.

You may or may not agree, but here is a clip of Alfred Hitchcock received his lifetime achievement award.

While it meddles with history, I think the making of  Psycho is actually the subplot, and the relationship is in fact  the main narrative of this film.  I have no idea whether Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this film, and I suspect that Alma may not have been fond of the idea of her marriage being the plot of a major motion picture. But I think it portrays them as a loving couple whose relationship should acknowledged along with their cinematic achievements. It was funny and entertaining, and I really wish I had seen this film with my fiancĂ© after I had proposed to her.

Seven and a half suspenseful monkeys from me


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