Directed by Sacha Gervasi. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, Michael Stuhlbarg, Currie Graham, Tara Summers, Frank Collison, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Wallace Langham. Written by John J. McLaughlin, from the book book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello.
An especially disappointing film that doesn’t do justice to the titular director or his films (particularly Psycho, which the film half-heartedly chronicles the making of), Hitchcock is nevertheless a decent-enough recreation of the era that is likely to satisfy non-ardent fans of the filmmaker. Call it a Lifetime TV movie with a budget and some pedigree.
It’s nice, at least, to see Hitch up on the big screen, especially as played by Anthony Hopkins, who disappears into the role and manages to create a real character out of the larger-than-life figure (unlike, say, Meryl Streep’s Oscar-winning turn as Margaret Thatcher in last year’s The Iron Lady). And Helen Mirren, as Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville.
There’s also the cast and crew of Psycho, including Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), Hitchcock’s assistant Peggy Robertson (Toni Collette), his agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg), Paramount president Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow), and production code censor Geoffrey Shurlock (Kurtwood Smith).
And oh, what a lovely movie they would have made! D’Arcy is a scary-accurate, scene-stealing delight as Perkins. Johansson shares at least one terrific scene with Hopkins. Biel’s Miles has that fascinating back story (pregnancy cost her the lead in Vertigo, and Hitchcock never forgave her). There’s so much rich material to work with here, all covered in terrific detail in Stephen Rebello’s excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which the film is based on. Kinda.
But the actors, the people behind Psycho, only have about 20 minutes of screen time in the finished film. And you may have noticed some key names missing from the above list. Robert Bloch, who wrote the original novel, is completely absent. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano, played by Ralph Macchio (!), has a single scene. Composer Bernard Hermann (Paul Schackman) has two lines in an even briefer scene. Production designer Saul Bass (Wallace Langham) has no lines, and can only be glimpsed among the extras on set. I couldn’t imagine a film about the making of Psycho without mention of chocolate syrup or casaba melons, but here it is.
So what is Hitchcock about? Briefly, Alma may or may not be have something going on with friend and writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who co-wrote Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Stage Fright. Hitch trods around miserable and stuff his face with caviar in the middle of the night. Both of them deal with growing old, and being lonely. Basically, it’s the kind of fluffy melodrama that Hitchcock wouldn’t be caught dead being involved with.
(And what’s up with the complete absence of their daughter, Patricia Hitchcock, who even had a small role in Psycho? Hitch and Alma are presented as a parentless, (mostly) friendless and lonely old couple with only the dogs to keep them company, which seems way, way off.)
In some real what-were-they-thinking scenes, Hitch converses with real-life serial killer Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott) as a pseudo-therapist; this, at least, gives him the opportunity to complain about never winning an Academy Award. But Norman Bates was very loosely based on Gein (he also inspired, purportedly, Leatherface and Hannibal Lector), and there’s nothing in Rebello’s book – or anywhere else – to suggest that Hitchcock had an obsession with the murderer.
While the opening sequence – done in the style of Alfred Hitchcock Presents – is a neat little intro, every subsequent Gein scene is a real head-scratcher, with the film trying hard to get inside Hitchcock’s brain but saying shockingly little. While the director isn’t at all portrayed as sympathetic here, his notorious treatment of his leading ladies is left (mostly) untouched (Hitchcock’s infamous terrorization of Tippi Hedren is chronicled in another 2012 bio, The Girl, which starred Toby Jones as the filmmaker).
There is some great stuff in Hitchcock – including the dynamite ending, which involves a public screening and a wonderful one-liner – just not enough of it. I wish this film were something it’s not; namely, a Hitchcock bio or a more detailed chronicle of the making of Psycho. It’s fine for what it is, but if you’re truly interested in the director of the making of his most famous film, be sure to check out Rebello’s book.