In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho rattled the movie-going world out of its safe cinematic slumber. At the time no one seemed to understand why The Master of Suspense would want to make this disgusting little film.
Fighting an uphill battle to complete his movie against many obstacles Hitchcock would in the end persevere. When it finally arrived Psycho would become a phenomenon, be Hitchcock’s biggest success, usher in a new era of horror and become a popular tourism stop at Universal studios.
The book ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho’ by Stephen Rebello which documents all the behind the scenes goings-on to this classic film is brought to life by director Sacha Gervasi with a high-profile cast. Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, along with Toni Collette, Danny Huston, James D’Arcy, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ralph Macchio and Michael Wincott.
We have a great dramatic struggle to play out here. A director who everyone believes is past his prime. A giant risk he takes creatively and financially. Confusion and resistance by everyone around him at this idea. An enthusiastic leading lady. A shocked ratings board. A supportive wife. An apprehensive secretary. A frustrated studio head. A young eager screenwriter. A leading man willing to shake up his screen persona. And when the dust settles in the end a triumphant success where Hitchcock is standing on top with a cinematic masterpiece.
It should be extremely satisfying to see him calmly sit back and tell all his skeptics, “I told you so”. He proves to everyone an old dog can learn new tricks.
And the film Hitchcock does that and it works….for awhile.
I enjoyed Hitchcock, but never as much as I hoped to. There was enough stuff in the film that made it fun. All the turmoils that Hitch had to combat to get his movie made are what really kept my attention, but sadly it appeared the filmmakers didn’t feel that was enough drama to play out during this professional span of his life and they begin to focus on the directors personal life and that in comparison was pretty boring.
Let’s talk about the good.
Hopkins as ‘Hitch’. His makeup makes him look enough like the Hitchcock we all recognize that we begin to accept him in the role. He does a close enough approximation to his memorable voice. He’s a much more buoyant Hitchcock than Toby Jones’ Hitch in The Girl. This is the Hitchcock fans would rather picture the real man was.
When the script allows him to, Hopkins makes his Hitchcock a real person. Alma asks him at one point why does he want to make this movie and he explains how he wants to feel the freedom and enthusiasm he had years ago when he was a young filmmaker and he believes this project will do just that. It’s a nice scene, it made me sympathize with the guy and really got me onboard with his passion project.
Yet the movie doesn’t give him enough scenes like that to play and there are stretches where Hopkins has nothing to do than just do a Hitchcock imitation. It’s a fun imitation with his droll funny comments and emotionless stare he gives off, Hopkins is good with all of that. But I wished Hopkins was given more to play at times.
It starts to feel like a very hollow character he’s given to play. In comparison, Mirren’s Alma really starts to steal the film away from him and makes her character more interesting than her Master of Suspense husband. It’s kind of weird.
Hopkins and Mirren do have a strange sort of chemistry between them throughout the film. Simple scenes of them working in the backyard garden are endearing and they feel like a real couple bickering back and forth. Their relationship as this filmmaking couple sort of works somehow.
In fact all the actors are quite good in their roles. Johansson, Collette, Stuhlbarg, D’Arcy, even Biel who I’m not a fan of, they all made me enjoy spending time with their characters and I wanted to stick around and watch to see how they handle the making of this movie.
Hitchcock recounts episodes of the ongoing turmoils that Hitch had to combat to get Psycho made. This was the reason I wanted to watch this movie – and probably why most film buffs will be watching it. I honestly never dreamed they would ever make a movie from Rebello’s book. And the account of Psycho taking shape are entertaining scenes.
The studio head who just wants Hitch to make another North By Northwest for them. The decision to kill off his leading lady halfway through the film. The ratings board shocked that Hitch wants to show a toilet onscreen. His agent who is hesitant with this whole idea and figures they could just air the movie on Hitch’s television show as a two-part episode.
This is the stuff of film legend. Film fans probably know these stories and it is a kick to see them play out for us. The whole film could have just stayed focused on the day to day production of Psycho, solving all the technical issues, the casting, the secretive nature of the project and I would have been happy.
Yet, the movie is called Hitchcock, not The Making of Psycho. So the production of Psycho is only part of this story, not all of it. That ends up the most the interesting half of this film.
I’m not going to bother to question the accuracy of the film. Whenever I watch a ‘based on a true story’ film I give it some leeway. I understand that they’ll change things for dramatic effect and it won’t be as a definitive an account of the events as most people might expect. There’s the whole ‘artistic license’ they’ll use and I’m fine with that.
However, when changes are made in an attempt to make a ‘true story’ a more compelling one, I hope those changes will actually help the film and not be a detriment to it. If you’re going to change or create stuff then have a good reason for doing it.
One of the things that Hitchcock– and the other recent film The Girl – does with Hitchcock is to use his popular morbid persona as a means to explain the man himself. Meaning what he did in his films was a reflection of all the demons he had inside himself.
I can certainly see some truth to this. If you spend your career making films to shock, startle and scare audiences there’s most likely something within you that gets some kind of satisfaction out of doing it. There must be a reason why he was drawn to the material he chose.
Hitchcock shows us Hitch peeping at unsuspecting women. He has visions of talking with Ed Gein, the real life murderer that Psycho was inspired by. He’s engulfed with jealousy. All this is played in a much lighter fashion than how we saw Hitch in The Girl, but really I didn’t think any of it was very enlightening and it felt a bit cliched.
I don’t know, maybe that’s because of watching The Girl so recently perhaps, but seeing Hitchcock stare at a good looking blonde woman just had me shrug my shoulders thinking, ‘yeah…and?’.
If Hitch was this strange and warped in his personal life, can you imagine how twisted the filmmakers who make torture porn movies are? They must be ten times as disturbed if we want to go with this cinematic connection. If they made a bio film about them fifty years from now, what would they be up to behind closed doors?
All these scenes just felt like superficial ways to try and dissect the man and really didn’t offer me up any insights into him. The film spends more time on these showy examples of the real Hitch mirroring what we see in his films than actually his talents of being a filmmaker.
I can understand why. It’s much easier shooting a scene with Hitchcock talking with an imaginary Gein in a scary basement than trying to illustrate for us his unique artistic vision for Psycho. Now that would have been more illuminating than what we’re given here.
Also, I guess anytime you make a film about Hitchcock it has to be presented as a ‘Hitchcock’ film. So all the classic images, sounds, music and shots get inserted in here somehow. It gives the film a light playfulness about it, much more so than when they did similar things in The Girl.They don’t get overwhelmingly distracting, but I’m always conscious of them. I think to myself ‘ok they got his profile shot out of the way, let’s move on’.
Soon the production of Psycho is left aside to explore an ongoing relationship between Alma and screenwriter Whitfield Cook played by a devilish Danny Huston. We can tell he clearly has ulterior motives going on as soon as he first appears.
The two of them collaborate in secret on a screenplay and it appears Whitfield wants to do more than just write with Alma. Not surprisingly Hitch finds this out, is none to happy about it and it soon culminates into one of those scenes they show at the Oscars when actors are nominated for their performance in a film. They weren’t by the way – Hitchcock just got a hair and makeup nomination.
I don’t know why they decided to go this route with the film. In fact this whole Alma storyline is so banal and uninspired that it had me pleading for them to get back to the studio and making Psycho. That’s where the real fun is.
I would have preferred the movie had focused on anyone else during these Alma/Whitfield scenes. These take up a good chunk of time. They’re meant to throw some additional pressure on Hitch during this tense period. Quite frankly he had much more captivating things to deal with than this silly suspected affair storyline adding to it and it takes away the focus from making his movie.
The screenwriter of Pyscho Joseph Stefano (Macchio) is featured in one brief scene at the start of the production. Hitch doesn’t quite understand him, but decides to use him to write Psycho because of him being in analysis and having mother issues. It looked to be a promising setup to see the working relationship between these two opposite personalities, but we never see Stefano again.
I would have been more curious to see how Hitchcock and Stefano worked together than seeing Huston entice Mirren to his beach bungalow. When I eventually rematch Hitchcock these are the scenes I’ll be fast-forwarding through.
Alma was surely a partner with Hitchcock in the making of his films. She did uncredited script writing, took charge when Hitch is sick, helped with the editing and was supportive and helpful with everything he did.
It seemed extremely corny to give her this insipid story of having secret rendezvous’ with a young screenwriter to make Hitch come around in the end and finally appreciate her in order to mirror the success of Psycho. The triumph of his film would have been enough.
I’m criticizing the movie for what it isn’t and what it didn’t do. I guess I had a different version of Hitchcock in mind. It wasn’t fair that the trailer for the film sold it strictly as the making of Psycho. They slyly highlighted that part and ignored the whole suspected affair subplot. I still think if they wanted to feature Alma and show how important she was to both Hitchcock’s professional and personal life they could have done it in a much better way.
It’s ironic for a film documenting the making of one of the most groundbreaking motion pictures in history, it has the most cliched, dull story sitting in the middle of it.
So the film sort of equals out as a ‘good’ flick. Obviously the good was the account of Hitchcock at work. All the happenings that were taking place to make Psycho a reality is the real treat and fans should enjoy watching Hopkins’ Hitchcock making his movie.
The film could have just been that and I think it could have really been a much more entertaining film. I think there’s enough drama there to have made a compelling story on its own. It certainly didn’t need the silly Hitchcock/Alma/Whitfield love triangle, which is completely forgettable and deserves to be taken to the showers.