If your a movie fan you probably like, if not love Alfred Hitchcock. He’s directed a lot of great movies. Even the ones I’m not crazy about there is always at least one scene in each one that stands out. Those ‘one scenes’ didn’t save the entire film, but the good far outweighed the bad on his cinematic resume.
I started to become a fan of Hitch when I was pretty young. Probably too young to really appreciate what exactly I was watching. Gradually as my brain started to get bigger I realized a lot of his movies are really truly pretty great. So as any fan I would watch old interviews with him, watch documentaries and read books about the Master of Suspense.
One book that I have and just haven’t gotten to read yet is David Spoto’s Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. Oddly enough I was planning on reading it this summer, but ended up reading The Battle for Bond, but that’s a different story.
Spoto’s book has become the basis for the HBO film The Girl. The film details the account of Hitchcock (Toby Jones) discovering the young model Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), who is molded into one of his famous blonde leading ladies to star in The Birds and Marnie.
However, there’s a seedier side to Hitch’s intentions. He’s not just focused on using Hedren to star in Hitchcock films, but he becomes obsessed with her. Hedren’s working relationship with Hitch ends up making her a star, but there’s a steep price to pay for this deal.
In between takes Hitch makes sexual advances towards her, which she rebuffs. Throughout filming Hedren is mentally and physically abused by her director who doesn’t seem to let up. Unfortunately for Hedren she’s locked into a seven-year exclusive contract with the famed director, she has a young daughter to support and Hitch has the power to either make or break her acting career.
This is a strange film. It’s not really about Hitchcock. He’s portrayed as basically a lecherous tyrant. He’s constantly reciting dirty limericks and just acting creepy most of the time. Jones does an ok Hitchcock voice, but doesn’t look much like the real Hitch to me. The makeup job on him didn’t help convince me I was watching Alfred Hitchcock. He just looks like Jones with some pretty weird makeup applied to his face.
The film doesn’t showcase any of his genius or charisma that audiences were familiar with. The film isn’t interested in that. Hitch is the villain in this story. He’s just an evil malevenonet lech. And I guess….Jones is good at portraying him that way. I was disgusted by this Hitch, but it’s a pretty flat depiction. Even if everything that is presented here is accurate, they don’t make the character of Hitch very compelling. He’s just a one-note powerful, sadistic pervert.
This film is about Hedren and the turmoils she endured making two films with this guy. Being plucked out of obscurity from a modeling career, Hitch begins to transform her into a Hollywood star. It all seems too good to be true.
Gradually Hitch begins making awkward comments, aiming uncomfortable stares towards her and not soon into filming The Birds, attempts to physically force himself on Hedren who manages to escape, only to come back to the set the following day.
And where is Hitch’s wife Alma (Imelda Stauton) during all this? She’s there, but has accepted this behavior from her husband. This ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ obsession is something he’s always had with all his leading ladies – Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh.
The film doesn’t say if Hitch supposedly behaved this way with all his female stars, only that there was something special he saw in Hedren. No matter how badly he treats her, he can’t break her down.
Once his intentions are rejected Hitch sets his sites on payback. He has Hedren suffer through five days of filming real birds attacking her. After a weeks worth of recuperation, Hedren returns again.
Once The Birds is finished Hedren accepts the title role in his following film Marnie, where Hedren is psychologically tortured playing the mentally unstable character. Constant phone calls by Hitch, spying on her house, he is literally fixated on her all the time.
This is obviously a ‘he said, she said’ (well not really much of a ‘he said’, since Hitch isn’t around to defend himself) melodrama. Everything about Hitch is bad and everything about Hedren is good.
She’s portrayed as a brave woman who survives her tenure with this monster, before finally walking away. Because of her not being accommodating to every one of Hitch’s demands, he tossed her back into obscurity and ruined her acting career.
Fans of Hitchcock probably won’t like to see the famed director portrayed in such an ugly manner. That’s not to say he wasn’t a tyrant. It’s well documented that he put Hedren through a lot during the filming of The Birds. Along with his famous remark that actors are cattle, I’m sure he wasn’t Mr. Breezy with his treatment to all of them.
The account here will be debated and argued as to just how much validity it has and what kind of exaggerations might have been taken.
Forgetting all of that, whether the film is totally accurate or not, it isn’t very good at making an intriguing film about it anyway.
The story is just a merry-go-round of incidents of Hitch coming onto Hedren, Hedren rebuffing him, Hitch torturing her on the set, Hedren returning and we start the whole thing all over again. It doesn’t change much from that pattern.
One of the most wasted characters in this is Alma. We understand pretty quickly why supposedly Hedren returns each time – her career and her daughter. But why has Alma put up with Hitch’s behavior for decades? Why does she choose to ignore it? Why doesn’t she put pressure on him to stop it? Is she scared of him too?
She’s portrayed here as just a docile wife who turns her head away. In reality Alma was an important part of his filmaking process. She was practically his partner. The film glosses over that to keep things simple and keeps her as a meek accommodating wife.
The film throws in a lot of classic ‘Hitchcock shots’ in an attempt to make this a Hitchcock film we’re watching. An innocent situation that turns into a malevolent and dangerous one for our unsuspecting hero. We get the famous running showerhead shot. overhead shots looking down at our characters, Hitchcock walking in profile, along with some famous pieces of music dropped in.
But that’s all showy flourishes to a story that doesn’t seem to have much meat to it. It’s really just a standard casting couch-type of story that happens to involve the most famous director ever.
Miller is pretty good here. Hedren isn’t such a famous, name actress, so her image doesn’t hamper Miller with her performance. She is able to play Tippi Hedren without you constantly reminding yourself of the real Hedren.
She doesn’t look much like her, but in one shot during the bird attack scene, with hair messed and scratches on her face I thought she did look remarkably like Hedren from the real scene from that film.
I had always read that Hitchcock was so disturbed by shooting that attack scene for a week he had trouble even watching it and Hedren was the one who finally put a stop to it. This is Hedren’s perspective of the story though, so here Hitch is simply sitting coldly watching her get torn up until they drag her off the set. What really happened? Who knows.
Jones is adequate doing his Hitchcock impersonation, but really the entire film didn’t make much of an impression on me. I’m more anxious to see Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins that covers the directors struggle to make Psycho. At least that one will focus on his passion for film, something that I’m more interested in watching.