Our second late-2012 go-round with the Master of Suspense, the first being HBO’s “The Girl”—which was reviewed on this blog in January. If anything, watching them in tandem(chronologically, you would have to do this one first), the two productions succeed in covering a back-to-back-to-back triptych of great films from Hitch’s late career(some would say his final superb works, but I would counter that they’ve unjustly ignored 1972’s grisly “Frenzy”). So, whereas “The Girl” focuses attention on 1963’s “The Birds” and 1964’s “Marnie”, the two-fer Alfred used to introduce his “discovery” Tippi Hedren to the world, Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” is all about the making of “Psycho”. Well, partly about the production of “Psycho”, when it manages to tear itself away from amateurish psycho-babble and puerile domestic squabbles. If I recall correctly, I described “The Girl” as inoffensive in its simplicity. “Hitchcock”, on the other hand, is offensive in it lack of complication. It wasn’t necessary for Anthony Hopkins version of Sir Alfred to be the leering ghoul that was the fine interpretation we got from Toby Jones on HBO—there’s room for more than one school of thought on the man. But was he really the childish, neutered weirdo presented here, who randomly engages in macabre, imaginary conversations with serial murderer, Ed Gein? If you’re looking for any semblance of depth, just move it along—nothing to see here. It’s all superficial, surface presentation.
“Hitchcock” opens with a reporter opining that maybe Alfred(Sir Anthony Hopkins)is past his prime after his 1959 iconic, commercial and critical smash, “North by Northwest”. Really? Is it even remotely possible that this occurred—or that it was given any weight whatsoever if it actually did? Hitchcock subsequently, in his desire to attempt something groundbreaking, believes he’s found a winner upon reading the horror novel “Psycho” by Robert Bloch—itself most likely inspired by real-life Wisconsin fiend, Ed Gein(google him if your stomach is strong). The only thing is the studios are afraid to touch the macabre project. So, Hitchcock and wife Alma(a fine—with what she’s given—Helen Mirren), set about to finance the feature themselves. And they risk bankruptcy in the process. So, they bring in Tony Curtis’ wife, and established actress, Janet Leigh(an okay Scarlett Johansson)as their “star”—and kill her off in “Psycho”‘s first half hour(a radical move at the time). They also hire boyish looking Anthony Perkins to embody Norman(a pretty darn good, but underused James D’Arcy), and then tastelessly wink at the much-in-the-future divulging of his homosexuality. And Hitch laments the life choices of “Psycho” co-star Vera Miles(a surprisingly effective Jessica Biel), in deciding to forego super-stardom(he apparently wanted her for the lead in his now classic 1958 “Vertigo”)to mostly concentrate on being a wife and mother. All the while, Sir Alfred tries to hold together his “troubled” marriage to Alma as he mistakenly(?) concocts an affair that she’s having with writer friend Whitfield Cook(Danny Huston). And, of course, there are those lurid, all-in-his-head conversations with real-life “psycho” Ed Gein(the always creepy Michael Wincott). That “Psycho” ends up being a monster, influential hit should not come as a surprise. And I believe you’ll figure out how the simplistic, marriage stuff winds up wayyy in advance.
I understand that Stephen Rebello’s 1990 non-fiction book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho(on which this motion picture is based)is pretty darn good, and I’ll make a point of reading it someday. However, first-time feature film director Sacha Gervasi(he does have one feature documentary helming amongst his credits)has all the subtlety of a cockroach on a white rug. And whether you believe the actual man to be a lecherous creep, or not—the brilliant director Alfred Hitchcock deserves much better. Anthony Hopkins is so heavily made-up, it made me uncomfortable to watch him. His interpretation plays like he’s a man in drag(somewhat appropriate, I guess). And Helen Mirren is a sharp and sexy actress(yes, even at 67 years old), but she can’t do much with this character as it’s written—she simply fares better than Hopkins here. And is there ever any acknowledgement that Hitch and Alma had a daughter together! Patricia Hitchcock even had a role in “Psycho”! If it was there, I definitely missed it. The two are presented as being in a childless marriage. There is a bit at the end of the film involving Hitchcock “orchestrating” screams like a symphony conductor that I liked. But the majority of the movie is glossy, ill-advised and forgettable. Need more proof as to its inferior quality? My current whipping boy Rex Reed(ever since his mean-spirited comments about Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy earlier in the year)called “Hitchcock” a “knockout from start to finish” and “one of the best movies of 2012”. That alone should be reason enough to not add it to your Netflix queue. You’ve been warned. Grade: C-