HITCHCOCK (2012) – Fox Searchlight Pictures – ★★★
Color – 98 mins. – 2.35:1
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Featuring: Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh), Danny Huston (Whitfield Cook), Toni Collette (Peggy Robertson), Jessica Biel (Vera Miles), James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins).
Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin, based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography by Cronenweth
The making of Psycho was a watershed event, both in the career of Alfred Hitchcock, and in the history of cinema in general. It was a very fitting subject for Stephen Rebello’s book, which covers the history of the movie in chronological sequence. When I first learned that Rebello’s book was going to be made into a film, I assumed it would be a documentary. Instead, director Sacha Gervasi brought us a period biopic, peopled with some of the biggest actors in the world.
My initial reaction to this movie when it came out was mixed at best. I was viewing it with the critical eye of a Hitchcock scholar, focusing too much on the minutiae of details that were altered or invented from whole cloth. Now that some time has passed, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit it.
The movie begins with Alfred Hitchcock at the absolute top of his game. He is riding high on the success of his recent blockbuster North by Northwest. But he is looking to make a change. He decides on Psycho as his next movie, against the wishes of Paramount Studios, and most of his creative team. He undergoes crises both financial and emotional, and is aided by the love and support of his wife Alma, played brilliantly by Helen Mirren. The role of Hitchcock is played by the one and only Anthony Hopkins. What happens when an inimitable director is portrayed on film by an inimitable actor? Something has to give. Considering how well known both the voice and visage of Hitchcock are, director Gervasi and Hopkins found a middle ground. Prosthetic make up gives Hopkins a look that is closer to Hitch, without completely losing his own identity. It is in no way an imitation, nor was it intended to be so.
The end game of the movie is certainly no surprise; after all, Psycho was Hitchcock’s biggest commercial hit. But does this film accurately portray the making of the movie? Let’s take a look at a few of the movie’s specifics.
First of all, did the Hitchcock’s really mortgage their house to get Psycho made? Absolutely not! That was added for dramatic effect. Hitchcock was already a wealthy man at this point, and owned two houses. He did agree to completely waive his salary for points on the back end, which ended up being the smartest financial decision of his life. This movie alone earned Hitchcock upwards of $10 million. But at no point were the Hitchcock’s in any kind of dire straits. They certainly did not have to cut back on groceries, or their staff.
Did Alma Reville really come close to an affair with Whitfield Cook? The jury is out on this question. The Reville/Cook partnership actually occurred about a decade earlier than the time period of Psycho. Whitfield Cook co-wrote the screenplays of two Hitchcock films: Stage Fright (1950) and Strangers on a Train (1951). Alma was a close collaborator at the time. If one is to believe Whitfield’s diaries, he and Alma were affectionate. He describes a scene where they were close to physical intimacy, when they were interrupted by a phone call from Hitch. That moment is portrayed in the movie. At the very least, based on Whitfield’s diaries and the surviving correspondence, there was an emotional bond between the two.
Did Alma Reville really direct a scene of Psycho while Hitchcock was ill? Again, no. Hitchcock was bedridden at one point, and asked his assistant director Hilton Green to shoot the day’s scenes without him. When Hitchcock recovered and saw the dailies of Green’s footage, he realized much of it would have to be re-shot. Alma was most definitely a collaborator on all of Hitchcock’s films to some extent. She received on-screen credit on eleven films, but certainly gave input on every film. Alma had been in the movie business longer than her husband. She was a good writer, and a good film editor, and Hitch frequently sought her approval.
Was Hitchcock really cold and distant towards Vera Miles on the set? To an extent, yes. By all accounts he was always professional, but he was much more businesslike in his scenes with her than he was when directing Janet Leigh. Hitchcock apparently never got over his disappointment in Vera Miles getting pregnant after he had cast her in the lead role in Vertigo. Hitchcock enjoyed immensely his interactions with both Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins.
Did Hitchcock really want the shower scene to be music-free? Initially, yes. He conceived of a scene that would be aurally filled with running water, stabbing sounds, and screams. It was only after he heard Bernard Herrmann’s scoring for the scene that he relented, realizing the scene would be better with the music.
Alma and Hitch’s marriage is portrayed as fairly tempestuous at this point. Is this accurate? While we can never truly know what went on behind closed doors when the Hitchcocks were home alone, by all accounts they were a truly happy couple, who were married for 53 years.
So this movie does play around quite a bit with history, but it is entertaining nonetheless, with good performances. And while the historical truth may be toyed with, perhaps there is an emotional truth to the material. This is the first movie to really give Alma Reville the recognition she deserves as half of the great Hitchcock partnership, and for that reason alone it is worth seeing.
Definitive edition: The 2012 blu ray contains a commentary track with director Sacha Gervasi and author Stephen Rebello, one deleted scene, several featurettes, and the original theatrical trailer.