Hitchcock and Psycho


I love the perks I get for being a member of the Philadelphia Film Society. This week, I got to see the new film, Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren followed by a screening of Psycho. This was the first night of a two night mini-Hitchcock retrospective. On the second night, they showed Rebecca and The Birds. Alas, I was unable to attend either of these.

Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi, is an entertaining if not particularly compelling film. Anthony Hopkins gleefully hams it up in the title role, but it’s Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s long suffering wife, Alma Reville, who gives the film any heft. In fact, I found myself wishing the film was more about her, since I didn’t know anything about her and was more interested in the woman behind the man story than I was about the more famous director.

The film weaves the story of the making of Psycho with the struggles of the couple’s marriage. Hitch (“just Hitch, hold the cock”), obsessed with this new and daring film project and with his leading ladies, all but ignores his supportive wife, who finds comfort in a collaborative writing project with Danny Huston’s Witfield Cook, who helped adapt Hitch’s Strangers on a Train. Their relationship is close but platonic; however, their affection for one another does not escape the notice of the all-but-cuckolded Hitchcock. Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures, with whom Hitchcock is under contract, has little faith in Psycho leading Hitchcock to fund the film himself, causing addition stress on the already strained relationship.

Hitchcock seems to vacillate between wanting to be taken seriously and wanting to be kitchy homage. Some of the more perplexing scenes involve Hitchcock fantasizing conversations between himself and Ed Gein, the killer who inspired the creating of Norman Bates. These scenes stop the film dead in its tracks (“stillborn” to steal from the film itself) and provide hokey psychological insights into the creation of Psycho which undermine what verisimilitude there is.

Speaking of verisimilitude, the supporting cast provides convincing counterparts to the original starts. Scarlett Johansson pulls off the tough task of recreating Janet Leigh. Jessica Biel is fine as Vera Miles, whose main purpose is to warn Leigh about the creepy director. James D’Arcy is a spot-on but underutilized Anthony Perkins.

Overall, Hitchcock is an enjoyable film, although not quite the film I was hoping it would be. Perhaps if I had realized going in that it was directed by the man who gave us Anvil: The Story of Anvil, I would have been better prepared for the more campy elements.

I am not going to say much about Psycho at this time since it is part of the Greatest Films of All Time project. I have been watching those films in chronological order and would rather address Psycho in light of its contemporaries. I was a bit disappointed with the screening because they showed Psycho on Blu-Ray, which revealed some digital artifacts.