PhotobucketI’ve never kept it a secret that Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director. No other auteur has such a large number of great films. He has a knack for creating captivating situations and characters, then drawing you into a web of intrigue. I’ve seen roughly 28 of his works. Yet “The Master of Suspense” remains a bit of a mystery (no pun intended) to me. And so I approached Hitchcock with anticipation. The verdict? It’s well worth your time. However I don’t really know much more concerning the man himself than I did before.

Hitchcock is for people who love movies about making movies. John J. McLaughlin’s script is a lively (and uncomplicated) adaptation of Stephen Rebello’s acclaimed nonfiction book: Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The year is 1959 and he’s just coming off the unbridled success of North by Northwest. It’s a turning point in his career. Realizing his age and still wanting to remain innovative, he starts looking for his next project. He finds inspiration in Psycho – Robert Bloch’s fictionalized suspense novel based on the life of Ed Gein, the notorious serial killer. In fact Hitchcock has fantasy sequences woven throughtout the narrative, in which he has imaginary discussions with the murderer. The device is apparently designed to give insight into the filmmaker’s enigmatic psyche. Unfortunately that tool is woefully unsuccessful. It makes Hitchcock seem almost schizophrenic which I don’t believe was the intention. However the production more importantly addresses the director’s move from elegantly subtle suspense to more overt horror. That is a relevant discussion.

Hitchcock is bolstered by some marvelous performances. Let’s start with the supporting cast. Scarlett Johansson beautifully suggests old Hollywood glamour as Janet Leigh. James D’Arcy resemblance to
Anthony Perkins is uncanny. He displays a sort of nervous energy that is quite effective in a brief appearance. Toni Collette exudes sensible efficiency behind horn-rimmed glasses as Hitchcock’s personal assistant and Michael Stuhlbarg, so appropriately pathetic in A Serious Man, is surprisingly believable as Hitchcock’s pragmatic agent. Helen Mirren is engaging as Alma Reville, his wife, a talented screenwriter in her own right. Her importance in establishing her husband’s vision might be something of a surprise for some. There’s considerable marital tension between the two which occupies a significant portion of the plot. As Alma, Helen Mirren gets to let loose and really gives him a severe critique at one point. We’ve come to expect those scenes in every movie Mirren does now and she doesn’t disappoint.

Anthony Hopkins portrays the director as a genius undeterred. He also demonstrates the man’s behavioral eccentricities – he’s got a peephole in his office that looks into his leading lady’s dressing room. He’s constantly drinking wine and gorging on food. But these details feel like a lighthearted gloss on more troubling personality traits that aren’t fully addressed. Anthony Hopkins is adequate as titular character but I never truly felt as though I was watching anything more than a really good imitation. The makeup is peculiar. The foundation Hopkins wears has a mummifying effect on his face that leaves it somewhat expressionless. Hitchcock wasn’t known for smiling a lot anyways so I suppose the issue isn’t cataclysmic.

Hitchcock is a simple but satisfying watch. Its window inside creating one of the cinema’s greatest horror flicks, is well crafted. When the narrative focuses on moviemaking, it’s transcendent. As an observation of his creative process, its value is immeasurable. The scorn he received for choosing this subject, his decision to self-finance, fighting with the censors, and the marketing of a difficult film, are all fascinating scenes depicted. The relationship with his wife detailing the rough spots in their marriage, provides a fuller, though not deeper, portrait. As a biography of the man, it’s less successful. It never seems to delve deeply into what truly made this man tick. I could have done without the distracting facial prosthetics. The makeup is obvious. His features look fake.  Nevertheless, the assemblage of acting talents, including the superior supporting cast, is first rate. These actors make the material enjoyable. Parts of Hitchcock had me spellbound. I confess I had a nagging suspicion it would fall short as biography. However, as a movie about the making of Psycho, it’s notoriously entertaining beyond a shadow of a doubt.

21 Responses to “Hitchcock”

  1. Great review. Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg were the two filmmakers who got me interested in film. I was in the fifth grade at the time. I really wanted to see this tomorrow, but apparently it’s in LIMITED release. Which usually (including now) means “playing nowhere within a 60-mile radius of me.” So I’ll have to wait till December 7th.


  2. PS: Why would they label this “Hitchcock” or “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” when it’s about Alfred Hitchcock AND his wife Alma Reville?


  3. Wonderful review…can’t wait to see this, I’m excited.


  4. Lovely review! Glad you liked this one as I’m anticipating it, I hope it’s going to be at the very least entertaining and I’m excited about Mirren’s performance it looks great in the trailers.


  5. Good review Mark. I found this one pretty fun and interesting, even if it did fall short of really reaching the same heights I had expected for a Hitchcock biopic. Mirren and Hopkins were great together, too, and really felt like an old, married couple.


  6. As with ” Lincoln”, the title suggests a biography. However this too focuses on one part of his career, “Psycho” I thought the performances were spot on. Helen, of course, being my favorite. She sure knows how to deliver a vocal beat down. An actual biography would be awesome, but this was very good.


    • Agreed on Mirren. Also, Scarlett Johansson was impressive as well.

      I think with certain subjects, the focus might be preferable because it allows for a more detailed analysis of one aspect of a life. Trying to encapsulate the entire life of Hitchcock (or Lincoln for that matter) might end up just scratching the surface without true insight.


  7. Nice, thorough review, Mark. I think this film works as an ‘observation of a creative process’ as you said, but as far as Hitch is concerned, it feels rather superficial. Perhaps it’s bound to be that way given the fleeting running time. It’s still worth a watch though, glad that we agree on the rating here.


  8. From the beginning this looked like another Oscar bait biopic to me,so this was never on my radar to begin with. Will probably be a rental for me


    • I suppose any time you portray an actual person, it’s Oscar bait. It’s like Lincoln in that it focuses on a specific point in his life instead of the whole history. Oscar bait can be entertaining.


      • I suppose, but watching J. Edgar, My week with Marilyn, and Iron lady i started to shy away from biopics. I just feel like the majority of them made nowadays aren’t very good


  9. Alexander Diminiano Says:

    I’m on page 43 of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, on which Hitchcock is based. I have to say, this movie’s hardly an adaptation. Have you read the book? I mean, I liked the movie, but it demonstrated an interesting but easy production. The book continually blows my mind with all the struggles that Joseph Stefano, his former writer (forget his name already but he worked on a TV series called Playhouse 90), Paramount, etc., etc., etc., went through, just to make things right for Hitchcock’s ego.

    I can’t imagine how pissed off they were at him. If there’s one area where the film does surpass the book, it’s in showing the face-to-face reactions he got for his ego. Nothing against his directing, of course, but the way this man thinks is what I’d imagine would be the way Quentin Tarantino thinks, except in a more suggestive (but still envelope-pushing, at the time) way.

    Being that Hitchcock’s your favorite, I’m sure you’ve read the book, or some books like this, but this one’s really…eye-opening, in case you haven’t read it. Just thought I’d recommend it.

    Oh and guess what’s on the cover:

    “Essential…I’ve learned so much from reading this book.”
    –Gus van Sant

    Yet he didn’t learn that after all the hard work and sacrifice Hitchcock’s minions went through for such a movie, the worst you can do is a shot-for-shot remake? Huh.


    • I haven’t’ read the book, but your observations make me want to read it immediately. I can’t say that I am surprised by his ego. I mean he was already a legend by the time he made Psycho. That kind of adulation has to affect one’s personality – no matter how humble they try to stay.

      P.S. As far as Hitchcock’s former writer, I can only assume you mean Ernest Lehman – one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood history. Sabrina, The King and I, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are among his many adaptations for the screen.


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