I love movies. I love movies about making movies. I also quite love Hitchcock movies. So this one seems like a winner all around, and I was not disappointed.
Featuring a script by John J. McLaughlin working from the book “Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, Gervasi, marking his first feature film directorial effort, has weaved together a mature love story set against the backdrop of one of Hitch’s most famous and enduringly popular films.
The film is a pure delight. There’s playful humour, a little tongue in cheek, drama, angst, and there is a look at how the film Psycho was brought to life, financed completely by Hitch, fantastically portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, and his wife Alma, the always (and I do mean always) enjoyable and supremely talented Helen Mirren.
Coming off his biggest and most succesful film yet, and my personal favorite, North By Northwest, Hitch is looking for his next project, and is intrigued by a pulpy horror by Robert Bloch, loosely based on the heinous and disturbing crimes of Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). He’s found his new project, but can’t seem to find the backing for it. No one wants to see a horror movie. The press launch he holds at his own house seems to be a complete disaster, people are offended and disgusted by the idea of the film, but as Hitch points out… they can’t stop looking. It follows the course of the film, adapting it, shooting it, the fact that Paramount was so distrustful of the finished product they only released it to two theatres to start and it was up to Hitch and company to market it, and drive up word of mouth (which is awesome!).
Hitch on the other hand becomes obsessed with the book, so much so that he dreams and imagines conversations with Gein, which provide some of the darker parts of the film.
The emotional side of the story comes from watching the love story between Hitch and Alma, this is a couple who have been together seemingly forever. They know all there is to know about one another, and yet, through miscommunication, lack of conversation, and Hitch, honestly, not appreciating what he has. Dissension begins to arise as Alma decides to go to work on a script with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who though married as well, may have romantic designs on her.
And it was with Whitfield’s and Alma’s first restaurant scene together, that I realized something, something that was prevalent right from the beginning of the film, and something that made me smile…
No one talks like that any more.
Conversation as an art form, is dead.
In this film, however, it is gloriously resurrected, it is the sharp plunging knife of Norman Bates while modern conversation seems to be a blunted butter knife.
A lost art. The dialogue, the words, are succulent, and I feasted on this entire film.
I can also say everyone brought their game as well.
Hopkins simply is Hitch in this film. There were times, especially around the eyes, when you could remind yourself that “Oh yeah, that’s Anthony Hopkins,” but this consummate actor literally buries himself under prosthetics to bring our corpulent friend to life. Hopkins, as always, is simply brilliant, playing the wicked humor, the aching heart, and the driven artist that was Hitch. There’s a brilliant, brief scene, where Hitch is so frustrated over the progress of the film, so worried about Alma having an affair with Whit, that he simply stands in front of the fridge shoveling food into his mouth. It’s a recognizable scene to anyone who’s heartsick, and it made this legendary larger-than-life man, all the more human.
Helen Mirren is a blessing. She’s lovely, graceful and so incredibly expressive in her acting talents. There is no doubt in her heart, or ours, that Alma loves Hitch, but you can see that she longs for the attention from him that Whit seems so ready to lavish upon her. She stands by him, whether he sees it or not, working to get his labor of love to the big screen, and to see these two stellar performers exploring and exposing the dynamics of the relationship is amazing to watch. It’s the little things that make it seem all the more real, even Alma refers to him as Hitch, but when she’s angry, you can hear her call him Alfred.
Toni Collette as Peggy, Hitch’s long-suffering secretary took me completely by surprise. I didn’t even realize it was her until her character removed her glasses. I always enjoy seeing Toni show up in films and television!
Anthony Perkins is played by James D’Arcy with a geekish mother’s boy bent, as someone who’s being forced to be someone he really isn’t which of course makes Hitch think he’s perfect for the role. Perkins anxious and self-consciousness is brought to life amazingly well, more so for Sue and I, because the last time we’d seen D’Arcy, he had taken a rather unnerving and villanous turn in the thriller In Their Skin which we saw at Toronto After Dark.
Jessica Biel takes on the role of Vera Miles, one of Hitch’s leading ladies, who he felt left him to have a family, when he could have made her a star. He feels betrayed, and takes it out on her in terms of costuming and coaching her on set, or lack thereof. It’s shown through his treatment of Biel, and through stills of his other leading ladies, that Hitch has a type, and always seems to indulge in a fantasy romance with each of them. Vera, in Psycho, fulfills her contract with Hitch and is quite happy to leave him, and all of his promises of fame behind.
It’s easy to dismiss Scarlett Johansson as just a pretty face and a smidgen of talent, but this time, she seems to have really done her homework, bringing Janet Leigh to life with all the little physical nuances and intonations that you would expect. Scarlett, it’s no secret I have a bit of a crush on her, looks great in period attire, and is a ringer for Janet. As Janet, she maintains a professional demeanor on the set at all times, and the dinner scene with Hitch, Alma and Janet where they discuss how the infamous shower scene is going to be shot is one of my favorites. She doesn’t steal any scenes from Hopkins of Mirren, but she’s not lost in the background either.
Danny Huston is one of those actors that I feel doesn’t work enough. I always like to see him show up in films.
Kurtwood Smith is hilarious as one of the Motion Picture censor board members, Geoffrey Shurlock. Hitch and Shurlock have a rather argumentative relationship at best, and watching the two verbally joust is a lot of fun.
Ralph Macchio appears in a blink and you miss it spot as Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano, adapting Robert Bloch’s book, although Alma later punches up the script and the dialogue herself.
Behind the scenes Danny Elfman provides a lyrical very un-Danny Elfaman-like score, which of course if occasionally tweaked by the very familair Alfred Hitchcock theme, and of course, eventually, as the film is cut, Bernard Herrmann’s fantastic, heart-in-your-throat score, which when cut together with Leigh’s death scene, makes Peggy proclaim she may never take a shower again.
Of course there has been dramatic licence taking with some things, so I get that not everything may have happened as it’s portrayed on the screen, but as it is, it’s a lovely romance, and a fantastic behind the scenes look at one of the immortal horror films of the 20th century.
And just to close out with a couple of my favorite moments, I loved the recurring silhouette in-joke, it made me smile each and every time, and the best scene for me in the movie was watching as Hitch conducts the audience’s reactions to the shower scene in the lobby.
Sue and I looked at one another as soon as the credits began to roll, and we both said the same thing…
“That was so much fun!” and “Now I want to watch Psycho again!”
It’s a great film, so if you like Hitchcock, like behind the scenes movies, or a grown-up love story… this may be the film for you.
Hitch says it best himself… “A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theatre, and the babysitter were worth it.”
This one is worth it.