“My contract guarantees me final cut on all of my pictures,” proclaims Alfred Hitchcock. President of Paramount Pictures Barney Balaban responds, “It also states that Paramount doesn’t have to release anything that might cause the studio embarrassment!” Hitchcock responds, “As opposed to those last five Martin and Lewis pictures you released?”
When I first read that Anthony Hopkins was going to portray Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest directors in all of cinema and one of my favorites, I wasn’t sure how to react at first. Anthony Hopkins is such a great actor, and I was sure he was up to the task of portraying the master of suspense. It was the makeup design that began to worry me. Would it be believable? Would it hinder Hopkins’ performance? My worries faded quickly due to the fact that the movie was originally slated for a 2013 release. But then, the film (simply titled Hitchcock) was completed and ready to go so far in advance that Fox Searchlight moved it up to a November 2012 release. Whether this was all part of a meticulous plan to catch everyone by surprise and build awards buzz, or trying to pull a Million Dollar Baby (as I like to call it), remains unknown at this time.
I’m glad that it was moved up to a 2012 release. In a year where I finally managed to see 1954’s Rear Window, 1963’s The Birds, and 1964’s Marnie at the IFC Center, as well as 1958’s Vertigo at Film Forum (this would mark the second time I’ve seen Vertigo on the big screen but the first time seeing its glorious new DCP restoration), it seemed that 2012 would be the year of Hitchcock for me. The weird thing about it is that 2012 is more appropriately the year of Steven Spielberg for me (I’ve seen the Indiana Jones quadrilogy, 2011’s War Horse, 2011’s The Adventures of Tintin, and 2012’s Lincoln on the big screen this year). Nevertheless, I’m not letting that spoil the fun that is Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock.
Based on the novel “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, Gervasi’s film features Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles, James D’Arcy as Anthony Perkins, Michael Stuhlbarg as Lew Wasserman, Danny Huston as Whitfield Cook, Toni Collette as Peggy Robertson, Kurtwood Smith as Geoffrey Shurlock, Michael Wincott as serial killer Ed Gein, and (in a fun cameo) Ralph Macchio as screenwriter Joseph Stefano. I was surprised that the film focused primarily on the relationship between Hitch and Alma. This is a good thing as it anchors the film and gives it focus; the actual making of Psycho is a secondary focus but it remains quite essential to the picture. Hopkins and Mirren dominate the film, but the other actors get their little moments as well. One of my favorite sequences is the one where Hitchcock discusses Psycho with the censor board (specifically the scene where Hitchcock “negotiates” only with Geoffrey Shurlock). It’s a small moment but an important one in regards to Psycho. I also liked the bookend sequences in which Hitchcock breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience. It reminded me of when he hosted his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and any Hitchcock fan will get a kick out of the reference to The Birds.
Hitchcock is a fun and entertaining film. It doesn’t aim to be a heavy drama like The Girl (HBO’s own Alfred Hitchcock movie that aired a couple of months ago, which covered Hitchock’s uneasy relationship with Tippi Hedren during the making of The Birds and Marnie). However, it has its merits, and, if nothing else, is a fun, nostalgic look into cinematic history. My one complaint (other than NOT showing Scarlett Johansson in a wide shot wearing the flesh-colored bodysuit for the shower scene in Psycho) is that this film came out a year late; Hitchcock could have joined Super 8, The Artist, Hugo, and The Adventures of Tintin as cinematic love letters to the history of cinema (Hitchcock obviously being a cinematic love letter to Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho). Lastly, as for the makeup design, Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero delivered the goods once again. It is to Anthony Hopkins’ credit as an actor that he was able to craft such an incredible performance through Berger and Nicotero’s excellent, but heavy, prosthetic makeup. A job well done.