Hitchcock: Studio Interference Is Bad For Business

In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) are at the height of their careers as filmmakers amidst Hollywood chatter that it’s time for them to retire, sixty year old Alfred especially. In an attempt to relive his youth, Alfred decides his next picture will be an adaptation of the psychotic horror thriller, Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1960). Hitch is forced to self-finance as he’s met by opposition at every corner.

Even Paramount Pictures are against it and they refuse to pay for production.They distribute it but don’t finance it. Alma loses her rag when she finally has enough of his habits of perving on his young pretty actresses and being outright insufferable. When her “friend” Whitfield Cooke (Danny Huston) persuades her to collaborate on a work of their own, tension builds between Alfred and Alma as Psycho begins to haunt the tortured mind of Hollywood’s Master Of Suspense.

Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville with such power and conviction (Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Helen Mirren plays Alma Reville with grace, but also with such power and conviction
(Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

The film’s narrative is essentially the eighteen months covering the making of Psycho. It starts with Hitch attaining the rights for Robert Bloch’s southern gothic horror novel, so that he may relive many of the artistic processes that he did as a young man, with Alma by his side. He wants to make the film for the love of the art, rather than for money and riches. In my opinion, Psycho is his best film, though it was not a critical success and the box office disagreed with the critics. The film ends poetically, with a final act of breaking the fourth wall from Hopkins. We are witness to a black raven popping onto his shoulder and quickly making itself scarce, foreshadowing the classic movie, The Birds.

Hitchcock is plagued by nightmares, having immersed himself too much with Ed Gein (inspired Norman Bates) and taking too many strolls down his psychological avenues of sadistic pleasure. Alfred show his guilty desires for his leading ladies, his god complex and his egocentric persona on the set. There is only one director on a Hitchcock picture and he makes that known from the get go. Even the distributors can’t get a look at what they will be distributing. This movie is clean-cut, crude and fiendishly entertaining amidst the dark and psychotic undertone. That being said, Hopkins has the best lines representing outright comedy such as in “she won’t be nude, she’ll be wearing a shower cap” when talking about Janet Leigh’s iconic shower scene in Psycho, to things being rather sadistic like “try the finger sandwiches, they’re real fingers” he says, with a smirk.

Anthony Hopkins in one of the final shots, foreshadowing The Birds (Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Anthony Hopkins in one of the final shots, foreshadowing The Birds (1963)
(Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Helen Mirren (The Queen) plays Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife. She’s his co-creative and unsung partner. He relies on her for support to satisfy his evident ego complex but also she’s very helpful with scripts, as she’s a writer. She’s not a damsel in distress character. She has presence, is very commanding and quite magnetizing with the a hint of sexuality given off by Helen Mirren. She gives a wonderful performance with her sarcastic British wit when delivering lines such as “it was the knife, that a moment later, cut off her scream and her head. Charming, Doris Day. You should do it as a musical.” Hitchcock is a serious biography drama looking at eighteen months in the life of the “great and glorious Alfred Hitchcock” but at its core, it’s a love story about a husband and wife. “Impossible to live with but worth the effort” says Whitfield Cook (Huston) is one quote which perfectly describes Hitchcock. 

Hitchcock was one of the most revolutionary filmmakers in the history of cinema, an artist who strived for the impossible. Quite frankly, an artist who was ahead of his time. Psycho was the first of its kind, and many thought it was destined to fail. It didn’t fair well with the critics but audiences loved, as we can see from the box office. It annoyed studios because it broke many filmic social conventions of Hollywood, like: showing flesh on camera, conveying the concept of a lady being brutally murdered in the shower and a showing a toilet, let alone one being flushed. It was made in the last days of the big studio system in the Hollywood Golden Age. At the time, Paramount didn’t know that they had one of the most iconic films in the history of film on their hands. People didn’t pay to see this movie, they paid because it was a Hitchcock picture. It something new, not another North By Northwest which is what Paramount kept asking him to do because films like that are certain to make money.

Scarlett Johansson plays leading lady, Janet Leigh (Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Scarlett Johansson plays leading lady, the sensational Janet Leigh
(Hitchcock, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Amidst all the great set pieces and excellent costume design, we have Scarlett Johansson (Avengers) as Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy (Agent Carter) as Anthony Perkins, plus Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and Michael Stuhlbarg (Trumbo) Hitchcock’s agent, Lew Wasserman. They all give great performances, especially Scar-Jo as Leigh. But our leading pair play their roles to perfection. Helen Mirren (Eye In The Sky) and Anthony Hopkins (Silence Of The Lambs) were made for their parts. My only qualm with this film is that it felt a tad short and I could have done with an extra fifteen minutes to give more screen time to characters like Janet Leigh and Perkins. All we need now is a fully-fledged biopic starring Hopkins and Mirren with a running time equal to the patience of any film buff’s bladder. I think three hours should do it.

Thought-provoking, hilarious and weighty, ‘Hitchcock’ is the method to the madness of one of cinemas landmark pictures