PHOTOPLAY (August 1956) : ‘Well, I’ll be hanged’ – Alfred Hitchcock interviewed by Don Graham. The year of ‘The Wrong Man’, and ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’..
“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”(Alfred Hitchcock)
Anthony Hopkins / Helen Mirren / Scarlett Johansson / Dany Huston / Toni Collette / Michael Stuhlbarg / Jessica Biel / James D’Arcy / Richard Portnow / Based on the book ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho’ byStephen Rebello /Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin /Original Music byDanny Elfman /Cinematography by Jeff Croneneweth /EditorPamela Martin / DirectorSacha Gervasi
If an actor is not suitable to play a role to begin with, then slapping on expensive makeup with a trowel, strapping the poor sod into a fat-suit and then filling in the cracks with CGI tomfoolery will not help matters. Personally I like to see the actor’s face, and be impressed by subtle gestures and physical performance.. while, let’s be honest.. if Anthony Hopkins hadn’t turned up for work one day, they could have simply propped up the fat-suit in front of the cameras and told Dame Helen just to shake his arm a bit every now and then.. if Tony dubbed in the voice in post-edit, would anyone really notice the difference? Perhaps its just me, but every scene with Tony as Hitch disturbingly reminded me of Mr Creosote about to pop in ‘Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life‘?
I suppose even the Hitchcock suit makes more sense than Nicole Kidman‘s plastic nose in ‘The Hours’, which miraculously didn’t transform her into poor Virginia Woolf, who despite the assumption of the creative team, isn’t best known for having a big nose. God knows what they’d make of The Barry Manilow Story! Geoffrey Rush managed to work genuine magic in ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers‘, proving that the craft of capturing a person’s essence is to be found in performance, and not in lazy reliance on prosthetics. The Hopkins talent shines through of course, but is ultimately hampered by being encased in a thick layer of porridge.
All this said, there is actually much to enjoy in this biographical study, which is not so much a dissection of Hitch himself, as a look behind the creation and origin of his most successful film, Psycho. In fact, take a look at the credits, and you’ll notice that what we are actually watching is an adaptation of a fascinating book by Stephen Rebello, called ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho‘. Coincidentally enough I came across this little gem of a book a year ago, and would heartily recommend hunting out a copy.. albeit with a little warning for the squeamish, in regards to the Ed Gein opening chapter (a shocking, though very much necessary background to the material).
I’m not at all sure about the casting of Helen Mirren in the role as Alma, Alfred’s wife and cine-collaborator since the Silent days. Perhaps someone a little less vivacious was needed for the role.. I suspect the producers looked around for an English actress of the correct age, and discovered that only one A-lister would be recognized in Arizona, so despite being quite wrong for the part.. Mirren got the job. There’s nothing at all wrong with her performance, in fact she’s rather good. Scarlett Johansson was a logical choice for Janet Leigh, but with such famous actresses it’s an inherent problem substituting one for another in a Bio-pic.. I’d much rather see an unknown, personally.. but names put bums on seats, so.. If I were to pick out the one shining performance, it would be Toni Collette‘s loyal and belittled secretary ‘Peggy Robertson’. Collette always manages to turn in a striking performance from stage centre, or from the sidelines, but of course she is a quality actress of the first order.
I suppose I’m unsure about this particular take on ‘Hitchcock’.. initially I was worried that we’d be getting yet another portrait of a twisted oddball, which in it’s desire to capture the imagination, neglects the film-making itself, taking the cleverly developed complexities of a film like ‘Psycho‘, and making every twist and turn just a crass reflection of Hitchcock’s own lusts and insecurities. To be fair, the film didn’t fall into that trap, and even in it’s overall styling, there was an attempt to create a mood and visual style that acted as homage. Even the soundtrack had a deferential nod to the canon of films. Perhaps though, the ultimate product was a little too lenient on old Hitch? By sidestepping the terrible treatment that Tippi Hedren experienced during the making of ‘The Birds‘ and of ‘Marnie‘, we get a much more sympathetic character in Alfred.. and the ending is a very saccharine affair.
It must have irked the producers somewhat to see the BBC’s own Hitchcock drama ‘The Girl’ steal the acclaim from under their noses. Toby Jones offered us a Hitch unfettered by window dressing, who utilises the revolutionary and much cheaper trick of achieving a convincing Hitch performance through merely jutting his stomach out a bit. If only Hollywood had thought of that bold innovation, they could have halved their budget, and afforded to fatten up Tony a bit with some meat pies and cakes.
The only way to get any sort of meaningful understanding of Alfred Hitchcock is to watch his films. That’s ‘ALL’ of them.. sorry, they’re required viewing.. the Silents right on through to the last.. okay, you can miss out ‘Family Plot‘ (since that was bloody awful, and Hitch was practically asleep on-set). If all you have to go on is this current Hollywood biographical piece, then at least watch it back to back with the BBC’s drama ‘The Girl‘, allowing one foot in homage, while the other is on firmer and less glossy ground.