Last December, I whined about missed out on a couple of opportunities to see the new film Hitchcock. This weekend, I finally was able to view it. It’s out on DVD now, so there’s no need to get a baby-sitter and spend a fortune at a “movie” theater where you watch a dozen commercials.
The film certainly kept my interest. It’s only about an hour-and-a-half long, so I suppose that’s not saying too much. But really, I’m probably biased. Having read several books about Alfred Hitchcock and his films, and having seen every feature film he directed, it stands to reason that I’m gonna be intrigued by any film about the man if, for no other reason, than to see how it sits with what I already know.
Actually, though, the film was too short. The story tries to squeeze too much in: the making of Psycho, Hitchcock’s waning persona, and his faltering marriage. Despite covering a period of only about one year (late 1959-late 1960), I think the film left out too much.
The most obvious omission here is regarding Psycho. The shower scene and the music are given token screen time, leading viewers to suspect these were slapshot efforts that just happened to work, rather than the carefully constructed works of art that they are. Was the shower scene really filmed in ten minutes? From everything I read, it took over a week – several hours, sometimes, just to set up the perfect shot that would last, on screen, for all of about one second.
Also lost in the shuffle is Paramount Pictures’ anger with Hitch. He lost money for them on his most recent films and when they loaned him out to MGM, he created North by Northwest, and managed to make money…for MGM. There was also this pervasive view in the movie industry that Hitch had sold out by directing television shows and could not longer make the quality crafts he once had. This is quite funny since, during the time Hitch was overseeing his TV show, he directed Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, and The Birds – which might be the greatest succession of four films by any director ever.
The film actually loses steam as it goes – it begins brilliantly. Knowing so much about Hitch, I had several ideas of how the film would begin, but Wisconsin in the early 1950s was not one of them. The Alfred Hitchcock Presents style that then kicks-off (and subsequently concludes) the film is likewise inspired. Hitch’s dark humor, wrangling with the censors and the studio, and his frequent daydreams are all on parade here, and Anthony Hopkins nails the difficult part…which is more than I can say for James D’Arcy, who’s evidently trying to portray Anthony Perkins. Scarlett Johansson and Helen Mirren are quite good in their roles, too.
But once we reach the one-third mark, the movie spins off in too many directions, unsure what to cover next: Alma’s affair? Hitch’s obesity? Tricking the sensors? An irate Vera Miles? In all this, too, the Hitchcocks’ daughter, Patricia, is not even mentioned (all the more surprising since she not only lived near her parents, but was actually in the film Psycho, and should have at least been in the “swearing the oath” scene).
Somehow, though, Psycho gets made, and Hitch finagles his way past the censors, and comes up with another one of his legendary stunts to increase interest in the film. Then, with the time running out on this too-short flick, The Hitchcocks’ marriage woes are tidied up in a nice little bow, and we fade out on Hitchcock narrating to us that he’s not sure what to do for his next film. And in case we haven’t picked up on any of the twenty subtle hints sprinkled throughout the film, inspiration literally swoops in and mugs for the camera. Cute, if too obvious.
My wife said watching this film made her want to see Psycho again. I agree. And maybe that’s the biggest thing this flick has going for it.