Friday, August 23, 2013

Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock

Anthony Hopkins drawls his dialogue and wears a fat suit, but it’s not his fault that he sounds and looks nothing like Hitchcock, the legendary Master of Suspense.

Covering the period when the portly director was making 1960’s Psycho, you have to wonder how much is true and how much was fabricated by screenwriter John J. McLaughlin and director Sacha Gervasi. This is the stuff of a great documentary, but might require some tweaking for a dramatic film.

Based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the film suggests that everything was at stake, including the revered director’s reputation, as he becomes fixated on making a low-budget, black-and-white shocker from Robert Bloch’s novel, inspired by the true story of killer Ed Gein. Paramount, the studio with which Hitchcock was aligned, had already issued Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Vertigo, but studio head Barney Balaban was not pleased with Psycho’s grisly subject matter, and the studio agreed only to distribute the film providing Hitchcock financed it himself.

Some of the tweaking is kind of silly, such as having Gein’s ghost appearing to Hitchcock. It brings to mind True Romance in which Christian Slater gets helpful hints from the spirit of Elvis Presley. Since Elvis was probably at Paramount preparing for G.I. Blues at the time that Psycho was being edited, why wasn’t he given a cameo? He could have popped in to congratulate Anthony Perkins on his version of “Moonlight Swim” a song that the Psycho star had recorded (on one of several albums issued during his “teen idol” phase) which Elvis later covered in Blue Hawaii.

A lot of the drama relates to Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, Alma, played by Helen Mirren. Was she having an affair with a hack screenwriter? Hitchcock suspects as much. Would she give her full support to Psycho? And what about Hitchcock’s weird obsession with his leading ladies, those cool blondes like Janet Leigh, very convincingly portrayed by Scarlett Johanssen, or Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who he had been grooming for the lead in Vertigo, but who “betrayed” him by getting pregnant and choosing her family over stardom?

Hitchcock is good fun for film buffs, and, perhaps, a slice of movie history for the younger viewer, though some of what they’ll learn is not the truth. In the film, Hitchcock’s agent boasts that “I made a millionaire out of Jimmy Stewart with Winchester 73 and that film was a dog.” Hardly. Winchester 73, directed by Anthony Mann, is one of the great westerns, and, like his collaborations with Hitchcock, among Stewart’s best.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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