James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Review (Theatrical): HITCHCOCK (2012)

In stark contrast to Psycho, the making of which inspired both a book and this feature film adaptation, Sasha Gervasi’s Hitchcock provides breezy, bright, and brief glimpses into Hitch’s marriage and voyeuristic relationship with the young women he sought to shape into his personal vision of feminine beauty, actresses he wished to keep close at hand but that still lay forever out of reach, material sourced from biographies like film scholar Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius.

Hitch poster

But by the time of Psycho, 1960, ‘Hitch’ (Anthony Hopkins, in heavy makeup) had already fully explicated his obsessions through the art of what’s arguably his most personal film, Vertigo, though he revealed himself so fully to his audience to no useful professional end: the film landed with a critical and commercial thud, one redeemed only by the subsequent success of North by Northwest. As he searches for his next project at the beginning of this telling, Hitch is being asked to make the first Ian Fleming 007 adaptation, which is no challenge at all—’I already made that picture,’ he explains, in the form of NxNW.

Besides, Hitch had found what he’d rather do, but Paramount wants no part of his plan to produce a shocking account of murder and transvestism inspired by real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Lurid and shocking, only after the iconic director agrees to finance the production out of his own pocket will the studio lend its imprimatur to the enterprise. Now, if only Hitchcock can get a Production Code seal for material this borderline ‘obscene,’ he’ll have a new picture.

Rather than linger on the problems of financing and producing the most iconic of all horror films, however, much of the 95 minute running time of this biographical peek at superstar movie director and TV host Alfred Hitchcock focuses on his personal relationship with his wife and collaborator Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), who by any standard was more of an uncredited creative partner on most of his films than the general public would ever have realized. Here she’s depicted as having a near-affair with Hitch’s Strangers on a Train screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), which distracts and upsets Hitchcock during the filming of Psycho, which is stressful enough for financial and practical reasons.

Unfortunately, the broad-strokes, graceless, obvious depiction of the psycho-sexual aspect of Hitchcock’s artistic milieu and mindset, coupled with his jealousy over Alma’s seeming affair, detract mightily from what at first seemed to the be the primary storyline, that of his interest in the macabre culminating in the making of what would become an indelible American moviegoing experience for millions. Hitchcock’s obsession’s don’t simply include the bodies and faces of the ice-queen beauties he cast, but also the possibility of deadly misadventure awaiting them at the hands of men, and perhaps this film would have been better served by focusing on that aspect of his psyche.

Once the personal intrigues between Hitch and Alma are resolved and the focus returned to Psycho, however, the film builds to a satisfying conclusion that cinephiles and Hitchcock aficionados will appreciate and enjoy—a scene near the conclusion of Hitchcock ‘acting out’ the shower scene as the audience inside a theatre reacts with vocal and demonstrative horror at last approaches a level of visual poetry befitting one of the principal masters of the cinematic art form. With such a diffuse focus across essentially three levels of narrative and a semi-lazy central performance from Hopkins (only the bookending ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ direct-address scenes feature a fully realized rendition of the famous voice; the rest of the time he sounds more or less like himself), Hitchcock struggles mightily to coalesce into a satisfying artistic whole.

Psycho 1 sheet

About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

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