Film Reviews

A toast well deserved

In the cunning Hitchcock, Helen Mirren gives one of best performances of the year--as Mrs. Hitchcock

Move over, Meryl. Helen Mirren is crowding you again–this time as Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant wife, Alma, who participated in more than a half-century’s worth of Sir Alfred’s movies as secret writer and producer . . . and her husband’s most severe critic.

The new mashup movie Hitchcock, dealing mostly with the production of Psycho, the highest-grossing black and white movie ever made (as of l960), is a clever blend of bio, narrative and various cultural allusions into the troubled life of the great director, even in his television years. It’s a witty film, keeping the director’s darker personality at bay, suggesting that his art (he was not considered an artist until late in his career, post-Psycho) turned his own rage- and alcohol-fueled temperament into movies, rather than focusing on his sometimes odd personal life.

Alma Hitchcock kept her own amazing talent largely hidden, almost forgotten by fans.

She held her peace even about her husband’s crushes on his blonde stars, until “Hitch,” performed here acutely by Sir Anthony Hopkins, accuses her of infidelity. It is then that Alma Reville Hitchcock tells him off in a brilliant monologue toward the end of this cunning little movie, co-starring Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles.

The movie begins rather like one of the Master’s TV plays, before shifting into a central crisis in the director’s career and life. Hitchcock thought that perhaps his kind of material (spy and suspense genres) was becoming irrelevant, and passed the Psycho script onto the studio to which he owed one more picture.

Guess what? The studio turned the script down. They didn’t want what they called “a horror film” from the director (even though he called Psycho a “black comedy”).

Hitchcock was not to be stopped: He mortgaged the Hitchcock house, with Alma’s troubled support, and paid for the film himself, shooting it with his TV crew. The movie went on to make a large fortune–and forever changed the public perception of the director.

According to this film, Hitchcock had long been fascinated with real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who, in the director’s vision, became the killer Norman Bates. In l960’s Psycho, Hitch let out all the stops in a series of set pieces (chief among them, a murder in a shower) and beautifully written dialogue in scenes many people thought were re-written by Alma Hitchcock.

The more you know about Hitchcock, the more resonant this movie seems–a veritable insider’s feast. This movie works, anyway, hinting at Hitchcock’s own sometimes violent impulses, and, in one brilliant sequence, we see the director in the lobby of the premiere reenacting his direction of the shower-murder scene.

Don’t be misled. This new movie is lighter than dark; it’s really the tale of a marriage of two talented people–a movie more entertaining than suspenseful and as witty as they come.

For many audiences, Hitchcock will out Alma Hitchcock as a talent in her own right, no longer hiding her from an ignorant or forgetful public.

One shudders to think what might have happened to Hitchcock’s career or his personal life if he had not married Alma Reville. Thankfully, we’ll never have to know.

Happy New Year.