On The Edge Films

Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds

Film of the Month: Hitchcock

2012/ USA

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D’ Arcy


It seems that this biopic has been waiting to be made for a long time now and it’s coincidental that it came out within months of the BBC take on Hitchcock ‘The Girl’… which in reflection seems a more accurate portrayal of the most celebrated director in cinema history.

Sacha Gervasi’s take on Hitchcock focuses on a specific period in the director’s life and career. After the success of ‘North by Northwest‘ Hitchcock (Hopkins) finds himself at a loss as to finding his next directorial project. Supported by his ever suffering wife Alma (Mirren) Hitch finds solace in a new novel entitled ‘Psycho’ the dark and gory tale of Ed Gein a serial killer who used to dress in his Mother’s clothes. Hitch instantly falls in love with the story and plans to make it into his next feature. However he meets much resistance from cinema company Paramount and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and so has to finance the film himself. He recruits various B- list stars in order to cut costs including Janet Leigh (Johansson) and Anthony Perkins (D’ Arcy) and manages to get the film up and going. As time goes by though the famed director faces conflict in all areas of his life; the suspicion that his wife may be having an affair with an imitator of his Whit Cook (Huston), the harsh financial and artistic regulations he must work under and the tricky situation of how to deal with ‘that shower scene’ culminate in a whirlwind of problems that could ruin the fate of ‘Psycho’ the movie and his career entirely.

Sacha Gervasi is a relatively new name in cinema having only directed the cult smash ‘Anvil: The Story of Anvil’ and so it seems odd that he’d come back second time round with something of this calibre. On a first glance the  premise for this film seems vaguely intriguing what with an excellent couple of casting choices in Hopkins and Mirren who attempt to apply their success to this floundering confusion of a movie. Unfortunately you’ll leave the cinema still wondering what Hitchcock was really like and thinking that what you’ve just seen is what it really is, a piece of fiction based on the novel ‘Alfred Hitchcock & The Making of Psycho’ by Stephen Rebello. It’s a shame as this film is really not what the famous director deserved.

Anthony Hopkins does a very good Hitchcock impression aided by a prosthetic chin and body suit yet his performance doesn’t go any further than that. It’s not a seamless portrayal of the well documented figure and at no point do we see the man on screen in the same light as the real Hitchcock. Obviously this is a film and not a real depiction but Hopkins seems to be straining to talk like Hitchcock and in all honesty this is one of his most clunky performances in recent years. Ironically this film deals with Hitchcock’s most famed film and Hopkins is acting in an attempt to better his best ever performance in ‘Silence of the Lambs’ sadly though he comes nowhere close to competing with himself this time.

Helen Mirren puts in a very Helen Mirren performance as Alma Reville Hitchcock’s wife who supported Hitch throughout his entire career. Much work is done by Gervasi to make out that Alma was the real creative force in the marriage and that it was her and not Alfred that made his pictures a success. Maybe that’s true… maybe we’ll never really know.

For a film about the ‘Master of Suspense’ this film really does have no suspense. There is an attempt to create it however, we are kept wondering whether Alma will succumb to the charms of Whitfield Cook and we are meant to cringe as Hitchcock hallucinates conversations with the killer Ed Gein. It’s meant to suggest that there are darker forces at play. The question that Hitchcock is channeling his murderous rage into his art instead of his life is taken up and then dropped. Toby Jones played Hitchcock a lot better in ‘The Girl’ where Hopkins is more like a comical blundering buffoon. He lacks a certain arrogance and raw aggression that we expect in the character.

Sadly as well it goes “all Hollywood’ and turns into something akin to ‘Made in Manhattan’ in the last twenty minutes as Hitchcock finally realises that he loves his wife after thirty years of marriage. The success of ‘Psycho’ is meant to represent a shift in his life and career. He has finally patched up his marriage and now has independent control of his directorial career.  Gervasi again trying to distance Hitchcock from the events surrounding the film ‘The Birds’ and how Hitchcock ruined the career of actress Tippi Hendren due to his obsession with her.

There are also bold claims made that Joseph Stefano (Psycho’s screen writer) and actor Anthony Perkins who played Norman Bates were chosen for their roles due to them harbouring similarities with serial killer Ed Gein something I’m sure served better as fiction in place of actuality.

All in all Gervasi puts together a rather muddled film all told. He sets up events from Rebello’s book and then has to drop them due to the fact that his characters are from the real world. Hitchcock in reality wasn’t a dark and twisted potential serial killer. Alma Reville would not have been able to live with the utter rejection and ignorance with which the fictional Hitchcock treats her. It’s nice to try and show that behind every great man is a woman and this may well have been the truth and it’s nice that this was considered.

The final remark I’ll make here is regarding the famous shower scene in which (if you’ve not seen it) the films heroine Marion Crane (Janet Leigh here played by Scarlett Johansson) is stabbed to death in a shower by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). The sequence is possibly the most famous in cinema history for being dark and disturbing and also for not showing any violence or nudity. Yet, in this film it’s made out that the scene used the power suggestion due to Hitchcock being unable to show nudity or gore where in fact this was an intentional technique. It’s awful that this pivotal cinematic scene is reduced to a sordid little joke in order to enhance the idea that Hitchcock was the real psycho and that it was this and not his knowledge of how to create suspense that made ‘Psycho’ the monumental success it was.

3/5 (and that’s being generous)

-Josh Senior


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