By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The quips come quick and smart in “Hitchcock,” a delicious “re-imagining” of Alfred Hitchcock and the making of “Psycho,” his celebrated 1960 horror film.
Of all the Must-See Movies avalanche between now and Christmas, so far “Hitchcock” is the most fun. Not the best or most thought-provoking or insightful. Just a lot of Old Hollywood fun.
Coming off the immense success of “North By Northwest,” Hitch (played with stiff, portly commitment by Anthony Hopkins) is unhappy to find the movie critics feel he should “quit while he’s ahead” at the ripe old age of 60. However, the director isn’t ready to say “Good Night;” he’s still quite comfortable saying “Good Evening” — the signature opening of his popular TV series, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
Time, he decides, to shake everybody up, including himself. “A nice, clean nasty little piece of work” is what he’s after. And he finds it in Robert Bloch’s “Psycho,” a slightly fictionalized version of the nasty little piece of work that was Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), a serial killer with an unhealthy relationship to his Mom.
Hitchcock’s wife and collaborator Alma (Helen Mirren) protests that “Psycho” is nothing but cheap shots, beneath the Master of Suspense. But what, Hitchcock wonders, if someone made a really good horror movie?
And so he does — starring beautiful Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansen) and nervous Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy, picture perfect). And, well, Mom.
I’m not sure how the Blog Boys are going to take “Hitchcock.” It’s too much about Hitch the human and not enough about Hitch the filmmaker and fetishist. They are not going to want to hear about the little woman (Alma) behind the man (behind every great shadow is another shadow?). They’ll want more about his fixation on his blonde leading ladies, how he framed certain shots and what made him tick (or tock).
I had a grand time at “Hitchcock,” even as I realized the somewhat feminist subtext would go over poorly (at best) with most of the filmmaker’s acolytes.
But I reveled in the re-creation of Hollywood, circa 1960, with the studio bosses and the Motion Picture Code Nazis and Bernard Hermann having to sell Hitch on his iconic zee-zee-zee score and the Hollywood premiers and the Hollywood hokum (absolutely NO ONE admitted after the movie starts; Hitchcock also bought up every copy of Bloch’s book so no one would know the ending).
Filmmaker Sacha Gervasi, who did the unexpectedly fine documentary, “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (as in the heavy metal band), takes a spritely approach to the material, mixing in the iconography of his well-known TV show, the tensions in his marriage, and occasional conversations with Gein
And there are missteps. The movie is entirely too eager to play around with the director’s repressed sexuality (“Hitchcock — with the emphasis on ‘cock’,” he says). And a bothersome subplot about Alma’s flirtation with a writer (Danny Huston), who may be using her to get to her husband, seems superfluous — a way to assert that Alma, i.e., Mirren, may be over 60, but she’s still hot (which is true of Mirren, but still…)
“Hitchcock” honors Sir Alfred in an unexpected — and unexpectedly loving — manner. Hitchcock himself would probably enjoy the way he’s portrayed — not as a grubby little sex fiend, as in HBO’s “The Girl,” but as complex artist and conflicted man whose Byzantine way of getting what he wanted remains unique, even today.