The story of the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one that has been debated and retold in various forms time and time again, but one account seems to have become the definitive – Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho – and it is on this that Hitchcock is based.
I first encountered Rebello’s book while studying Psycho as part of my media studies course so when I heard it was the basis of a dramatic movie about the time in ‘the master of suspense’s’ life I thought it was an odd choice, but, it turns out there really is a great story to tell in there.
Taking us through both the personal and professional trials and tribulations of Hitch’s life, circa 1959 and ‘60, we see the relationship between the director and his wife as well as the relationship between him and his film (and its source material) and him and his leading ladies (both past and present).
We also get to find out more than I expected about Alma Reville, Hitch’s wife, almost so much that the film could have been called “The Hitchcocks”.
Along with the personal side we also get a glimpse into the making of the movie including many of the well-known little moments such as the filming of the shower scene and Mrs Bates’ surprise appearance in Janet Leigh’s dressing room.
All that comes within Hitchcock’s 98 minute run time which leads me to what I think is the main issue with the film – it tries to pack too much in to really make anyone of them deep enough to totally engage.
What this left me feeling was that this is a film with a great story but really in search of a script that has a purpose. A striking aspect of Hitchcock is how it attempts to paint a duality within the director’s character, but even this feels underdeveloped, particularly when its inviting comparison to the similar motif in Psycho.
As well as being somewhat thematically imbalanced the script also features some occasionally very off dialogue, as it seems to try to fit in some of the famous quotes that were supposedly uttered on and around the set, but often to the expense of sense and at other times it seems the characters are simply talking in cliché.
Ok, so far, this hasn’t sounded like a good review, but, actually I did come out of the cinema with a smile on my face and I had enjoyed it and this was largely down to the performances and a few clever elements of the direction (specifically the visual links drawn between Hitch’s well known TV personality and the Ed Gein source of Psycho).
Anthony Hopkins makes an interesting caricature version of Alfred Hitchcock that seems to channel his take on Hannibal Lector through a less psychopathic filter and add in a bit more of the humour of Hitch which Hopkins nails, particularly as we watch him at the Psycho premiere.
Helen Mirren also puts in a great performance as Alma, despite some ropey dialogue, and translates 90% of her characters arc with her actions and emotions, rather than the dialogue, which really serves to show her skill as an actor – not that it was ever in doubt – but it’s really highlighted here.
The other characters are generally fairly lightly painted but James D’Arcy’s Anthony Perkins is an excellent imitation and similarly Scarlett Johansen seems to channel Janet Leigh, as much as we get to know of them here anyway.
In the end Hitchcock succeeds despite itself, thanks largely to its cast and, while I found it interesting, I did wonder if it would have been as interesting to someone with less of an interest in film, and specifically Psycho, and as a whole, it didn’t really seem to know what it was trying to say about either the man or the film he was making.