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HITCHCOCK (director: Sacha Gervasi; screenwriters: John J. McLaughlin/from the nonfiction book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello; cinematographer: Jeff Cronenweth; editor: Pamela Martin; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Anthony Hopkins (Alfred Hitchcock), Helen Mirren (Alma Reville), Scarlett Johansson (Janet Leigh), Toni Collette (Peggy Robertson), Danny Huston (Whitfield Cook), Jessica Biel (Vera Miles), Michael Stuhlbarg (Lew Wasserman), James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins), Michael Wincott (Ed Gein), Kurtwood Smith (Geoffrey Shurlock, chief censor), Richard Portnow (Barney Balaban), Ralph Macchio (Joseph Stefano); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Ivan Reitman/Tom PollockJoe Medjuck/ Tom Thayer/Alan Barnette; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2012)

An alluring docudrama, with a sharp droll wit.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) helms an alluring docudrama, with a sharp droll wit. It’s a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of “Psycho (1960),” in a bygone Hollywood era of the studio system. It explores the complex relationship between the legendary popular British director Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) and his devoted wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), besides being a caricature of Hitch.It shows the talented couple in their personal life, each reacting jealously in a petty way to others in their life, and how they professionally collaborated on all his films even though she rarely received credit. It’s superbly adapted to the screen byJohn J. McLaughlin’s energetic screenplay. Though Hitchcock died in 1980, he still might be the most well-known Hollywood director. What might be learned here that’s not well known, is that Hitch’s talented wife Alma was someone whose opinion the autocratic and manipulative director relied on as a sounding board, as a co-writer and casting adviser; and that besides being an important part in his film career, she was a stabilizing force in his personal life.

Psychopath mutilator serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the Wisconsin monster, a mother obsessive who dug his dead mum up so she can sit in her room and converse with him, was the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s true crime novel Psycho. A blood-curdling book that got Hitch’s attention because its content was so bloody nightmarish. With Hitch searching for another project, after his success with North by Northwest (1959) and his long-running Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, to make a last film to conclude his contract with Paramount and their crass studio head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow), he decides to make his first horror pic and chooses Bloch’s novel. He does it despite the no support for the project of the bottom-lined concerned only studio and that both his crafty agent Lew Wasserman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and clever wife thought it’s a cheap and sensational shocker beneath his dignity. The creative and daring venture, challenged for its nudity by the Production Code censors, further frightens off Paramount but leaves the stubborn Hitch undaunted. To get it made, he has to mortgage his Bel-Air luxury home to foot the entire $800,000 budget himself, in return he gets final cut, forty percent of the gross and Paramount has to distribute it. When Alma fully goes along with the project, the film successfully moves along.

Psycho’s best scene is at the 30-minute mark with star Janet Leigh getting gruesomely killed off in the shower. This film’s best scenes are when Hitch flashes upon us his creative urges and all the give and take conversations in private between the articulate jealous husband and articulate jealous wife. To exercise her own creativity, Alma collaborates with Hitch’s former screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who is working on a book. This relationship torments Hitch, who imagines they are having an affair. He’s also stressed-out trying to film Psycho creatively and to bring it in on time and on budget. During this time Hitch has imaginary conversations with Ed Gein, who is giving him ideas on how to put a fright on his audience.

The film’s weakest parts were covering the Psycho cast and crew, and learning how they perceived working with the Master of Suspense. The Anthony Perkins role, as motel owner psycho killer Norman Bates, in this movie played by James D’Arcy, hardly registers, even though Perkin’s bizarre performance helped make the film work so beautifully. Scarlett Johansson, as the beautiful star playing Janet Leigh, tells her beautiful co-star Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel, who rebuffed Hitch’s moves in another pic to make her a star, “that compared to Orson Welles, Hitch is a sweetheart.” It’s easy to overlook Toni Collette’s role as Peggy Robertson, his efficient and loyal office assistant, and that would be a shame. It’s an insider film that only goes so far with filling us in on any dirt there might have been (most things are already known by film fans) and might be perceived better if believed more as fantasy film than biography, but scores points mainly because it gets very good convincing performances from Hopkins and Mirren, covers a larger-than-life character with freshness and it’s encouraging to see that Psycho was a risky and creative film to make that became a tremendous success despite attempts by no nothings to suppress it.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”