Hitchcock: Hopkins Misses The Mark As Mirren Saves The Day

The 'Master of Suspense' is in vogue again 32 years after his death but is there really any joy to be had attempting to channel him?
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The 'Master of Suspense' is in vogue again 32 years after his death but is there really any joy to be had attempting to channel him?

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Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock (the film)  is an improvement over Toby Jones portrayal of Hitch in the TV movie "The Girl", both playing "the Master of Suspense" - the 60 year old "most famous director in the history of the medium" as the trailer brags. This Hitchock movie puts its emphasis on Psycho, the film that emerged after Hitch picked up the rights to Robert Bloch's classic and what we get is, essentially,  a big budget look at author Stephen Rebello's work -Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho - with mixed results.

Hopkins fares better here than Leonardo DiCaprio taking on J. Edgar Hoover, the subject matter of each film having rather large larger than life figures.  But one needs to suspend belief in both instances, and that's where other elements take center stage - Helen Mirren as Alma Reville Hitchcock, as well as the selling, promoting and story of the legendary black and white film, Psycho.

Wikipedia reports that Rebello "wrote additional drafts that shifted the story's focus to the complex personal and professional relationship of Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, during the filming of Psycho."  Interesting that the author got to participate in the major motion picture, and if this was of anyone but Hitchcock, some of the lethal criticisms would never even be entertained.   It's not as bad as some critics might think at first glance (Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe comes to mind as someone in that category), and as stated in part 1 of this series, it's nice to have the Hitchcock brand getting some recognition 32 years after his April 29, 1980 passing.

The dark comedy that emerges does give the viewer insight into the predicament that even a master craftsman has to deal with - selling his project to the money people at the film studio that has him under contract.  It's a nice splash in the face of reality for aspiring directors, songwriters, authors as they see the dilemma since the dawn of time.  What is also revealed is that Hitchock was as much a promoter as a director - he instinctively knew how to have a creative promotion to bring the audiences in.  It's no surprise that money people have an intentional lack of vision.  If they say "no" they don't lose any money, they also don't get to participate in important art.   Bobby Hebb told me that 45 publishers had rejected his masterpiece "Sunny", Jack London scholar Sara S. Hodson notes to the National Endowment for the Arts that London "started writing in his teens. He would send his stories to magazines and publishers, and every one would come back, rejected. He would impale every letter on a tall spindle that he had in his writing room next to his rented typewriter, and soon he had a four-foot-tall spindle of rejection letters."  To sell a project you really believe in, more often than not, one must go the extra mile.  Even Paramount, which initially rejected Psycho, had a "first look deal" at this kinda-sorta bio pic; Wikipedia noting " ...after four years of development at Paramount, production moved to Fox Searchlight Pictures."

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Helen Mirren brings real class to the role of Alma Reville Alma Hitchcock, Alfred's wife immortalized in their daughter Pat Hitchcock's : The Woman Behind The Man (written with co-author Laurent Bouzereau), and perhaps that is where Hitchcock mania should look for yet another peek into this complex personality's life and legend.   1998's Gods and Monsters - from Christopher Bram's book Father of Frankenstein, had less restrictions.   Ian McKellen's glowing performance as director James Whale had the luxury of Whale being a cult hero to monster movie fans more than the ubiquitous Hitchock.  And Whale's alleged fixation on Clayton Boone (played by a youthful Brendan Fraser) gives the other side of these passion plays - the married Hitchcock allegedly pawing at pretty blondes, the alleged senior citizen homosexual Whale enamoured by his former marine gardner.   To that extent, Gods and Monsters is more successful in studying the dark side of genius.  Whale was a huge forgotten figure, Hitchcock a name synonymous with changing the art of filmmaking substantially, and in a positive way.

For National Enquirer-styled plots to besmirch the legend, well, they'd be more tasteful if not made in as clumsy a fashion as The Girl.  Indeed, The Girl should have studied Gods and Monsters a bit more to see the description of temptation and indulgence.

Fox Searchclight is having fun with the promotion of this picture, an aspect that Hitch himself might have approved of, even if Hopkins slightly misses the mark, leaving Mirren and the specter of Psycho to save the film from itself