About the making of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Anthony Hopkins plays Hitchcock getting through the Eisenhower era obstacles of censorious prudery, timidity, shame and conservatism. Helen Mirren plays his wife Alma Reville and it concerns her input into his directorial art when she fell out with the scriptwriter. It shows us the original 1940’s case on which Psycho was based. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins. Hitchcock must fund the film himself and Paramount will distribute it.
This has been attacked for being inaccurate about Hitchcock but I wonder if this matters. Hitchcock would surely have appreciated a film as a work of art about his film making. Hollywood does love to reference itself endlessly. Anthony Hopkins may not much look like Hitchcock but he sounds and acts like him. We are now used to muck-raking about this director, about his sexual predatoriness towards his blonde stars. The film The Girl is based on Tippi Hedren and the making of The Birds, she has accused Hitchcock of making sexual advances to her and The Girl shows how this weaves into the making of that film. In The Girl Hitchcock is played by Toby Jones as a sad stalker. Hitchcock passes over these accusations and so resists hindsight meretriciousness (this is before The Birds) so he gets the benefit of the doubt as an impressively artistic monster rather than a sadly sexual one.
Psycho has set the template for schlok horror for the past 50 years, of course in 1960 it was schockingly new: a bathroom knife attack, cross dressing, and the attention to psychotic detail. Up to 1960 the American home was advertized as a sanctum of moral rectitude but in Psycho there is a stuffed corpse and (gasp) a toilet! This gives the film a greater cultural significance than its intrinsic merits warrant.
Helen Mirren gives a strong performance as Mrs Hitchcock. It’s hard to believe she was overshadowed by her husband. She is an amazing mixture of technical expertise and saintly self effacement. She is terse and laconic about the prima donna antics of the film business, it’s no surprise she suggests killing off Janet Leigh early in the movie. She herself has a brief affair with a hack writer Whitfield Cook played by Danny Huston and this is in itself like a Hitchcock story. In films Hitchcock emphasized the gaze of the camera, and of people on each other, so it’s rather apt that the cold eye of the camera swivels about in Hitchcock’s house which seems bereft of sex in its hilariously sanitized Doris Day bedroom. The interiors are as formal and chilling as those we see in Hitchcock’s 50s films. These affluent acres of film land are a perfect background for some Daphne du Maurier or Patricia Highsmith character sinisterly swanning around. I’m reminded of those eery sets for Kim Novak in Vertigo. Scarlett Johansson is only required to impersonate Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy plays Anthony Perkins offering hints of being gay. Neither reverential nor scabrous, Hitchcock offers a perceptive view of the launching of pulp horror. Interestingly, neither The Girl nor Hitchcock gives us any insight into Hitchcock’s penchant for cod psychology.