Fifty-two years later, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho can still be found on any top-ten all-time scariest movie list. It was an ice-breaking, culture-changing phenomenon. The younger generations might pooh-pooh it as old-timey, but just let them attempt to watch it without developing at least a 24-hour case of shower-curtain phobia.
Hitchcock tells the story of the making of the notorious Psycho. But what most of us will not have known before seeing this rather mild-mannered but informative biopic is that without the help of his long-suffering wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) wouldn’t have even come close to being Hitchcock.
The movie begins at a time when Hitchcock longed for a return to the creative passion of his youth. He reads the story of the grisly Wisconsin-born murderer and body snatcher Ed Gein, and the concept of Psycho immediately begins to take shape as an all-or-none, do-or-die project.
Tales of Gein’s sinister graveyard antics now pervade the American subconscious; he also inspired two other famous horror-movie characters. Hitchcock became obsessed with Ed Gein.
Wife Alma, however, feels unappreciated after all the years of supporting her husband only to have him pay no credit where credit was due, not to mention his fawning over yet another in a long line of beautiful “Hitchcock” blondes. She begins helping a friend write a new script.
Hitchcock thereupon develops an unwarranted Othello-like jealousy, at one point insulting Alma’s script as “stillborn,” and throwing a tantrum about her not being there for him.
She rightfully (and scathingly) cites the résumé of her unsung history of faithfully serving his needs. And so, in addition to falling in love with his new project, Hitchcock falls in love with his wife all over again. He admits his new film, Psycho, is likewise stillborn. Will Alma save the day, yet again?
Attempting to paint a personal portrait of Hitchcock the man, this Ivan Reitman-produced film takes a light-hearted, mildly comedic approach. Scored with Hollywood musical movie musings of the era, it often registers as tensionless, bland, and pedestrian.
The portrayal of Hitchcock is the obvious centerpiece. Hopkins’s temperament is essentially fiery, whereas Hitchcock’s was watery. And yet, while the film’s portrait of the man is not quite lugubrious or phlegmatic enough, we eventually learn to live with it.
Other savvy performances include James D’Arcy’s portrayal of the twitchy Psycho star Anthony Perkins, as well as Scarlett Johansson as the warm-hearted, highly professional lead actress in Psycho, Janet Leigh.
We come to see Alfred Hitchcock as a classic, self-involved (if exceedingly witty) movie mogul. We also see him as a veritable symphony conductor of screams, as well as a master manipulator of the censors who fought hard to keep the more horrific aspects of his movies from unduly darkening the psychic dye vat of the American movie-going public.
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