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Oct 29 2013

Film review: Hitchcock (2012)

I have seen almost all the Alfred Hitchcock films. I enjoyed most of them because he showed how you could build up suspense without gratuitous violence and gore, and he avoided horror merely for the sake of it. In particular, I liked the fact that he never resorted to the supernatural. All the weird things in his films always turned out to have rational explanations at the end.

So I looked forward to seeing the film Hitchcock (2012). It is not a biography of the film maker but instead deals almost entirely with the making of the film for which he is best known, and that is Psycho in 1960.

The film deals with how Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) made the film despite the lack of enthusiasm and support of the studios for this project, and of his relationship with his wife Alma (played by Helen Mirren). Hopkins and Mirren are excellent, as usual, with Hopkins in heavy makeup to look like the portly Hitchcock, but the best thing about his performance is that he gets the distinctive voice and cadence just right.

But while the film is enjoyable, it is not a great one. There are many factual inaccuracies and perhaps in a misguided attempt to create tension, they created a side story between Mirren and another screenwriter that seems like a distraction it could have done without. I frankly would have liked to see more time devoted directly to the making of Psycho.

If the filmmakers wanted a side story, they could have focused on the fact that while Hitchcock was apparently a very funny man, he also had fixations on some of his female leading leads and could be obsessive and cruel to them, which was the basis for a different, and darker, film about him called The Girl (2012).

Incidentally Scarlett Johannson acts as Janet Leigh. I have been baffled by the acclaim that Johansson has had as an actress. I have seen quite a few films on which she has appeared and she seems to always play the same role: Woman with a Pretty Face and Few Emotions. Like Audrey Hepburn but with an even more limited range. (I say this even though I had a major crush on Audrey Hepburn from my boyhood.) At least in this film she gets the chance to show terror in the famous shower scene, which is a step forward. Johansson should really seek out scripts that require her to stretch herself so that she can develop and reveal her acting chops.

Here’s the trailer.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    As I recall, when it first came out, Psycho was an extremely controversial film that engendered heavy criticism, especially for the apparent explicitness of the shower murder scene. Remember that it was 1960 when the Hays Commission was still in force. By today’s standards, it was pretty mild stuff.

  2. 2
    Rob Grigjanis

    I saw the film as a kid, and the ‘explicitness’ was pretty lame even then, compared to your average Hammer horror film. The horror, as with all good examples of the genre, was in the unexpected. Alien was a worthy descendant.

    As for today’s standards, they seem to be overseen by a panel of sociopaths. /Old fart

  3. 3
    Rob Grigjanis

    The horror, as with all good examples of the genre, was in the unexpected.

    Oh, and probably more importantly, the way scenes were filmed. Duh.

  4. 4
    Rob Grigjanis

    My favourite Hitchcock films are The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. IMO, they stand up much better than the Hollywood films, good as some of those are.

  5. 5
    mnb0

    “rational explanations at the end”
    Could you provide the rational explanation of The Birds? That one is a horror movie btw – one of the best ones ever. Not that there are many good ones; I always have found it typical that the best horror movies were made by directors who didn’t specialize (The Shining, An American Werewolf in London).
    My favourite Hitchcock movie is Vertigo because of its disturbing psychology.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    It’s been a long time since I saw The 39 Steps. Time to refresh my memory!

  7. 7
    Mano Singham

    The film did not explain why the birds acted that way but nothing supernatural was implied. The ending was just left up in the air. Birds can and do act collectively and it is not impossible that they may decide to act collectively against human beings.

  8. 8
    wtfwhateverd00d

    You don’t like Scarlett Johansson?

    I hadn’t realized until now you were an anti-semite.

  9. 9
    colnago80

    One can get into vigorous arguments as to the relative merits of Vertigo and Rear Window. I personally prefer the latter because Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter were better actors then Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes and consequently got a better performance out of Jimmy Stewart in the latter film then in the former film.

  10. 10
    colnago80

    I would add that the UCLA film school has reworked Vertigo, Rear Window, and The Birds and that all are available in wide screen HD (as is Psycho by the way).

  11. 11
    colnago80

    The Hammer films are basically B pictures and were filmed in England. Psycho was an A picture filmed in the US. I recall well the brouhaha that broke out over Psycho when it was released and many theaters declined to show it. Things were a lot different in 1960 in the US. The Hays Commission forced a number of movies shot in Britain and France to be censored before it would approve showing them in the US.

    There was a similar brouhaha some years earlier over the movie, The Moon is Blue, which was an Otto Preminger directed film, mostly over some explicit language.

    It is really difficult for us in today’s world to appreciate the childishness of the USA in the 1940s and 1950s relative to any hint of explicitness in motion pictures filmed in that era. Even as late as 1972, there was an immense brouhaha over the movie The Last Tango in Paris because of explicit nudity and sex scenes. That movie would produce a big yawn today and would probably be rated NC-17.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    There’s a HD version of the 39 steps available, courtesy of the UCLA film school. The picture quality is considerably better then the DVD version.

  13. 13
    colnago80

    If you haven’t realized it by now, you haven’t been paying attention.

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