2012, Sacha Gervasi
Alfred Hitchcock was an incredibly fascinating man. The behind-the-scenes drama behind the making of his landmark picturePsycho has always been an interesting Hollywood story. The relationship between Hitch and his wife Alma Reville is one prime to be brought to the movies. So then why is Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock such a shockingly dull affair? Based on the novel Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock certainly had plenty of interesting material with which to build a fascinating look into the making of the film, along with one of the most prosperous relationships in the history of cinema.
Perhaps the blame could be put on writer John J. McLaughlin, whose previous work up to this point has largely been on television, a contributing part on Black Swan (whose script was easily the weakest aspect of it) or the Tommy Lee Jones cheerleader comedy Man of the House. It would make sense to lay the blame there, as Hitchcock runs with some interest for about half an hour before it starts to drag and only becomes increasingly tedious as it makes its slow decline toward the eventual resolution. I’m more inclined to lay the blame at the feet of Gervasi though, whose directorial work to this point has only been on the critically successful documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil and who has otherwise spent his career writing a group of tepid “comedies”, The Big Tease, The Terminal and Henry’s Crime.
Hitchcock seems to bring two men together who have had nothing but failures with comedy to this point and have them attempt to make a lighthearted piece of behind-the-scenes Hollywood fluff. This could have been fun, if it had been given to a filmmaker who properly knew how to handle the material. Whoever cut the trailer for the picture certainly knew what they were doing, as I had a better time with the two minutes of that than I did with the entire 100 minutes of the overall product. Here though, things continuously turn away from the momentary glimpses of something interesting and instead run through an aimless course of marital distress and vague attempts at trying to understand the mind of Hitchcock during the process of creating one of the most successful pictures of his career. The many scenes of him fantasizing conversations between himself and Ed Gein (the inspiration for the Psycho character Norman Bates, Gein being played here by Michael Wincott) are hilariously ill-advised and add nothing but curious distractions to the picture, and the relationship strife between Hitchcock and Reville is endlessly uninteresting.
Helen Mirren does what she can as Reville, bringing her usual charisma to the role and offering a few scenes where she’s genuinely compelling. Hopkins though, as the big man himself, seems like he’s just eating a handful of sour grapes throughout the picture. He seems far too intent on hitting the voice and mannerisms of the famous figure that he never gets into the heart of the man, not that McLaughlin’s script would ever really allow him to do much if he had. Perhaps the worst part of Hitchcock is the fact that the two leads have no real chemistry together, so whether they are fighting or playing nice with one another there is absolutely no spark in the picture whatsoever. The talented supporting cast is entirely wasted, with only Toni Collette (as Hitch’s assistant Peggy Robertson) making at least a minor impression, having some fun in a couple of scenes before we begrudgingly return to the core relationship.
In Hitchcock, we see small flashes of elements like the controversial relationship he had with his female stars (portrayed here by Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles), but before we are allowed any real access into that part of the story we are quickly jutted back to the more central and much duller ordeal of Hitchcock’s growing insecurity over his wife’s friendship with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). Gervasi’s direction seems to want to have a bit of fun in portraying Hitch as someone who had the murderous sensibilities of many of his characters, with moments such as him creeping up behind Reville in the kitchen, focusing on the back of her neck while he chomps on some celery, but Gervasi has no idea how to handle the tone of the picture to make this work. Hitchcock is too light to work as a drama but too stale to work as a comedy either.
1954, Alfred Hitchcock
Lesser Hitchcock is still more watchable than most things, but I have to say Dial M for Murder left a lot to be desired for me. All of the right pieces seemed to be set in place — an impressive cast headlined by Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, an intimate setting ripe for tension, a twisty script written by Frederick Knott (adapted from his own play). I suppose it just seemed like there was a lack of passion behind the camera, perhaps. I’d hate to accuse Hitchcock of such a notion, but this one really lacked the suspense that most of his pictures threaten to boil over with.
Milland plays Tony Wendice, an ex-tennis pro now living a dull life who discovers the infidelity of his wife (Kelly) and decides to off her. Her beau comes in to town, played by Robert Cummings, and while he’s out with her Wendice brings in an old schoolmate (Anthony Dawson) in order to persuade him into committing the crime. The way that Wendice sets up this perfect crime is somewhat interesting and watching the plan fall apart and him spend the rest of the picture trying to avoid his own detection while still being in the same room desperately working the angles should have been an intense little thriller, but it just…wasn’t. There’s really nothing bad here that brings the film down, just that I never found myself too engaged by the material. That’s not to say I was bored at all, because I certainly wasn’t, but I never felt there was anything at stake.
Dial M for Murder has a somewhat lighter tone than I felt it should, and I think that betrayed the material, making it hard to get myself involved with any of it. Milland is a solid sleaze, Kelly is particularly impressive as her character slowly descends over the course of the picture and John Williams, who comes in later as the police inspector, livens up the proceedings, but I can’t say that any of it ever really grabbed me. A shame, this one seemed like it could have been one of Hitchcock’s better pictures, but it just felt very mild and somewhat flat. Nothing bad at all, and again even disappointing Hitchcock is better than a lot of what other directors put out, but nothing noteworthy either.