Alfred Hitchock was one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century, but he also had a dark side. A deeper reading of his films reveals some of Hitch’s hidden obsessions, including: murder, sex, and love. Throughout his career, Hitchcock was aided by the unseen hand of his wife, Alma Reville, who often served as the director’s sounding board and sometime editor.
The film is based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” but the picture is less about the making of the movie than the curious love between Alma and Alfred. As “Hitchcock” opens, the master of suspense (Anthony Hopkins) is riding high on the success (?) of “North By Northwest,” but is inexplicably depressed, feeling his glory days are behind him and that “NxNW” is nothing more than a slick retread of previous material. Alma tries to convince Hitch to look at the galley of a handsome author, Whitfield Cook, but Hitch seizes on “Psycho” as his next project, fighting the studio and the censors all the way to get the shocking picture made.
Meanwhile, Hitchcock’s wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), is becoming more and more interested in Whitfield Cook, and though it’s clear she’s attracted to him, she’s ultimately more interested in working with him on a project she could make her own than an affair. however, Hitchcock has his suspicions, and carries out his frustration on leading ladies Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) and to a lesser extent, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson).
The recreation of the famous “shower” scene is nearly as shocking as the original in its own way, but the film fails to generate much in the way of suspense. Perhaps because fans already know how the story ends, or maybe because Hitch’s desperation after the success of “North By Northwest” isn’t set up well enough, I was left feeling that the book in this case may harbor more insight into the complicated relationship between Alfred and Alma than a movie can.
The climax of “Hitchcock” comes with the premiere of “Psycho” to a delighted and terrified audience. In the scene, Anthony Hopkins waltzes to an imaginary score in his head, conducting the audience’s reaction as if they were an orchestra (Hitchcock often referred to the way he could play an audience like an organ). Danny Elfman provides the music for the film, a score that has the unenviable task of having to allude to Bernard Herrmann’s classic music for Hitchcock films without actually copying it. Elfman’s score seems inspired at times by the quieter cues in “Psycho” and “Vertigo.” He’s excellent at creating a magical (“Paramount, The Gate”), mysterious sound, as in the “Theme from ‘Hitchcock’.”
Other cues on the soundtrack are filled with sadness, as Hitchcock must have been himself. Titles like “Mommie Dearest” and “In Bed” are are cold, completely devoid of any warmth. The brief “Peeping” cue references “Psycho” again, this time with plucked strings, and is used in the film when we see Hitch catching a glimpse of Vera Miles in her brassiere, echoing the moment with Anthony Perkins spies on Janet Leigh from his parlor peephole in “Psycho.”
With 27 tracks on the soundtrack, none of the themes of “Hitchcock” are developed very long. Like the film itself, Elfman skims the surface of what could be an even deeper experience.