Last year, we had My Week With Marilyn, about a legendary master of the cinema trying to revive his career by working alongside a nubile young blonde. It was not very good. Much the same can be said about this new film, in which Alfred Hitchcock decides to make a slasher movie called Psycho, starring Janet Leigh. Neither film was worth the time and effort spent on making them.
I can see how the idea of recreating seminal moments in cinema history is appealing, but it almost never works, and this particular film has very little going for it. The music is dull, the script is clunky, the direction is static, and the cast, though impressive in theory, fails to catch fire in practice.
Let’s start at the top. Alfred Hitchcock (aged 60) is played Anthony Hopkins, aged 75. He is dressed up in a fat suit, with prosthetic nose and jowls, but he still doesn’t really resemble the great man; stranger still, he hasn’t managed to capture the distinctive voice with which Hitchcock introduced his trailers and his TV shows. Alongside him is Helen Mirren as his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville, whom he treated fairly badly most of the time, mainly because of his habit of lusting after the series of nubile blondes he hired to star in his films – in this case Janet Leigh, played by Scarlett Johansson. Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, who had already been once around the block with Hitchcock in The Wrong Man and was therefore wary of his controlling and obsessive personality. James D’Arcy is a convincing-looking Anthony Perkins, and Toni Collette is unrecognisable as his secretary Peggy.
But as usual, it is the script that is at fault. The problem is, there really isn’t a story here. The plot goes like this. After the success of North By Northwest Hitch decides on a change of tack, and chooses a book based on the crimes of Ed Gein. Paramount Studios don’t like the idea, so he finances it himself. While the film is being made, Hitchcock and Reville have a minor domestic disagreement, and she dallies platonically with handsome Danny Huston, who flatters her, unlike her corpulent and charmless husband. And that’s about it, apart from a few ill-advised scenes in which Hitchcock has cosy chats with Ed Gein (well, an imaginary Ed Gein, anyway).
You can tell a film is in trouble when you’re thinking about how much or little an actor looks like the actor they are playing. Because the simple truth is that this is dull, dull, dull. It’s sentimental, and tasteful and predictable and of no interest to anyone very much. We are shown that Hitchcock is a bully, a lecher and a boor, but we are also supposed to admire him by the end. His wife puts up with his unpleasant character, but everything is hunky dory before the credits roll. Another problem from my point of view is that I dislike Psycho as a film, anyway, and have no great interest in seeing it being made. It marks the beginning of a fairly swift descent of a great director’s career into a series of cheesy and nasty films, none of which was worthy of his name. If you want to enjoy Hitchcock, watch one of his films, but not one about him. His essence cannot be bottled.