Thirty years after her death, Alma Reville is still overshadowed by her husband.
By LOEY LOCKERBY
Special to The Star
Thats not just a crack about Alfred Hitchcocks famously round profile, either. Reville was married to Hitch for more than five decades and was his screenwriter, editor and all-around creative partner, something he acknowledged and appreciated openly. Yet, when the spotlight finally shines on her in Sacha Gervasis Hitchcock in the form of Helen Mirren, no less she cant even get her name in the title.
Shes the best thing about the movie, too.
The film portrays the ostensible main character (Anthony Hopkins, under distracting prosthetics) as an aging auteur looking for a new way to give audiences a jolt. He finds it in Psycho, a risky project that he has to finance himself, and that the usually on-the-nose Alma finds distasteful.
While he juggles on-set difficulties, she takes a side job with writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), leading to speculation about her fidelity, both personal and professional.
When Gervasi focuses on the way Hitchcock made his masterpiece, he offers an entertaining look at how Hollywood was changing in 1959, and how one director shook things up when some people thought he was past his prime.
Gervasi and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (adapting Stephen Rebellos Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho) cast the supporting roles convincingly, providing Scarlett Johansson (as Psycho star Janet Leigh) and Jessica Biel (as co-star Vera Miles) with the best material theyve had in a while.
And James DArcy (Cloud Atlas) absolutely nails Anthony Perkins shy, nervous insecurity. People in the screening audience actually gasped when he appeared, so if anyone ever makes a Perkins biopic, this is the guy to call.
Hopkins doesnt look or sound much like Hitch, so you never forget whom youre really watching, but he does convey his subjects perverse, borderline sadistic sense of humor. He hints at other perversions, too, as references are made to a voyeuristic obsession with blond actresses.
Unlike the recent HBO movie The Girl, which makes Hitchcock a more sinister character, this film treats his behavior as a harmless middle-aged indulgence. It makes him more likable but a lot less interesting.
The decision to have him hold imaginary conversations with Ed Gein, the real serial killer who inspired Psycho, is similarly misguided, playing more like a sick variation on Harvey than anything else.
Alma pushes through all this to emerge as the strongest figure in the story, by far. Shes intelligent, patient and talented, and although the domestic drama is poorly written, Mirrens performance brings depth to the soapiest moments.
Hitchcock may be a muddled and shallow portrait of its actual title character, but it shines a much-deserved spotlight on the great woman behind this particular great man.
(At the Glenwood Arts, Palace and Studio 30.)
MAKING A KILLING
While Hitchcock goes behind the scenes of Psycho, we open the curtain on that 1960 films most infamous segment: the shower.
• Filming took seven days a third of the total time Janet Leigh was on set.
• A prop man provided the murder sounds by knifing casaba melons.
• Speaking of ruthless slicing, in an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Alfred Hitchcock said, Everything was so rapid that there were 78 separate pieces of film in 45 seconds.
• The blood swirling down the drain is actually chocolate syrup.
• Hitchcock envisioned no music for the scene, but Bernard Hermann went ahead and wrote his iconic Screaming Violins score for it. Hitchcock then doubled the composers salary.
• After watching herself in the scene, Leigh reportedly gave up showers for the rest of her life and took only baths.
Alfred Hitchcock often said publically how indebted he was to his wife, Alma Reville. For example, when accepting an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award, he said:
Had the beautiful Miss Reville not accepted a lifetime contract, without options, as Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock some 53 years ago, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock might be in this room tonight not at this table, but as one of the slower waiters on the floor.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
• David Germain, The Associated Press: Its spirit of whimsy (is) a wink that the filmmakers know theyre riffing on Hitchcocks merrily macabre persona and not examining the man with any great depth or insight.
• Ann Hornaday, the Washington Post: Theres something tonally off about the master of anxiety, neurosis and disquiet being depicted in a story this cozy.
• Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: Its protagonists turn out to be not especially interesting and the audience is not presented any convincing reason to care about what happens in their lives.
| Sharon Hoffmann, firstname.lastname@example.org