Sacha Gervasi’s attempt at a biopic of the life of the Leytonstone’s best-known son Hitchcock (2012) can be seen from two perspectives. Firstly a movie about movie making in Hollywood in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s at a transitional time in the studio’s history and to a certain extent this succeeds. Secondly, as a study of a perverted weirdo, which the film hints at, but generally glosses over. The plot is partly based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The movie covers the making of this 1960’s film from when Hitchcock acquired the rights to Robert Bloch’s gothic horror novel about the true-life killer and grave robber Ed Gein, up until the films release and non-critical success. It exposes that while Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) Stage Fright (1950) and Strangers on the Train (1951).is lusting after his latest blonde actress, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) is engaged in a flirtatious relationship with a younger man, the writer Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) who had worked on two of Hitchcock’s previous scripts
Hitchcock gambled his reputation and re mortgaged his home to make Psycho and he no doubt made stars of some of his leading actresses but at what cost to their integrity? Gervasi’s film only hints at his perversity where we see Hitchcock spying on Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) via a peephole cut through the wall into her dressing room, dictating what clothes each actress should wear and the hair styles they should have not just on the set but at any time while under contract and God forbid if they get pregnant.
I do agree with film critic Peter Bradshaw that this Hollywood movie was completely upstaged by the BBC/HBO TV play The Girl (2012) shown just before last Christmas. This was based on a 1983 book written by Donald Spoto about Tippi Hedren’s revelations that she was sexually harassed and abused when she worked under Hitchcock’s direction on two films, The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). The play also provides superior performances from its lead actors namely Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Imelda Staunton as Alma, better suited to the role than Helen Mirren. Sienna Miller gives a very satisfying performance as Hedren.
The Girl’s most dramatics scene has Tippi Hedren cowing on an attic set while live birds are thrown at her ‘shitting and pecking’. The scene, which only lasts two minutes in the finished movie, was supposed to be filmed in one day with mechanical birds. Instead it took five days with live birds until one of them pecked Hedren’s left eye leaving a deep cut on the lower lid and she broke down and had to be taken home under sedation to receive medical care. Another example of the sadistic and cruel treatment of women from a man who said ‘Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints’. Hedren was quoted as saying ‘I had always heard that his idea was to take a women, usually a blonde and break her apart’. During Marnie he actually asked her for sexual favours telling her she would never work in the film industry again if she did not grant his disgusting wishes, which obviously she did not.
Our culture has a history of excusing or ignoring the excesses of famous men for example Jimmy Saville whose abuse, both mental and physical, of young girls over many years was allegedly ignored by the BBC. Hitchcock hints that he was incapable of sex, admitting that ‘he could not get it up’ which begs the question was his attraction to blonde leading ladies a sick fantasist dream? This ‘walrus dressed like a man’, his words not mine, makes your skin crawl. A bully who quoted indecent sexual rhymes that passed as humour, who was happy to punish his actresses if they did not curtail to his wishes and each of them treated like his own personnel possession. Not the most pleasant man to work with.
Jessie Matthews appeared in the only musical Hitchcock directed, Waltzes from Vienna (1934), and we are told in Michael Thornton’s biography Jessie Matthews that even at this early stage of Hitchcocks career he was one of highest paid directors in British films and was already accustomed to being the ‘star of the show’ and could not stand competition especially from the films young star who was at that stage ‘Britain’s first film goddess’. He was taken to task at the time by The Times newspaper for treating Jessie as ‘a not too important part of the films design’ She summed him up as a domineering young man who knew nothing about musicals and said that she and her female co-star Fay Compton, were unnerved by him because of his sarcasm and his well known reputation as a practical joker. Due to Hitchcock’s lack lustre direction and his famous distrust of actors the film was a flop, panned by the critics and has since become regarded as the worst film in his career.
As I said previously not the most pleasant man to work with.