The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Hitchcock has a bit of a misleading title. It implies that the movie is a biopic of the legendary director. Actually, it is based on the terrific book “Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello. Keeping the book's title would give a more accurate portrait of the film's content. This is a surface-level dramatization of what happened during the making of that 1960 classic, both in front of the camera and behind it. You won't learn anything about Alfred Hitchcock that you didn't already know, but at least you'll get an enjoyable Hollywood tale.

Anthony Hopkins plays Hitch, who is mulling over his next project following the success of North by Northwest. The scripts being offered to him by Paramount Pictures are less than thrilling. Then he stumbles upon a Robert Bloch novel called “Psycho,” loosely inspired by the serial killer Ed Gein. Hitch desperately wants to adapt it; Paramount most certainly does not. With the full support of his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren), who is also his most trusted collaborator, Hitch decides to fund production himself. On Alma's advice, he strategically hires a shy, closeted gay actor named Anthony Perkins (James D'Arcy) and a blond bombshell named Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) to star. Throughout the shoot, he battles nervous Paramount executives, a conservative censor board, and even close associates who think he's committing career suicide. His biggest problem, though, is that he suspects Alma may be on the verge of having an affair with a writer (Danny Houston) while he's toiling away.

Hitchcock is a lot of fun when it shows what went into getting Psycho on the screen. From Hitch's radical decision to kill off Janet Leigh in the first half hour to the William Castle-esque promotional campaign he orchestrated to get audiences interested, the film makes clear what an uphill battle the production was. My favorite scene – which may also be one of the best scenes in any movie this year – finds Hitch jubilantly listening to the premiere audience's reaction to the famous shower sequence. In another terrific moment, Hitch outsmarts the censors, who are upset about the visibility of a toilet and apoplectic about the fact that it's seen flushing. (Oh, how much simpler times were back then...) Screenwriter John J. McLaughlin includes many key Psycho moments in his script, while director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) brings a light, playful touch to them.

Hitch was a complicated man, and Anthony Hopkins brings him magnificently to life. In the actor's hands, Hitchcock is enigmatic, brilliant, infuriating, and wryly humorous. Hopkins never veers into caricature, as easy as it would be to do. He is well matched by the ever-brilliant Helen Mirren. One of the things I most admire about Hitchcock is that it gives Alma Reville her due. Tough and opinionated, but still understanding of her husband's eccentricities, she typifies the “great woman behind every great man” idea. Mirren shows how Alma was both her husband's biggest supporter and toughest critic. The two leads are so good, they're reason enough to see the film.

And that's a good thing because Hitchcock does veer away from Psycho during its middle section, focusing more on Hitch's growing paranoia about the affair. Because of this creative choice, some things get shorter shrift than you might expect (or want). The shooting of the shower sequence is handled in about 90 seconds, and Anthony Perkins is little more than a blip in the story. Overall, the film leaves some seemingly important elements unexplored or unfulfilled, including the inclusion of an oft-ridiculed psychiatric explanation for Norman Bates' crimes. Additionally, several dream sequences in which Hitch imagines himself talking to Ed Gein don't really work, and the movie's attempts to address personal issues, like Hitch's recurring obsessions with his leading ladies, are not handled with as much depth as they could have been.

While undeniably flawed, Hitchcock remains a breezy, entertaining show-biz tale. Seeing the struggles Hitch faced to make an against-the-grain project he was passionate about will be a treat for anyone who loves Psycho and/or the man himself. Hopkins and Mirren capture the dynamics of not only a marriage but also of a true creative partnership. They're great. If you want something deeper on the subject, check out Rebello's book. For a Cliffs Notes-y take that gives you a slick, enjoyable overview, the movie is perfectly adequate.

( out of four)

Hitchcock is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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