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Hitchcock (Blu-ray Review)

9 Apr, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $6.01 million
$39.99 BD/DVD combo
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.
Stars Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Michael Stuhlbarg, Ralph Macchio.

The nature of Hollywood being what it is — spending millions of dollars for a multitude of disparate personalities and egos to spend months creating a two-hour or three-hour piece of entertainment — sometimes the stories of the making of a film can be more interesting than the film itself (or in the case of some of the classics, at least as interesting).

Perhaps that’s why there’s no shortage of movies about the creation of other movies, from RKO 281 and the story behind Citizen Kane, to Shadow of the Vampire and its supernatural re-imagining of the making of Nosferatu. And when the material is ripe enough, some films can cover entire careers. Just take a look at Ed Wood.

Last year was Alfred Hitchcock’s turn for the biopic treatment, with the Master of Suspense earning not one but two late-year entries. The HBO movie The Girl starred a dour Toby Jones as Hitch and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren, about the making of 1963’s The Birds and 1964’s Marnie, and the theatrical release Hitchcock, with a much more boisterous Anthony Hopkins in the title role and a focus on 1960’s Psycho.

While The Girl hit first, it works somewhat as a chronological sequel to Hitchcock, if not a thematic one. The tones of the film are very different, with Hitchcock presenting the filmmaker as driven by his creative impulses, while The Girl takes a more controversial approach by presenting him in an unsympathetic light as a pervert lusting after his leading ladies and tormenting them when they refuse his advances. Aside from his trademark mannerisms, it’s almost hard at times to imagine the two films are depicting the same man.

One of the more interesting aspects of Hitchcock that is almost buried is the director’s relationship with actress Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), who comes onto Psycho to fulfill her contract with Hitch. Hitchcock envisioned Miles as the next Grace Kelly, and resents her for choosing family over career when she became pregnant and dropped out of Vertigo. The two seem to reach a sort of catharsis on the set of Psycho, but there is clearly more to their relationship than what the film briefly makes the time to mention. In many ways, Miles’ clash with Hitch is almost the prototype for his obsession with Tippi Hedren that plays out in The Girl.

While The Girl is pretty much a straight biopic, Hitchcock is much more playful with the idea of the director as a Hollywood institution, framing the film as akin to a tongue-in-cheek segment from his “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” anthology TV series, when he addressed the audience directly to set up what that week’s show was about.

This sets up a bizarre subplot in which Hitch has visions of Ed Gein, the famed serial killer whose exploits provided the inspiration for Norman Bates in Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho. Meanwhile, Hitch’s artistic impulses are tied to his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), and it’s no accident that his control over filming Psycho begins to waver as she explores a separate writing partnership with an old friend (an intellectual, if not romantic, form of infidelity).

While the writing is creaky at times, the cast of Hitchcock is generally excellent, including Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. And director Sacha Gervasi has a lot of fun embedding the film with Hitchcock iconography that should put a smile on the face of the master's devotees.

The Blu-ray includes 75 minutes of rote behind-the-scenes featurettes, covering everything from developing the script to casting the film, and the Oscar-nominated makeup used to transform the actors into their counterparts of yesteryear. One of the more interesting programs is a five-minute retrospective on the real Hitchcock with actors and filmmakers who knew him and can reflect on how accurate the film was in portraying the man they knew.

But the best extra is the commentary with Gervasi and author Stephen Rebello, who wrote the nonfiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, upon which the film is based. Rebello’s stories about the real Hitchcock are undoubtedly far more insightful than anything in the movie.

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