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Girl, The (DVD Review)

8 Apr, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Manufactured on demand via Warner Archive
$17.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Toby Jones, Sienna Miller, Imelda Staunton.

Splitting the difference between the first of last year’s Alfred Hitchcock partial biopics and another that proved to be roughly as imperfect is something of a stumper — but forced to choose, I’ll give the slight edge to this less unwieldy 90-minute HBO drama over Fox’s theatrically released Hitchcock. Tawdry, to be sure, it’s a kind of lawyer’s brief for the prosecution — one that may or my not be embellished when dramatizing what exactly transpired to Tippi Hedren (played by Sienna Miller) when collaborating with the master filmmaker on The Birds and Marnie in the early 1960s. This was after Hitchcock had moved his production unit over to Universal Pictures back at a time when that artistically struggling studio really needed the kind of class and clout he could provide — despite what we realize now was a permanent period of slippage from the astounding 1958-60 “triple” of Vertigo, North by Northwest and Psycho. Not that anyone can sustain the impossible.

The stigma against Hedren is that she was no Grace Kelly (who was by then long retired) — and that she never amounted to anything on screen after the Hitchcock duo (though the claim is that the director stymied her career by having her under contract, preventing her from blooming under anyone else). Truth is, Hedren is a real chill-pill in both pictures, though what makes her career so difficult to assess is the fact that The Birds and Marnie all but require their central actresses to be just that. Marnie, a movie I always liked a lot (even in the summer of 1964 I could not believe some of the critical drubs it got), has never gotten its due. Though the coda assertion here that it’s now regarded as Hitchcock’s final masterpiece will flummox admirers of Frenzy, which made a ton of 10-best lists in 1972 — a magnificent movie year that found directors from Francis Ford Coppola to Bob Fosse to Luis Bunuel to John Boorman to Elaine May working at their peaks.

Just as Anthony Hopkins can say he played both Hitchcock and Richard Nixon on screen, lead Toby Jones can now lay claim to Hitchcock and Truman Capote (by way of 2006’s little-seen Infamous, which had the misfortune to follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar triumph Capote in theaters). His portrayal of the director is pretty sinister and humorless; you do not get any sense of the shrewdly conceived self-parody that was the mainstay of his weekly CBS appearances on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Hitchcock is presented as sexually desperate, hitting haphazardly on his latest so-called creation in ways that mortify her. Interestingly, author Glenn Frankel, in his superb new The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, says John Ford became more pitifully unguarded as well in his amorous on-the-set pursuits as he got older.

I just don’t know how much to believe here (a key source was the ever-opportunistic movie biographer Donald Spoto), though on its own terms, the picture has its moments, especially in the “making-of” portions devoted to The Birds’ massive technical challenges. As wife/collaborator Alma Hitchcock, a superbly cast Imelda Staunton is much more on point than Hitchcock’s Helen Mirren, who is a) too good-looking for the same role; and b) bogged down in an ill-conceived romantic subplot about whether Alma was or wasn’t toying with having an affair when her husband was shooting Psycho. In terms of my hopes, expectations and its puzzlingly gratuitous slams at Jerry Lewis, of all people, Hitchcock was my most disappointing movie of 2012, though I did like what Scarlett Johansson did with Janet Leigh arriving atop her pleasingly “mature” performance in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo. As Hedren, Sienna Miller does convey the star’s alleged ordeal while coming off, in terms of screen magnetism, as “just another blonde” — which kind of goes with the rap on Hedren in the first place. The DVD contains a supplemental interview with Hedren — too brief to make much of an impression, though she does concede that the experience wasn’t completely bad.

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