I’ve seen Psycho once. And yes, it freaked me out. I’ve seen other Hitchcock films as well, and I actually felt that Rear Window and Rope were better (Rope is my all-time favorite Hitchcock film because of what it manages to do–make you get as panicky as the lead characters who’ve murdered a friend and put his body in a chest that is used as the serving table for a dinner party). But I think they’re better because they just suck you into the horror of the story without actually needing to draw the picture of what’s going on.
Psycho is somewhat similar, but Hitchcock goes a step further by giving you those jump-out-of-your-seats moments that the other two just don’t provide.
But back to our film for this evening. It’s 1959, and Hitchcock and his wife Alma are coming off of his most acclaimed film, North By Northwest. The commercial success was gratifying, but he was becoming disenchanted with the demands and meddling of Paramount, the studio which owned his contract. He hated the high budget and high-priced stars who had been forced on him for the film, and he sought to do something truly different.
Hitchcock becomes infatuated with the novel Psycho, which was based on the Ed Gein story, and buys the rights and comes up with a screenplay. Meanwhile, Paramount refuses to allow him to make the movie, wanting another hit like his last film, but Hitchcock digs in, eventually self-financing the movie and claiming 60% of the take from the film as long as Paramount agrees to distribute it.
He’s also got to get around the censors, who, based on the script, refuse to give him a seal for the film because of the now infamous shower scene, and a scene showing a toilet (which had never been done in an American film before).
While filming a movie, problems with his relationship with his wife, Alma arise, and the strain on their personal finances takes a toll.
The wonder of movies like this is that you know how things turn out–Psycho was made, was a huge success, Hitchcock went on to make more movies, and everything came out swimmingly. So why watch a docudrama on the making of this movie?
Frankly, they probably could have chosen any of his movies, but this one was his most controversial and probably most difficult. And it made for some nice dramatic treatment, which probably was just over the top. But what really made this movie work so well was Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock.
There were more than one moments when I stopped and asked myself “is that really Hopkins?” because his performance was so good. No, he didn’t look quite like Hitchcock, and he didn’t speak quite like him, but it was all consistent enough to make you just accept the entire performance without question. Add to his amazing performance the strong support of Helen Mirren as Alma, and everyone else almost became window dressing.
So while much of the story is fabricated or at least exaggerated for the sake of drama, its effortlessness makes it easy to watch and actually kind of fun because it’s so entertaining.
So check it out. It’s worth the 90-plus minutes of your life you’ll give up for it. Four out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.