It's another tour de force for Anthony Hopkins. He completely envelopes himself in this role and no resemblance to the actor is left. I suspect that little resemblance to the actual Alfred Hitchcock remains either.
This movie is more whimsical than biological. While Hopkins could easily have rendered whatever portrayal of the famous director was necessary, the director has him play Hitchcock as the delightfully dour character who introduced his weekly television series, rather than as an actual human being. It's akin to modeling a Rod Serling biography after his enigmatic introduction to Twilight Zone episodes.
We meet Hitchcock hot off of the success of North by Northwest. You'd think his career would be at its peak, but it seems the lucrative television deal he just signed (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) has lessened his reputation in the film industry. Furthermore, he's 60 years old. The industry thinks he's lost his touch.
He and his wife Alma Reville actually possess a healthier, happier marriage than either realizes. She was working as a film editor before Hitchcock even began his career in movies. She recalls that he reported to her in those early days. Today, she is his partner. She may not stand behind the camera with him at the studio, but all of his scripts and screen shots pass through her hands and are stamped with her input before they ever make it to the screen. As played by Helen Mirren, she is confident as his working equal, even if most people at the studio don't give her due respect. The people who matter know and that's what she cares about.
However, the fact that her husband is openly infatuated with young, beautiful film actresses does unnerve him. He may not actually sleep with them, but he obsesses over his leading ladies and doesn't bother to hide it, even in Alma's presence. He doesn't seem to notice that she minds. Doesn't see her move away or excuse herself when he flirts and flatters other women, inches away from her and she never confronts him. Her anger and hurt simmer, but not in a hostile way for the most part. She and Hitch are very supportive and companionable most of the time.
For his next picture, everyone expects Hitch will do another romantic mystery, with a debonair lead and classic beauty. But that's too easy, too predictable. He's more interested in a gritty horror novel, Psycho, written by Robert Bloch based on a real life serial killer Ed Gein. The more people tell him that the novel is too lurid and cheap to make a respectable film, the more adamant he is about doing it.
Paramount wants nothing to do with the film and won't provide the needed financing, so Hitchcock decides to invest his own money to produce it. He's risking the family fortune, including the Hitchcock home to do it. While Alma isn't eager to give up her lucrative lifestyle, she also supports her husband's goals. Does she have faith in Psycho? No. But does she have faith in him? Absolutely, she tells him. She'll risk it all, not happily, but without complaint and without even much reluctance. They tighten corners at home. No pool man, no gardener, no imported foods. She oversees Hitch's strict diet and puts him to work in the yard. He grumbles, but obeys her orders, at least until she's not looking. Alma continues to splurge secretly though, buying herself a chic swimsuit, still seeking an elusive compliment from her husband.
With a spouse like that, you'd think Hitch, at least, would feel secure in his marriage, but he doesn't. When he fishes for a compliment from her, asking if he's outdated, she only says of course he is and he's corpulent too! Even though an affectionate kiss accompanies her light remark, you can tell it stings him. It's unclear whether she knows this or cares. In turn, when she finishes dressing and asks his opinion he says that she is decidedly "presentable." That smarts. She wanted to hear beautiful, even if it was a lie. Of course, the jealous way he sat in the tub watching her dress, spying at her in their bathroom mirror as she did -- while she knew he was looking -- should tell her how much he cares. What husband of several decades still watches his wife dress, especially one who was as plain as the real Alma was? But despite her intelligence in all other things, Alma may not grasp how important she is to Alfred personally, not just professionally.
At work, he peers at Janet Leigh and Vera Miles dressing through a hole in their dressing room wall, not unlike Norman Bates does. Vera has already experienced Hitch at his worse. Angered when she became pregnant just before he was going to cast her as the star in his next movie, he punishes her by giving her only a small part in Psycho, while he still has her under contract. Leigh, on the other hand, is able to maintain a friendly relationship with Hitch and doesn't have to suffer his wrath.
He and Alma decide to cast Tony Perkins because they know he's gay and must be used to hiding his true self, as Norman Bates does. The deal is sealed when Hitchcock interviews Perkins and finds he had problems with his mother in real life. I think this rationale, for Perkins' success in the role is actually a disservice to the actor's talent, but James D'Arcy is very good in the role.
In a strange subplot Alfred fantasizes about talking to the serial killer Ed Gein. He hears Ed Gein when he directs the shower scene in Psycho. With Gein's voice ringing in his ear, Hitchcock himself slashes at a frightened Janet Leigh. These exchanges are distracting and incongruent. It would have been better to actually show us Hitchcock's dark side within the realistic confines of the script, without resorting to fantasy. That would have given the character depth. Although, it's a bit superficial to say that Hitchcock is a great director of murder mysteries because he is fascinated with true crime or that Perkins played an incestuous serial killer convincingly, because he had problems himself. Such direct personality causes and effects only exist in the movies and a movie that employs them heavy-handedly is not a very believable one. Make this movie about a man, not a double-chinned bobble head.
Alma has begun working on a script with writer Whitfield Cook. He flirts with Alma in a manner so obvious that it's phony. At least she doesn't appear to take it seriously. Her response to him is more friendly than infatuated and she is a pal to his wife Elizabeth. It's not clear whether she knows how jealous Hitchcock is of Cook. But her vengeful intent is clear, when she enters Hitch's office and finds a stack of beautiful actress head shots on his desk, she leaves her earring on the pile, as proof to him that she was there, then suddenly accepts Cook's offer to meet him on the beach for a meeting.
AT the beach, when she enters Whit's cottage and finds a bed dominating the room, she tells him she's afraid he got the wrong idea. So, that assures me she wasn't planning on having sex with him, but one wonders how long she wouldn't have planned it. They work on a script together. When she comes home after hours Hitch feigns sleep, but reads the script behind her back and then petulantly tells her how horrible it is at breakfast.
Stressed about Whit and Alma, Hitch passes out at work. He is ordered home for 3 days bed rest and Alma takes over for him at the studio, brushing aside Paramount's offer to bring in a replacement director for Hitch. Paramount wants to shoot the film down. It's low budget fare with which the studio does not want to be associated. Clearly, Hitchcock is failing them. The execs (president Barney Balaban chief among them) will have to pin all of their hopes on Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella to uphold their reputation! The censors threaten to slap an X rating on the film, so that it won't be released in any decent theater. They are so sneering and dismissive that the audience is just rooting for Psycho to succeed, awaiting the moment when they will have to eat crow. Of course, they never do. They take credit for the movie's success as if it was all their own idea in the end, but there is satisfaction in knowing how wrong they will ultimately be proven.
Confined at home, Hitch does some sleuthing and finds sand in the bathroom. He deducts that Alma has been on the beach with Whit and confronts her. She angrily tells him that her work with Whit takes nothing away from him and let's him know he's not talking to one of his starlets. He's talking to Alma Reville, the person partly responsible for the success he enjoys. He has no retort.
He returns to the studio and grimly accepts the fact that the movie he has sunk his money and reputation into is looking like a flop. Alma returns to the beach and finds Whit in flagrante delicto with an anonymous woman. As she leaves, Whit begs her not to say anything. Of course, she won't tell his wife Alma responds. That's not what Whit is worried about. He doesn't want her to tell Hitch. He doesn't want this discovery to ruin his chances of having Hitch adapt one of his scripts into a movie. Upon hearing this, Alma realizes how she has been used as Whit's means to get closer to Hitch and drives off. I wonder what would have happened if Whit had been alone when she arrived. Would Alma have succumbed to his advances or initiated some of her own, to get back at her husband.
Deflated, she tells Hitch he was right about Whit's poor script and admits that he could never hold a candle to Hitch. He is mollified and, for his part, tells her that Psycho is a flop. Not yet it isn't, Alma informs him. After all, she hasn't put her finishing touches on it yet.
She goes in with scissors, editing the best cuts of the movie together and adding (the infamous) slash music, over Hitchcock's objections to it. They promote the movie by telling the world how terrifying and scary it will be, priming audiences to be horrified. At the premiere, Hitch doesn't sit with the moviegoers. He waits outside, anticipating their reactions, directing their screams like an orchestra conductor. They shriek in all of the right places and he knows it's a hit. He's been redeemed.
Afterwards, he and Alma revel in their success. Their joint triumph. He tells her she is more beautiful than any of his starring ladies. Touched, she says she's been waiting 30 years to hear those words. That's why they call him the master of suspense, he answers.
So, the Hitchcock's get to keep their house and remain in the lap of luxury. In the end, Hitchcock stands on his front yard, but it's more like the forefront of a set from Alfred Hitchcock presents. He tells the audience he doesn't know what his next movie will be. Maybe an idea will come to him. Just then a large black bird lands on his shoulder. Quite amusing. And in the end that's what the movie is, more amusing than substantive. For that reason, even the see-saw in Alma and Alfred's relationship was more pleasant than intriguing to watch. Good acting, charming script. Fun, but fluffy.