Amidst rumors of his impending retirement Alfred Hitchcock decides to shock his critics by making a film from Robert Bloch’s lurid novel, “Psycho,” which was based on the story of a twisted serial killer from Wisconsin, Ed Gein.
Fans of Mr. Hitchcock will enjoy this drama that focuses on the making of “Psycho.” The story begins as Hitchcock is wrestling with critics who think he’s run his course and should retire. Under pressure to make a new film in the same vein as “North By Northwest” and get out from under his critics who feel he sold out when he made a television series, he rebels.
The story of Ed Gein is being devoured by the public. This farmer was a few Froot Loops short of a bowl and his reign of terror involved killing young ladies, cross dressing, and digging up his mother’s corpse. Bloch’s novel dredges all of this back up and alters the story a bit to make Gein a hotel manager who runs the ‘Bates Motel” alongside his invalid mother. It is a best seller.
Hitchcock schedules a press conference and serves “Lady Fingers” to the reporters while proclaiming that Bloch’s book will be his next and scariest film. Now he just needs to make it. He engages a neurotic screenwriter, Joe Stefano, who would go on to wrote most of “The Outer Limits,” to churn out a script.
Meanwhile his wife, Alma, pursues a working relationship with another man who needs a script adapted from his own novel. Hitchcock is now facing a studio that hates his project, a wife who is spending half her time with a another man, and a censor that wants to cut his movie to ribbons before he has even filmed it. He winds up producing the film with his own money and has to face curbing his eccentric lifestyle while his funds are tied up in the film.
The movie manages to go into production with the television crew from his show and a small group of talented young stars which include Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, and Vera Miles. We quickly see that Hitchcock has control issues and wants his ladies to do as he says (Miles is relegated to second billing because she had the nerve to bail on a previous project in order to have a child).
Meanwhile a certain shower scene is about to be filmed and Ms. Hitchcock has run off to work with another man. The tension gets to the seemingly unflappable director and the film stalls. Turns out he needs Alma to finish the film but that also means asking her to do so which is going to be a problem for a big man with an even more massive ego.
The final straw comes when Paramount Studios sees the final cut and decides to dump the movie in two theatres with zero publicity. This won’t do and Hitchcock rises to the occasion by developing a release campaign that calls for armed guards and new rules for theaters (such as no one will be admitted into cinemas once the film starts).
We all know how this film turned out but watching them make it is pretty interesting. The film works thanks to a dedicated cast. Anthony Hopkins grounds it as Hitchcock. He manages to play this showman as human being and resists the urge to just imitate the famous auteur’s mannerisms. Helen Mirren is well matched as the wife Alma. Scarlett Johansen is fine as Janet Leigh but the real surprise is Jessica Biel as Vera Miles. She is quite good as an actress who is able to table her ego and make this classic film despite Hitchcock’s many attempts to bait her. Michael Wincott is also good as Gein. His scenes all take place in Hitchcock’s imagination and are downright creepy.
Best Lines: “My only wish is that Ed Gein had looked more like William Holden than Elmer Fudd.”
“My association with television has cheapened me.”