December 12, 2012

Docudrama Recounts Shooting of Horror Classic “Psycho”

HERE’S TO THE SUCCESS OF “PSYCHO”: Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, center) toasts the completion of the the film “Psycho” at a dinner with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren, right) and leading lady Janet Leigh (Scarlet Johannson). All was not right in tinseltown, when Hitchcock flirted with the women on the movie set and Alma left him and moved to a beach house. To see if the pair were reconciled, see the movie.

It wasn’t long after the Hollywood premiere of North by Northwest in July of 1959 that Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) began searching for his next project, since he was happiest when he was making movies. After passing over all the scripts being pitched by Paramount, the master of suspense became curious about a recently published novel inspired by the gruesome exploits of a Wisconsin serial killer (Michael Wincott).

Hitchcock found the book Psycho captivating, and acquired the rights to the novel over the objections of his agent (Michael Stuhlbarg), accountant (John Rothman), assistant (Toni Collette), and the studio’s president (Richard Portnow). He even had a hard time convincing his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), whose support was always critical because she was his longtime collaborator and sounding board.

After the couple decided to finance the picture themselves, they turned their attention to casting. They settled on relatively unknown Anthony Perkins (James-D’Arcy) in the pivotal role of Norman Bates, while opting for Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) over a fading star (Jessica Biel) as their ill-fated leading lady.

However, pressures continued to mount after the filming got underway, with concerns ranging from the director having to massage actresses’ egos to figuring out how to get the graphic shower scene past the censors. Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s flirtatious behavior on the set took a toll on his relationship with Alma, who disappeared with a friend (Danny Huston) to a beachfront pied-a-terre.

Will Alma cheat on him or reconcile with Hitchcock despite his roving eye? That is the real tension at the heart of the movie, since everybody knows that Psycho was completed and went on to become a cinema classic.

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, this delightful docudrama is based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello. What makes the movie so compelling is the badinage between Alma and Alfred as ably portrayed by Oscar winners Helen Mirren (The Queen) and Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs).

Who knows whether their alternately acerbic and admiring interaction is accurate or pure fabrication? It almost doesn’t matter when delivered so convincingly, thereby allowing the audience a rare “fly on the wall” opportunity to watch how a genius and his wife made movie magic together.

A cinematic treat that offers rare peeks behind the scenes and behind the closed doors of a legendary director and the love of his life.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violent images, and mature themes. Running time: 98 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight.