Alfred Hitchcock is a great man. Anyone will tell you that. But right at this moment, that great 60-year-old rather corpulent man is soaking in a tepid bath, worrying his bald little head off.
Yes, his last film, North by Northwest, was a success by any measure. But that was last year. It's 1960 now, and in this modern age, Hollywood waits for no man. Not even this man.
"Why do they keep talking about the new faces of suspense," he wonders, slapping the newspaper before him, "when they've still got the original right here?" But they want new, they demand fresh. There have already been murmurings that Mr. Hitchcock might be too old and set in his ways for the up-and-coming generation. There are some who want to put him out to pasture.
Which is all patent nonsense, of course. If they want something that will shake things up, an idea that will set them back on their heels, Alfred muses, perhaps it's time that he pull himself out of the bath, dry off and get to work.
There's this book called Psycho—the real-life story of brutal killer Ed Gein. If they want something the audience has never seen before, he'll give them that. "A nice, clean, nasty piece of work," he chortles.
Hitch's wife, Alma, worries that a serial killer's tale of incest, transvestitism and matricide will be too grisly and lurid. His agent whimpers that while it's the right time for something different, it might not be the right time for this kind of different. The studio fears that nobody'll set a single foot in the theater to see such rancid "horror movie claptrap." The Motion Picture Association of America's chief censor screams that he won't give it his seal of approval.
All of that doubt and dubiousness is music to the determined director's ears, though. He just has to find the right writer. The right neurotic actor to play the killer. The right blonde to play the victim. ("They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints," he says.) Hitchcock will make his film—even if he has to hock everything and pay for it himself. He'll show them who's ready for pasture.
For all of Hitchcock's personal flaws and insecurities, it's plain to see that he operates best when working in tandem with his wife. And his wife finds the same kind of personal and professional fulfillment with him. They don't often seem to be on the same page as the movie begins and the story unfolds, but that's just to show us how important it is for them to get there together.
And while Hitch is always looking for a special fantasy "something" in his platinum-haired leading ladies, one of them puts him in his place—with both her actions and words. Here's the situation: Alfred's very disappointed that Vera Miles isn't playing along with his star-making plans. Instead, she opts for marriage and a family. Then she warns Hitchcock about his obsessive sexual drive, saying, "That blonde woman of mystery you're always after—she's a fantasy, she doesn't exist."
Eventually the director seems to take those words to heart. He recognizes all the ways that Alma supports him—from caring for him when he's ill to helping write and re-edit his movie. And he gratefully tells his bride, "I will never be able to find a 'Hitchcock blonde' as beautiful as you." Shocked, Alma responds, "I've been waiting 30 years to hear you say that!" "That, my dear," Hitch tosses back, "is why they call me the master of suspense."
When Alma is upset by her friend Whitfield Cook's extramarital indiscretions, he tells her, "We can't all be Jesus."
From the back, we see Vera Miles taking off her bra in her dressing room … as Hitchcock peeps in on her from the front through a hole in the wall. Much later, after viewing some of the film Hitch has shot, Alma lightly scolds him for capturing some nude shots of Janet Leigh. He replies, "Her breasts are rather large; it was a challenge not to show them."
The camera helps us share in Hitchcock's obsession with his lead actresses by taking the time to ogle their full-figured (covered) curves on several occasions.
When the director introduces himself to Leigh, he immediately gets down and dirty with, "You can call me Hitch. Hold the cock." Hitch's secretary lightly suggests that she believes an actor is gay. A writer talks about his sessions with a psychologist, reporting that they generally deal with his problems with "sex, rage and my mother." During a dinner together, Leigh tells Alfred and Alma, "I'm not exactly boyish from here up." When she mentions that she's watching her figure, Alma retorts, "You're not the only one."
We see Leigh, Alma and another unnamed woman all clad in the common undergarments worn by many women in the early 1960s—a bra/full girdle combo and stockings. Several women display cleavage—including Janet in a robe, Alma in a swimsuit and an apparently dead woman collapsed in an empty bathtub.
After accidentally touching hands, Alma and Whitfield almost kiss before they're brought back to reality by a ringing phone. Later, Alma catches him with another woman.
Upon reading the book about the psychotic woman-killer, Hitch starts imagining himself standing in the corner of a room watching Ed Gein go about his grisly business. Thus, we see Gein crawl into bed with the rotting corpse of his mother and watch as he drags a bloodied victim into the bathroom, thumping her unconscious, underwear-clad form into the bathtub. Hitch eventually starts having conversations with the crazed killer, even discussing his own unspecified "dark impulses"—that are implied to be sexual in nature.
Through these grim moments, we see the director working his way toward an emotional breakdown. When he finally arrives at that precipice, he falls unconscious to the floor, smashing glassware to shards as he goes down. Then, while directing Psycho's salacious shower scene, he grabs the prop knife and starts slashing the blade mere inches from his screaming leading lady—envisioning all the people who have been making his life difficult standing in her place.
Trying to sell his idea for his new film to the press, Hitchcock shows them black-and-white photos from one of Gein's actual crime scenes. (The camera catches brief glimpses of corpses.) He also lists some of the gruesome items found in the killer's home.
An actor talks of his early obsession with his mother and carrying the guilt of wishing his father were dead.
Crude or Profane Language
One misuse of Jesus' name and one mingling of God's name with "d‑‑n." Additionally, God's name is exclaimed on its own a handful of times, and there's a standalone "d‑‑n" too. We hear the British profanity "bloody."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Hitchcock smokes cigars on several occasions, usually puffing away with a glass of wine or brandy in hand. We see him drink martinis, as does Alma. When Whitfield Cook invites Alma to his beach house to work on a script together, we see that he's included a bottle of wine on their table full of materials.
Alfred Hitchcock once listed the things that scared him most: "Small children, policemen, high places and that my next movie will not be as good as the last one." On the face of things, it could be said that's what this movie is about. Not small children or high places, but a man flailing against his fear of failure while struggling with his latest directorial project—the now easily recognizable suspense classic Psycho.
In truth, however, Hitchcock really isn't all that much about the making of Psycho at all. That's the background story, and it's an interesting one for movie buffs and Hitchcock aficionados. But this film, based loosely on Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, is much more intent on peeling back the onion-like layers of who the director was outside of his films. We're told he was a daring risk taker, a manipulative business man, a creative genius, a cheeky jokester, a closet lecher, a melancholy envier, and a man plagued with dark urges and hounded by age and doubt.
Then, in turn, the well-acted and involving exploration of those conflicting and sometimes shadowy layers hint at why he might have created all those films filled with fear, sex, guilt and death. Of course it also opens the cinematic door for the movie's problematic content—ranging from obsessive imaginary conversations with a twisted murderer to heavy drinking to a sneaky peep session through a hole in a dressing room wall.
That lecherous side of Alfred Hitchcock has long been spoken of as the director's greatest failing. And it was recently given a bitter airing in the HBO drama The Girl, an unflattering look at Hitchcock's relationship with star Tippi Hedren. But here it's tossed into the mix as just another sad and fumbling faucet of a conflicted personality. And it's while digging through the id and ego of Hitchcock's psyche that we find what's arguably at the heart of this film: a love story. Hitch and his long-suffering wife make their way past his blonde obsessions and her flirtations with an affair. And in the end we see them recognize just how good they've got it. Together.
Their culminating love, respect and unity, then, becomes Hitchcock's key to finishing yet one more film that he believes is better than his last one. And they serve as shards of redemption in this sometimes grimy biopic.