A more suitable title to this would be: “Hitch and Alma: The love story.” But as Alma — the wife of cinema giant Alfred Hitchcock — complains in this fictional and wildly entertaining account of Hitchcock’s private life, no one pays her any attention because “all they can see is the great and glorious genius Alfred Hitchcock!”
Which wasn’t fair. Alma was a brilliant woman in her own right and Alfred Hitchcock, or “Hitch” as he was known in his circle, depended entirely on his talented writer/ace editor of a wife and looked to her for support in every aspect of his life. That is, with the exception of the love factor. For that he chased young blonde leading ladies, most famously Tippi Hedren, who would become mother to actress Melanie Griffith. In “Hitchcock,” he lusts after Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) right under Alma’s nose, and the sight isn’t pretty.
Hitchcock (played with studied relish by Anthony Hopkins) was a letch, but director Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil”) makes no judgments, preferring instead to explore his relationship with Alma (Helen Mirren) and their very particular living arrangements (example: If Alma felt rage about Hitch forever ogling young starlets, she kept it under wraps and healed herself by relaxing at their home pool).
Running parallel to this is the process of Hitchcock deciding to embark on the film that altered his life, career and the whole shebang of Hollywood filmmaking: “Psycho.” Both tales are intriguing, and it often seems as though Gervasi is giving his love and attention to two different animals in two separate habitats at one and the same time.
There’s also a wicked pleasure in seeing a revered film legend smack in the throes of an ugly midlife crisis. The man binges on high-calorie comfort foods (I estimate his daily calorie intake to come up to about 5,000), he takes long hot baths, he bleats about his insecurities nonstop and then takes out his frustrations on poor Alma. All this in the name of art and filmmaking.
And in the end, you learn that it’s one thing to look at “Psycho” and be awed by Hitchcock’s technique and audacity, and quite another to discover that the movie was made mainly because Hitchcock lived in mortal fear of getting old and losing his edge. He needed something akin to a mega-booster shot of adrenaline. And if he had to get the lovely Leigh to strip naked, step in the shower and be brutally stabbed to death, well, it was going to take what it was going to take.
Imagine having to live with a husband like that. Imagine having to live with a husband like that and agreeing to mortgage your Los Angeles house (including your beloved pool) to bankroll “Psycho,” since no one else in Hollywood has enough faith in your hubby’s project to shell out any cash. It seems indicative of the nature of both Hollywood and of Hitchcock that until Gervasi put her in the spotlight, most people knew little of Alma’s existence, unaware of her enormous contribution to his work.
So “Hitchcock” should be a cause for celebration — but somehow it doesn’t feel like Alma is vindicated. A sense of discontent lingers like an aftertaste. Which, of course, could be exactly what Gervasi was going for.