maandag 13 maart 2017


HITCHCOCK (20112, Sacha Gervasi)

A screen adaptation of Steven Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho (1990). The movie covers a brief but crucial part in the famous director’s life and career in which he made a daring career movie and saved his mariage with his partner and creative partner Alma Reville.

In 1959 Alfred Hitchcock was one of the world’s most famous movie directors, but some of latest projects had generated mixed comments. Most people saw Hitchcock as a director of elegant and sophisticated spy thrillers and when he declared that his next movie would be an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a horror novel based on the life of real-life murderer Ed Gein, the people around him were shocked. Even his wife and live-long creative partner Alma had doubts about it. But Hitch simply wouldn’t give up the idea of making a horror movie about a voyeuristic serial killer with Oedipal obsessions. Eventually he would put virtually everything he had in jeopardy in order to make the movie: his reputation, his possessions and even his marriage.

As said the movie is based on Steven Rebello’s book, but unlike the book, the movie shifts the focus away from the making of Psycho and concentrates more on Hitchcock’s personal life. Initially the script was more concerned with Hitch’s obsessions, notably his sexual frustrations in relation to the blonde actresses in his movies, but director Gervasi feared that the movie would stir the same controversy as the Tv-movie The Girl, based on Tippi Hedren’s autobiografy, in which Hitchcock was described as a sexual preditor. Therefore Hitch’s relationship with his wife and creative partner Alma Reville was brought more central to the plot. Helen Mirren turns in an excellent performance - as always - as Alma, but also leads the movie away from the person and the things most viewers will be interested in: the famous director and the creative process of making the movie called Psycho.

As a result Hitchock, the movie, is a bit of a half-baked affair. We see Hitch on and off the set, spying on his actresses, having discussions with producers, censors, reporters (and with an imaginary Ed Gein!), but we get no real insight in his persona and learn more about the director’s boulemia than about his sexual frustrations, more about his marriage than about his art. In the end Hitch & Alma would’ve been a more appropriate title. Johansson and Biel are endearing as, respectively, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, and they have a tickling conversation about the director in a dressing room, but the scene is cut short as soon as our curiosity is provoked. Like so many things in this movie.

And what about Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the master of suspense? The prostetics by makeup-artist Howard Berger are impressive and Hopkins is struggling very hard, but he’s better at imitating Hitchcock’s movements than his trademark slow speech. Anthony never becomes Alfred. His Hitch remains Hop.


* See: (Scroll down to see a 1 minute clip of the transformation)

A Dandy in Aspic - When Leonardo was gone ...

When Leonardo was gone ...

Dir: Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey - Cast: Laurence Harvey (Eberlin), Tom Courtenay (Gatiss), Mia Farrow (Caroline), Harry Andrews (Frazer), Peter Cook (Prentiss), Lionel Stander (Sobakovitch), Per Oscarsson (Pavel), Barbara Murray (Miss Vogler)

This was Anthony Mann's final directional job; he died of a heart attack during production and the movie was finished by the film's star, Laurence Harvey. It was based on a novel with the same title by Derek Marlowe, who also scripted, but later fell out with Harvey (*1).

It's a Cold War thriller, offering a grim and bleak image of intelligence work, closer to John Le Carré than to James Bond. The premise is somewhat daring, as the movie's protagonist is a Russian counter-intelligence agent who has ensconced himself within British intelligence under the name of Eberlin. He has lost interest in the job and therefore wants to go back to his home country, but The Russians won't allow him to quit and he is sent by his British employer to Berlin in order to eliminate a double agent who has murdered several British spies. Of course the man he's supposed to kill, is his own alter ego ...

The movie was not born under a lucky star. Derek Marlowe had been very unhappy with Laurence Harvey in the first place and he felt Harvey had done an awful job taking over from Mann:

" (...) The director, Anthony Mann, died during the filming (a superb man and great director) and [his work] was taken over by Laurence Harvey, the badly cast Eberlin.  He directed his own mis-talent, changed [the movie] and the script – which is rather like Mona Lisa touching up her portrait while Leonardo is out of the room.” (*2)

Critics never showed much sympathy for what they considered as a Harvey movie rather than a Mann movie and over the years they have been panning it relentlessly. In the meantime paparazzi had more attention for Mia Farrow (who has a small role as Harvey's love interest) and her behavior on and off the set. Her marriage with Frank Sinatra was soon to be on the rocks and rumors were spread that she was having an affair with Harvey.

The movie itself is not perfect, and we can only guess how much better it would've been had Mann finished it, but it still deserves some attention. Harvey may not have been a good director but I thought his low-key performance of the man pursuing his own shadow was quite convincing. Tom Courtenay is also very good as his British colleague, an almost psychotic character (as dedicated to the job as Harvey is indifferent) who is sent to Berlin to keep an eye on things. There are too many uninspired scenes and the twist ending seems to defy any logic (even that of a spy thriller), but the image of a disillusioned, desperate man trying to escape from a line of work he no longer believes in, is intriguing. The sparse action moments are brief but quite intense and the final moment on the airport hits bull's eye.

As said the dour, gloomy atmosphere is closer to Le Carré than to 007, but the movie features a Moneypenny type of secretary (played by Barbara Murray) who is madly in love with Eberlin. I suppose she was one of the things Mona Lisa came up with when Leonardo was gone ...


* (1) I haven't read the novel by Derek Marlowe; maybe the title is explained in the book, the movie doesn't provide any clue as to what it's supposed to mean.