Two Hearts Entertwined
Legends die hard but when they do, dead and defenseless they fall hard to revelations and speculations. Known as an exacting master with actors, whom he dismissed as cattle, since his death in 1980 Alfred Hitchcock has been the target of allegations of dictatorial control, ruining careers, and fixation with and harassment of his blondes, evidenced most recently in HBO’s The Girl. Less sinister Hitchcock would now apply an indefensible happy ending-spin to those stories, in what is a record of love that perseveres and, overcoming the man’s admitted transgressions, turns around lives as well as careers.
The Sacha Gervasi film begins and ends with Anthony Hopkins redoing “Hitch” of the two 1955-65 television shows which undoubtedly helped make the man the most popularly recognized of auteurs, along with anticipated cameo spots in his own films.
The screenplay and book source are “based on true events,” with “created” dialogue, of which at least much surely derives from the hearsay, rumor and reminiscence of postmortem say-so’s. Additionally, it seems odd that the director is pictured as on the outs with Paramount and having little influence, when, after some late ‘40s relative missteps, the ‘50s had proved a decade of the richest work of this illustrious director’s career in four undeniable classic thrillers followed by Psycho, dubiously publicized here as “Hitchcock’s seminal movie.”
Like its first and final frames, the film will appeal less to the middling young than to those grey enough to remember faces, names and styles from a half-century ago. The ninety-eight minutes goes wisely easy on time-setting period music -- in its whiter pop version, “Tweedlee Dee” subtly links Hitch’s great girth with that Louis Carroll twin’s rotundity -- in favor of clothes, automobiles and attitudes.
It goes without saying that behind every great man stands a greater woman.
Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) is not merely the director’s wife and one-time business boss but his longtime silent partner as screenwriter-collaborator-adviser and the practical one who keeps their personal and professional lives oiled and running. All this while turning a blind eye to his flaws, flirtations, selfishness and sexual predations and, childless and their relationship seemingly a-physical, content to remain uncredited in the shadow of the very public Genius.
Smitten with Robert Bloch’s novel, Hitchcock overrides Alma’s overtures on behalf of writing by friend Whitfield “Whit” Cook (Danny Huston), a married writer eager to seduce her and anyone else. The director stubbornly goes against studio bosses and stakes his and Alma’s luxury house on the success of Psycho, scripted by novice Joe Stefano (Ralph Macchio) and doctored by Alma.
Relatively pleasant only to personal assistant Peggy Robertson (Tony Collette), Hitch closes the set to all outsiders and bullies actors and crew. Some, like John Gavin (Josh Yeo), he belittles; some he will ruin for having refused to be molded by him (Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel); some he tolerates as amusing, like boyish appreciative Tony Perkins (James D’Arcy). The deepest, most difficult on- and off-set relationship is with Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh.
Driving a sensible VW Beetle, corn chips her only vice, warned by Miles, and unnerved by her director’s ferocity shooting the shower scene, she is a homebody who hurries back to husband Tony and year-old Jamie Lee, and in her straightforwardness earns Hitch’s respect.
Alma, however, discovers proof positive of, if not actual liaisons, at least of her husband’s private fantasies. It is unlikely that during thirty-three years of marriage she had been unaware, and equally so that she is blind to Whit’s intentions. In any case, she’s had it with her self-effacing rôle behind male showcasing. For the current project not to turn out his Waterloo, he will have to eat crow, admit her as his equal, and salvage himself publically, professionally and, all importantly, privately.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated “PG-13” for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material.)