As I continue to post the conversations I’ve had with James W. Powell about Alfred Hitchcock’s films—most recently about his political masterpiece Notorious—I’ve noticed that Hitchcock is getting a lot of pop-cultural attention lately. Two films about the director have appeared in the past few months. The first is The Girl, a British television film based on Donald Spoto’s book Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. It stars Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren (Hitch’s leading lady from The Birds and Marnie). And the second is Hitchcock, the theatrical film directed by Sacha Gervasi and based on Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. It stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh (Hitch’s leading lady from Psycho).
I haven’t seen either of them, but I’m curious about the kind of attention given to my favorite film director. As you’ll see, as our Hitchcock Conversations continue over the coming months, James and I have been all too aware of the back stories behind some of these movies. Alfred Hitchcock had some weird and some might say unhealthy relationships with some of his lead actresses—it can’t be denied. As James and I have conversed, we’ve acknowledged this odd side of our idol’s personality but we let it mostly remain in the background as we talked up the merits of the films themselves.
Which is why I find it unfortunate that both Hitchcock films produced in 2012 have a laser focus on Hitchcock’s private obsessions and attempted infidelities. Hitchcock focuses on the sometimes rocky marriage between Hitchcock and his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), as she dealt with his prurient predilections, and The Girl focuses on arguably the most eye-opening personal/professional obsession of his career—discovering, grooming, and even harassing and threatening Tippi Hedren.
The highest-profile of the two films is Hitchcock, which is about the making of Psycho, a film that obviously became one of Hitch’s most acclaimed and influential works in the filmmaker’s career, but one whose background was also clouded by rumors of strange behavior toward both Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, who played Marion Crane’s sister and actually had a larger role in the film. Hitch’s direction of Leigh in the pivotal shower scene apparently bordered on abusive.
These kinds of stories have a place in the history of Alfred Hitchcock and his movies. I mean, who hasn’t heard about the famous mythology that Hitchcock considered his actors to be merely cattle? And surely you’re familiar with Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the plot of which seems to uncannily mirror Hitchcock’s own obsession with his female stars—from discovering them, to dressing them up for a “part,” to turning them into some glamorous echo of his own desires. (Watch for our conversation about Vertigo in a couple months.)
I just get nervous when the only kind of attention drawn to Hitchcock is prurient. If there were any justice in the film universe, our Hitchcock Conversations would get more attention than these tabloid-level stories! Alas, sex sells, and these movies are getting more attention than my worthy conversations with James W. Powell. Ah well.
But, hey, now that you’re here, check out our Hitchcock Conversations!