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Alias: Season Three

In its third season, Alias pulls off a hat trick with another round of pulpy page-turner adventure —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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American mainstream movies usually deconstruct into two components: a primary plot and a romantic subplot. Hitchcock has both, and they offer contradictory lessons. In the primary plot, Hitchcock’s work is stagnant, so he finds a new start; in the romantic subplot, Alfred Hitchcock’s marriage is stagnant, and he rediscovers why the old ways still work.

Starting Over

Alma and Alfred collaborate
Alma and Alfred collaborate

Hitchcock opens with the successful release of North by Northwest. It’s hailed, rightly so, as a masterpiece, and the press begins to wonder whether Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins, whose makeup is uncanny — possibly to the point of distraction), at 60, should quit while he’s ahead. Defiantly, he searches for another story that grips his imagination, preferably one that will show the bastards that the old dog can still hunt.

He chooses the account of cannibal and serial killer Ed Gein. All Hollywood is repulsed by the idea that a class act like Hitchcock would consider making a trashy horror film. Hitchcock’s response is: who better to make a trashy horror film than a class act like himself? The studios refuse to finance Psycho, and after much anguish Hitchcock convinces his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) to finance it themselves. Hitchcock explains that it was fun when they used to make movies with no money, and that he wants to feel that freedom again.

Alma has largely accepted (in the movie at least) Hitch’s penchant for lechery and domination of his leading ladies, so that aspect is not given much time in this mainstream screenplay — an omission that Hitchcock purists are likely to hate about this movie. On-set, Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) tries to warn Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) about him, but Leigh thinks she can handle him. Except for a couple of references in the dialogue, you might not pick up on it at all.

Hitchcock has a well known love of food, wine, and spirits which Alma attempts to moderate. Her nagging and his obstinacy add to the marital tension. Her frustration at living in Alfred’s shadow starts to bubble. She begins a platonic (for now) affair with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a writer who needs her expert help adapting his lengthy screenplay into a digestible treatment. Mirren is all spine as the woman who can save a script, direct on set, or fix an edit when her husband is sick or depressed.

Saucy Alf

Hitchcock is based on the respected book by Stephen Rebello called Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho. But if you’re going to write any term papers, be sure to consult the source directly. The movie takes liberties with the truth.

In exchange, you get a simple, palatable story. Hitchcock can be an enjoyable crowd pleaser. Hopkins plays Hitchcock cool — even at home he has the blend of British class, dry humor, and the macabre that he projects on TV (“do try the finger sandwiches — they’re real fingers”).

That also means that Hitchcock glosses over some of the darker and dirtier aspects of Hitchcock and Psycho. Hitchcock’s quirky, avuncular image is taken at face value. Any true darkness in his life is either played for laughs (a peep hole into Vera Miles’ dressing room), or worked into the “marital discord” subplot. If Alfred Hitchcock were Jack the Ripper, Hitchcock would be Spinal Tap’s “Saucy Jack.”

Those who’ve read biographies or seen most of his films will recognize that Hitchcock is missing part of the story.