Alfred Hitchcock, real-life “Psycho”

Two new films take aim at the legendary director -- and shed light on the dark side of his genius

Topics: Full Stop, Movies, films, Alfred Hitchcock, Directors, Horror,

Alfred Hitchcock, real-life "Psycho"
This article originally appeared on Full Stop.

Despite being dead for almost 33 years, Alfred Hitchcock still managed to have a fairly interesting year in 2012. In addition to Vertigo’s toppling of Citizen Kane as the greatest film of all time in Sight & Sound’s decennial critics poll, the Master of Suspense also turned up on-screen as the subject of not one, but two films about his later life. I’ve personally been a fan since seeing To Catch a Thief on television at age 9, but I put off watching both of these movies until recently, mainly because I feared their unsavory portrayals of the acclaimed director might dampen my appreciation for his work. You see, both Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock and the HBO/BBC co-production, The Girl, shine light on what author Donald Spoto refers to as “the dark side of genius,” or in plainer language, Hitchcock’s tendencies toward voyeurism, sadism, and misogyny.

Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins, chronicles Hitch’s obsession with making Psycho, at the cost of alienating his wife and everyone else in the film industry. The Girl, darker still, follows Tippi Hedren’s account of how Hitchcock, played this time by Toby Jones, routinely subjected her to mental and physical torture on the set of The Birds and beyond (the shooting of Marnie is also featured in The Girl, though from its promotional campaigns, you would hardly know it).

Since watching both movies, I’ve become fascinated by the idea of Hitchcock being cast as his own controlling boyfriend/husband characters from Vertigo and Marnie, respectively. And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the personas of Scottie Ferguson and Mark Rutland underlie the characterization of Hitchcock in last year’s biopics.

In Hitchcock, actress Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel, compares the Master of Suspense to Scottie Ferguson: “You know that poor, tortured soul Jimmy Stewart played in Vertigo?” she asks Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh. “Well, that’s Hitch.” Save for a comment about its underperformance at the box office, this is the only explicit mention of Vertigo in the film; however, it’s certainly not the only allusion. Throughout the movie, Hitchcock is depicted as a lovesick voyeur who ogles headshots of the starlets in his famous menagerie of blondes (most notably Grace Kelly). Like the forlorn Scottie, who attempts to transform a lookalike shopgirl into his lost love, he makes up his new leading ladies to suit his fantasies, but does so with a touch of earnest charm that leaves him seeming more like a slightly mad puppy dog than an out-and-out predator.

You Might Also Like

Even when Hitch is a peeping Tom — he stares at Miles through a carefully crafted hole in the wall — his actions still remind us more of an infatuated Scottie watching the seemingly entranced Madeleine Elster than they do of the more sinister Norman Bates. Like ScottieHitchcock’s Hitch also suffers from bizarre nightmares, and throughout it all, he relies on his long-suffering, bespectacled wife Alma Reville — a bright and talented woman who is continually ignored by her preoccupied husband, not unlike Vertigo’s Midge. In the end, Hitchcock aligns its leading man with Vertigo’s Scottie simply by portraying a lovable but slightly deranged man desperate to recapture a spark from his past, regardless of the consequences.

The Girl paints a more savage portrait of Hitchcock. This time there’s nothing endearing about the sleaze; there’s only a man driven by the need for power and control. He harrasses newcomer Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) to no end, forcing her to endure such horrors as being pecked at for days by live birds. In the final quarter of the film, a direct comparison is drawn between Hitchcock’s treatment of Hedren and Marnie’s notorious marital rape sequence, in which the titular Marnie, frozen with fear, succumbs to Mark Rutland’s burning lust. Like Mark, Hitchcock is shown to be a wealthy and powerful man with nearly the whole world at his feet; yet he covets the one thing that appears to be out of his reach: the girl. In the same way that Mark pursues Marnie despite her clearly-stated desire to be left alone, Hitchcock stalks Hedren both on and off the set.

Hitchcock once said “actors should be treated like cattle,” and just as Mark views Marnie as an animal he can manipulate and tame, The Girl’s Hitchcock wants nothing more than for Hedren to be his pet. Of course, neither Mark nor Hitch see themselves as villains; both believe their actions are what’s best for their “girls.” Mark thinks it’s his calling to cure Marnie of her neuroses, while Hitchcock believes his only desire is to transform Hedren into a major celebrity.

At the premiere of The Birds, Hitchcock tells Hedren: “So you see, it was worth it; all the fear and the pain and the loneliness. I know I’ve put you through some hard times, but look at you now . . . [you’re a] movie star.” Whether it’s Mark playing doctor or Hitch playing director, the deluded justification for psychological cruelty is ever-present.

There have been several backlashes against the movies (more so The Girl) in which other Hitchcock collaborators have decried what they see as hatchet jobs. Vertigo’s own Kim Novak went on record saying she never saw Hitchcock harass anybody, and she found it sad that he wasn’t around to defend himself from the slander. But while Hitchcock may not have really been a Scottie Ferguson or a Mark Rutland, a pervert or a stalker, by casting him as such, the filmmakers have given us something better than truth. They have given us a Hitchcockian drama.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>