This fall sees the release of two high-profile interpretations of director Alfred Hitchcock, a twist of fate that would probably amuse the master of cinematic suspense.
Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins plays a huggable version of the English director in Hitchcock (to be released in Atlanta on Nov. 30). The film focuses on his stormy but creatively productive marriage to Alma (Helen Mirren) against the backdrop of making Psycho.
Chronologically, HBO's The Girl, which debuted on Oct. 20, takes up where Hitchcock leaves off. For his follow-up to Psycho, Hitchcock (Toby Jones) casts little-known Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) as the sought-after female lead of The Birds. The Girl focuses on Hitchcock's unnerving obsessions with his blonde leading ladies, a topic that Hopkins' film acknowledges but shrugs away from.
Hopkins falls into the biopic booby trap of trying too hard to physically emulate his subject. He wears a padded suit, bald cap, and bullfrog-worthy chin wattle, yet looks more like deceased character actor Victor Buono than Hitchcock or himself. Hopkins clearly relishes emulating the director's famous emcee style of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," marked by deadpan puns on macabre subjects. "Try the finger sandwiches — they're real fingers," he says, like a classy version of the Cryptkeeper. The film's strengths lie in its performances, including such supporting players as Toni Collette as Hitchcock's long-suffering assistant, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles.
Twice now, Jones has had the misfortune to play a famous, imitable artist at roughly the same time as a more famous actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn in Capote upstaged Jones' work in Infamous. The Girl embraces the fact that Jones' face could be Hitchcock's fun-house mirror opposite, with a prominent forehead and big, heavy-lidded eyes compared to Hitchcock's jowls. Jones chillingly portrays Hitchcock as an icy, unpredictable control freak, at least from Hedren's point of view.
I have no idea if Hitchcock liked to recite limericks: At one point, when angry at Hedren, he enunciates a typically filthy version of "A man from Nantucket" to shock her. Even if a writer's invention, the limerick effectively evokes Hitchcock's morbid wit and English background. Throughout The Girl, director Julian Jarrold cultivates a sense of dread, like a student of such Hitchcock films as Suspicion, without offering a self-conscious pastiche.
In some ways, the tension between Hitchcock and The Girl proves more compelling than the conflicts within each respective movie. Hopkins and Jones both get the voice right, but which actor presents the more accurate Hitchcock? It's entirely possible that they're both right, and that Alfred Hitchcock was capable of being both a moody yet loving husband and a self-absorbed Svengali who treated actresses like playthings. Walt Whitman wrote, "I am large, I contain multitudes," and Hitchcock was a large personality from any angle.
I can see Rushdie's stuff adapting well. Lots of plot to play with.