What sounds like a movie version of the Marlo Thomas TV series, That Girl, is a title lacking in distinction for the HBO British offering (distributed by the BBC) in advance of the Anthony Hopkins feature film, Hitchcock. And with attention focused on a multitude of iconic collectibles this autumn – the 6 CD Velvet Underground boxed set, books on Rod Stewart, Kenny Rogers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the timing is right for the Alfred Hitchcock brand to go mainstream again. Problem is that both The Girl and the Hitchcock films in some way dilute rather than add to the legend, though both flawed works have their redeeming qualities. This two-part series will focus on the made for TV film, which I’ve watched numerous times now only to come away with one provocative line that quickly defines what this exercise is all about – “You will make yourself sexually available to me at all times.” That sums up and exposes the lurid “shock” director Julian Jarrold went for – National Enquirer-type sensationalism rather than a focus on the horror of thousands of birds pecking away at your head.
The “redeeming value” is that this film also, inadvertently, gives us a look into the making of The Birds which, along with Psycho, is one of the greatest one-two punches in cinematic history. With the Alfred Hitchcock Hour on television, 93 episodes from 1962-1965, there was great activity from Hitch in between 1960’s PSYCHO and 1963’s The Birds. The TV series reads like a who’s who of Hollywood at the time, it’s library containing huge, celebrated names for directors, stars and writers. “Off Season”, the 29th episode of Season 3 was directed by William Friedkin eight years before 1973’s The Exorcist and stars John Gavin of “Psycho” while being written by Robert Bloch, who authored the book Psycho (not the screenplay).
Toby Jones is ok on the voice, but is miscast performing in this all-important role. His face looks like putty that’s been left in the sun too long, makeup worse than Tommy Lee Jones in the recent Men In Black III. Sienna Miller (played Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl, 2006) is ok as Tippi Hedren, though the film is less about Tippi and more about the allegations of sexual harassment aimed at Hitch. Jones plays a lewd and lascivious Hitchcock and – this writer having met Hitchcock during his promotional tour for Frenzy – it’s kind of hard to picture those kind of advances by the large and rather subdued “master of suspense.” The film is sloppy in its inept handling of manipulation and abuse of power, and with a larger-than-life figure like Hitchcock, it wouldn’t take a budget as much as creative filmmaking to put forward a believable and chilling movie worthy of its subject matter.
Director Jarrold fumbles the ball. The Girl is exploitation at its worst with the finer moments being the exploration of the making of The Birds. Had The Girl acknowledged that twisted genius is – perhaps – the best genius, tipped its cap to the works rather than slashing at the legend long after his passing, it wouldn’t come off as an envious jump on the current bandwagon.
Part II will give more insight on these two films about Hitchock’s life, with a focus on Anthony Hopkins’ HITCHOCK. In the meantime I suggest you read John Anderson’s excellent November 16th story in the New York Times – Alfred Hitchcock’s Secret Weapon Becomes a Star ‘Hitchcock’ and ‘The Girl’ Remember Alma Reville
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.