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Fact Checking 'Hitchcock': The Man, The Movie And The Myth

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Fact Checking 'Hitchcock': The Man, The Movie And The Myth

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Fact Checking 'Hitchcock': The Man, The Movie And The Myth

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

It is awards season for Hollywood as the film industry starts doling out accolades. And this year, some of the films hoping to grab the attention of voters will have these words in common: inspired by true events. Think "Argo," "Lincoln," "Zero Dark Thirty" and this movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HITCHCOCK")

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) Just think of the shock value. Killing off your leading lady halfway through. I mean, you are intrigued, are you not, my dear? Come on, admit it.

HELEN MIRREN: (as Alma Reville) Actually, I think it's a huge mistake. You shouldn't wait till halfway through. Kill her off after 30 minutes.

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) Well...

SIEGEL: That's Anthony Hopkins, playing film director Alfred Hitchcock, and Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma Reville, talking about the making of "Psycho" in the movie "Hitchchock."

How close to reality is it and how much is just inspired? Well, this week, we're subjecting this and other biopics to some truth-squadding. Patrick McGilligan joins us now to talk about "Hitchcock." He's the author of "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light." Welcome to the program.

PATRICK MCGILLIGAN: Thank you for inviting me.

SIEGEL: And this film, "Hitchcock," is about a specific period in Hitchcock's life, the making of "Psycho," and Hitchcock in the movie is having trouble getting the film made. True?

MCGILLIGAN: Yes. He was under contract at Paramount, and the studio was horrified at the possibility of this lurid film being made. Hitchcock forwent his salary and agreed to take everything on the back end, including percentages and ownership of "Psycho." So it was one of the brilliant deals of all time, and Hitchcock and his then-agent, Lew Wasserman, foresaw its value to them.

SIEGEL: Did Hitchcock in real life, as he does in the movie, actually take out a mortgage on his very spacious Hollywood house?

MCGILLIGAN: No. That's very silly. If you can take out a mortgage on your house and make a movie in Hollywood, then or now, no director did who was under studio contract. He had two houses. He had vast savings. So that aspect of the movie where he's - they're constantly worrying about money to the point of talking about, you know, saving on groceries is foolish.

SIEGEL: The movie also focuses on Hitchcock's relationship with his wife, Alma. And she is depicted as his creative partner, but their marriage is strained by jealousy. True?

MCGILLIGAN: It's not true that they had strife in their marriage. In fact, I always say it's one of the few happy marriages I know of in Hollywood that lasted for 50-plus years. And they were creative partners, and they did have a real love story. And I think that's a positive, although the film goes way overboard to depict Alma as the person who bails Hitchcock out of every crisis that he's supposedly undergoing.

SIEGEL: Takes over directing part of "Psycho" when Hitchcock is ill.

MCGILLIGAN: Yes. Emails went around the world astonished at this plot turn that Alma would go to the studio and direct what is described as a very important shot while Hitchcock is home in bed with a kind of self-induced illness because he's so unhappy over the way things are going in his private life. Complete fiction.

And when I say something's foolish, I want to stipulate that I find the film to be a very creative and clever fiction, and one that you can certainly believe, partly because Hitchcock is such a legend and people would rather believe the legend.

SIEGEL: There's a scene in "Hitchcock" in which Alfred Hitchcock is directing Janet Leigh. She's played by Scarlett Johansson in this movie. And, actually, there are a couple of scenes, one when she's driving the car, and also, here she is in the notorious, hugely famous shower scene in which Hitchcock takes over direction, grabs the prop knife and starts telling her how to behave. Let's listen to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HITCHCOCK")

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) More. More.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: (as Janet Leigh) No.

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) (Unintelligible).

JOHANSSON: (as Janet Leigh) Oh.

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) Come on.

JOHANSSON: (As Janet Leigh) Oh.

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) No. More anger.

JOHANSSON: (as Janet Leigh) Oh.

HOPKINS: (as Alfred Hitchcock) All right, cut, cut, cut. For God's sake. Will someone get me a proper stunt double? Now, get me the knife. Like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

SIEGEL: I mean, the insinuation there is that Hitchcock truly terrified Janet Leigh during that scene.

MCGILLIGAN: Yes. For people who haven't seen the film, he actually grabs the knife because he's upset over the way the stunt double is stabbing at Janet Leigh, who is Scarlett Johansson, cowering in the shower and rushes forward and terrifies everyone on the set by stabbing at her. Now, he does this because of the plot in which he's so upset over the affair his wife might be having, over his creative crisis while he's making "Psycho," et cetera.

And, you know, at various times, the film crosses the line for me from entertainment into something that really, I think, diminishes Hitchcock's genius, and this was one of the instances. Didn't happen, wouldn't happen. He was a very, you know, his dignity and his control were very important to him and to his personality. I could see how it could be inspired. In other words, I think it's maybe a very clever move on the part of the screenwriter. But he wasn't that kind of person. And it's linked in the film to this idea that behind this guy who makes films about serial murders is a guy who has violent impulses, which was not the case.

SIEGEL: You met Hitchcock. What do you think of Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the man?

MCGILLIGAN: Well, I think Anthony Hopkins really brings people into the film. He is, you know, Anthony Hopkins is so brilliant that when he does this fabrication of Hitchcock, immediately, we relax and we feel that we're in the presence of Hitchcock, which is one of the reasons why audiences are so ready to believe everything else that occurs.

And he's best at the very beginning and at the end when he's allowed to be funny, as Hitchcock - and everyone who knows him would tell you - was enormously funny.

SIEGEL: I should think that part of the challenge of either writing the part of Alfred Hitchcock or playing him is that in his television persona as the host of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," he trafficked in self parody. I mean, he understood what an odd figure he cut on the screen, and he went for it.

MCGILLIGAN: Absolutely. And he started doing that early in his career by appearing in cameos and increasingly funnier cameos that we began to expect to see him in in his films. And he was a wonderful mimic. He enjoyed acting. He could stand up - especially in the silent era, if an actress wondered, you know, how she should behave in a certain dinner party scene - he could stand up and flounce around the room and show her precisely.

So he enjoyed this idea of acting and his persona and the image that he had crafted. And to some extent, "Hitchcock," you know, the film that we're talking about, is something that he would delight in, even if he might be horrified at aspects of it, because it is partly the consequence of this long process that he started in the 1920s of building himself into a public personality that we could take delight in, to such an extent that I don't think people in general are interested in the real Alfred Hitchcock.

SIEGEL: Well, Patrick McGilligan, thanks a lot for talking with us.

MCGILLIGAN: Thank you, Robert. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: Mr. McGilligan is the author of "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light," and we've been talking about truth and fiction in the new movie "Hitchcock."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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