When a film is released about a real-life figure – especially a cinematic icon such as master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock – it’s only natural to want to dig a little deeper into the story. But what happens when what you’ve just seen is littered with inaccuracies? Based on the book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello and with a screenplay written by John J. McLaughlin, director Sacha Gervasi’s HITCHCOCK aims to combine a love story with celluloid history – but unfortunately fails at doing both.
After screening HITCHCOCK, I decided to watch the supplemental “Making of PSYCHO” feaurette on the blu-ray. And boy was I surprised to learn that even being based on fact filled book, the film manages to get details wrong! While none of the inconsistencies will spoil your viewing of the film per se (poetic license and whatnot), they do make you wonder why these changes were made and/ or skimmed over. Take a look at the list and see if you can spot more when you see HITCHCOCK.
4. Hitch and Alma’s house while filming PSYCHO was a ranch style home in Bel Air, not a Tudor. According to HITCHCOCK’s press notes, Gervasi felt it necessary to change the style of Hitch and Alma’s home to help augment the narrative. Production designer Judy Becker says,
“We researched their house in Bel Air quite a bit, but we departed from reality when it worked well for the story. There were many things we were true to including Hitchcock’s love of modern art, which is something that sort of plays against this old English house and brings it to another level.”
3. Hitch’s sick days. In HITCHCOCK, Alma assumes the role of director when her husband is sidelined due to illness. It’s a noble (and sweet) act that makes her even more of a trooper for sticking with the ego-maniacal director. But that’s all script contrivance, kids! According to the featurette, it was actually assistant director Hilton A. Green who assumed that role. He recounts,
“The murder of Martin Balsam – the day he was to come into the house and look around and go up the staircase, it was a days work up to the point of where ‘Mother’ would come out. We were waiting for Mr. Hitchcock to arrive and we got a phone call that he had the flu and couldn’t come in. I said, ‘Fine. We’ll just close down. It will be an insurance claim and we’ll go on tomorrow.’ He said, ‘No. No.’ What we were shooting that day was storyboarded. We knew exactly what to get and he told me to do it.”
2. Janet Leigh’s breath… or was it blink? In HITCHCOCK, after PSYCHO’s first cut screening for studio brass and the ratings commission goes disastrously, Alma intercedes quite comically in the editing bay. She points out to Hitch not only does the cut need to be tighter, but his leading lady blinks after she’s been stabbed to death. However, the featurette goes into great detail that Ms. Leigh didn’t blink, but took a breath and that’s what Alma caught. Hitch and Alma’s daughter, Patricia (who was in the film) says,
“My mother was the one, who when they saw the first print they were gonna send out. She’s the one who said, ‘You can’t send it out.’ They said, ‘Why? What’s the matter?’ She says, ‘Janet Leigh takes a breath when she’s supposed to be dead.” She’s the only one that had caught it. She had an unerring eye because she was an editor in England in the early days. So they had to fix it up.”
1. The toilet wasn’t that big of a deal BUT the word ‘transvestite’ was. While one of the funnier scenes in HITCHCOCK deals with Hitch haggling with the Motion Picture Production Code (a pre-cursor to what we now know as the MPAA) about showing a toilet in the film (which was something that had never been shown on the silver screen before), that wasn’t what actually caused the flutter. PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano says,
“I said to Hitch that I would like to see the toilet in the bathroom. Every movie I’ve ever seen, there’s no toilet in it. And I would like to see that toilet. I think the audience will be unsettled by the site of it. They were going to have some kind of subconscious reaction to it. Hitch laughed because he thought I was into my Freudian kick. He said, ‘put it in the script.’ I thought that’ll be struck down so fast we won’t know what’s happening. I said to Hitch, ‘Do you think they’ll let us do that?’ He said, “Well. It’s your script. Talk to them.’ There wasn’t too much comment about the toilet. I expected more objections on that. I thought it was great to let Hitchcock let me go fight the battle because after all he hadn’t told me to put the toilet in it. What he was teaching me as a new young writer was that you say it. You fight for it.”
According Stefano, the word ‘transvestite’ was actually what the production code had reservations about.
“They said, ‘You can not use that word.’ I said, ‘Why? It’s a scientific word.’ They apparently had some very preconceived notion that this was very dirty and that I was trying to put one over on them. So we got a dictionary and it said, ‘A man who likes to wear women’s clothes.’ I think they were a little embarrassed. I was shocked they were ready to put their foot down on that!”
Debatable – Filming that famous shower scene: Both HITCHCOCK and the ‘making of PSYCHO’ featurette mention that the water in the shower was kept at warm temperature. Leigh says,
“Contrary to what some of the dialogue is on the Universal tour sometimes they say that Mr. Hitchcock turned cold water on me in the shower so I would scream. Well, that’s exactly the opposite. He was so considerate of the temperature of water that I would be comfortable to the point where it almost became a problem. The steam from the water had gotten to the moleskin.”
However, though I don’t have a quote, I’ve heard from a reliable source who heard Lew Wasserman (Hitch’s agent at the time) say that the water was indeed turned cold in order to get Leigh’s blood curdling scream.