'The Girl' delves into Hitchcock's obsession with 'Birds' star
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Saturday, October 20, 2012
10/20/12 at 5:33 AM
Catch a glimpse of the film: See the trailer for ‘The Girl.’
As the final credits to the HBO movie "The Girl" started to roll, my wife turned to me and said, "Was he really that ... awful?"
You can't spend too much time in the world that Alfred Hitchcock created through the 53 movies he made without getting some idea that the "Master of Suspense" was not what you might call a happy individual.
It's easy to see a not-so-subtle streak of sadism in many of his films, from the handcuffed hero and heroine in "The 39 Steps" (which comes to the Tulsa PAC in a theatrical version, with four actors playing all four roles, Nov. 2-3) to the brutality of crimes in "Frenzy."
Since Hitchcock's death in 1980, a number of books have dug into the dark side of Hitchcock's art and life, including two by Donald Spoto, who also wrote one of the best and most comprehensive books on Hitchcock's films.
"The Girl" - adapted from Spoto's "Spellbound by Beauty" by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Julian Jarrold - focuses on Hitchcock's obsession with Tippi Hedren, the fashion model who he chose to star in "The Birds," and whom Hitchcock attempted to groom into the archetypal "Hitchcock blonde."
As "The Girl" makes clear, Hitchcock's interest in Hedren was never simply cinematic. And when Hedren continued to spurn Hitchcock's sexual advances - which ranged from the clumsy to creepily calculated - he began to wreak his vengeance on her, physically, as well as professionally.
The physical is typified by the well-known story of the filming of one of the final scenes in "The Birds," when Hedren's character goes upstairs and is attacked by hordes of birds. Hedren had been told the sequence would take one day and that mechanical birds would be used. When the time came, Hedern would spend five days having live birds tossed at her.
Hitchcock also refused to allow her out of the seven-year contract she initially signed - the implication being that Hitchcock thought Hedren would ultimately succumb to his demand that she be "sexually available" to him to get other jobs.
Hedren, however, was made of sterner stuff. She made one other film for Hitchcock - "Marnie," one of Hitchcock's darker tales that some consider his last great film. And then she moved on - as Hedren said in a recent interview with the New York Times, Hitchcock may have "ruined my career, but he didn't ruin my life. ... I still admire the man for who he was."
But unfortunately, there isn't much to admire in "The Girl," beyond marveling at how well actor Toby Jones has embodied Alfred Hitchcock; how heartbreakingly real is the performance of Imelda Staunton as his wife, Alma, who conveys all manner of intelligence and pain with a few words and a careful glance; how Sienna Miller shows the sturdy resolve under the porcelain-like fragile faÃ§ade of Hedren.
That's because "The Girl" plays out as a series of isolated moments that never quite link together into a narrative. Secondary characters flit in and out without really adding anything to action.
And the process by which two of Hitchcock's greatest films were created - and all the other well-known people involved in their creation - is barely acknowledged. You might come away from "The Girl" believing that "The Birds" and "Marnie" were completely one-woman shows (although mention is made of Sean Connery, the male lead in "Marnie").
"The Girl" is a curiosity at best - a one-sided glimpse into one of the more sordid episodes in the lives of two famous people.
And as commendable as Toby Jones' portrayal of Hitchcock is, you can't help but feel a little sorry for him. Just as his fine work as Truman Capote in "Infamous" was eclipsed by Philip Seymour Hoffman's Academy Award-winning performance in "Capote" in 2006, Jones' Hitchcock is likely to be overshadowed once "Hitchcock" opens later this year, with Anthony Hopkins playing Hitchcock during the filming of his 1960 film "Psycho."
"The Girl" premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday on HBO.
Original Print Headline: Film shows Hitchcock obsession with actress
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Toby Jones portrays Alfred Hitchcock (left) with Sienna Miller, portraying Tippi Hedren, in a scene from "The Girl," premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. The HBO movie dramatizes the making of Hitchcock's "The Birds" and his relationship with Hedren. KELLY WALSH/HBO/Associated Press