In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock opens his latest film, North by Northwest, to considerable success, but is troubled by a reporter's insinuation that it is time to retire. Seeking to reclaim the artistic daring of his youth, Hitchcock turns down film proposals like adapting Casino Royale in favor of a horror novel called Psycho by Robert Bloch, which is based on the crimes of murderer Ed Gein. Gein appears in sequences throughout the film in which he seems to prompt Hitchcock's imagination regarding the Psycho story, or act as some function of Hitchcock's unconscious mind (for instance, drawing Hitchcock's attention to sand on his bathroom floor, the quantity of which reveals how much time his wife Alma has been spending at the beachhouse with Whitfield Cook).
Hitchcock's wife and artistic collaborator, Alma, is no more enthusiastic about the idea than his colleagues, especially since she is being lobbied by their writer friend, Whitfield Cook, to look at his own screenplay. However, she warms to Hitchcock's proposal, suggesting the innovative plot turn of killing the female lead early in the film. The studio heads at Paramount prove more difficult to persuade, forcing Hitchcock to finance the film personally and use his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television crew to produce the film.
However, the pressures of the production, such as dealing with Geoffrey Shurlock of the Motion Picture Production Code, and Hitchcock's lecherous habits, such as when they confer with the female lead, Janet Leigh, annoy Alma. She begins a personal writing collaboration with Whitfield Cook on his screenplay at his beach house without Hitchcock's knowledge. Hitchcock eventually discovers what she has been doing and suspects her of having an affair. This concern affects Hitchcock's work on Psycho.
Alma takes over production of the film when Hitchcock is temporarily bedridden after collapsing from overwork. Hitchcock eventually confronts Alma and asks her if she is having an affair. Alma angrily denies it. Meanwhile, Hitchcock expresses his disappointment to Vera Miles at how she didn't follow through on his plan to make her the next biggest star after Grace Kelly; but Miles says she is happy with her family life.
Hitchcock's cut of Psycho is poorly received by the studio executives, while Alma discovers Whitfield having sex with a younger woman at his beach house. Hitchcock and Alma reconcile and set to work on improving the film. Their renewed collaboration yields results, culminating in Alma convincing Hitchcock to accept their composer's suggestion for adding Bernard Hermann's harsh strings score to the shower scene.
After maneuvering Shurlock into leaving the film's content largely intact, Hitchcock learns the studio is only going to exhibit the film in two theaters. Hitchcock arranges for special theater instructions to pique the public's interest such as forbidding admittance after the film begins. At the film's premiere, Hitchcock first views the audience from the projection booth, looking out through its small window at the audience (a scene which recalls his spying on his leading actresses undressing earlier in the film, by looking through a hole cut in the dressing room wall - which itself is a voyeuristic motif included in the film of Psycho). Hitchcock then waits in the lobby for the audience's reaction, conducting to their reactions as they scream on cue. The film is rewarded with an enthusiastic reception.
With the film's screening being so well received, Hitchcock publicly thanks his wife afterward for helping make it possible and they affirm their love. At the conclusion at his home, Hitchcock addresses the audience noting Psycho proved a major high point of his career and he is currently pondering his next project. A crow lands on his shoulder as a reference to The Birds, before turning to meet with his wife.
The final title cards say that Hitchcock directed six more films after Psycho, none of which would eclipse its commercial success, and although he never won an Oscar, the American Film Institute awarded him its Life Achievement Award in 1979 - an award he claimed he shared, as he had his life, with his wife, Alma.
Character Error Hitchcock addresses the film music composer as "Bernie." Virtually no one called Bernard Herrmann that; those who were close to him called him "Benny."
Continuity While Hitch is in the middle of a chapter of "Psycho", Alma takes the book from him. He takes it back but continues reading from the beginning of another chapter.
Continuity When Hitch is finished being shaved in the barber's chair we see shaving cream residue on his cheeks. When he looks at his reflection in the hand mirror, the residue is gone, but when we see him from the front again, the residue is back.
Factual Mistake At two occasions we see the famous Bates Mansion in the background, facing the right side of the house, opposite of how it appears in Psycho. Originally the house was constructed with only 2 walls - the left and front facade.
Factual Mistake Vera Miles is portrayed behind the scenes of filming Psycho as having a full head of hair, when in reality she'd had her head shaved for her role in 5 Branded Women.
Anthony Hopkins actually met Alfred Hitchcock when he was younger. Hopkins was accompanied by his agent who introduced him to Hitchcock in a restaurant.
Real-life murderer Ed Gein inspired the character Norman Bates in the original Robert Bloch novel "Psycho"; Gein also inspired the character of Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) in Thomas Harris's novel "The Silence of the Lambs" which featured Anthony Hopkins in the film version.
The film was shot in 36 days.
In the end scene, a crow lands on Hitch's shoulder, indicating that his next project will be The Birds (1963). That film, and his relationship/obsession with leading lady Tippi Hedren were the basis for another film about Hitchcock, The Girl (2012), broadcast this same year.
The photograph Alfred picks up and reflects after his fight with Alma is an actual photograph of the real Hitchcock and Alma.
Anthony Hopkins is one of a number of several top British and American actors who actively pursued the role of Alfred Hitchcock.
The revised screenplay contained a large number of scenes for the characters of Janet Leigh, Vera Miles and Anthony Perkins. They were never filmed.
When Hitchcock is being driven home by Janet Leigh, when she questions his eating of the candy corn (which is not as posh and refined as his usual taste), he says "needs must when the devil drives". This is an old British phrase used in several Shakespeare plays that means when one is in a desperate situation, one must do things they don't normally do. This line and scene are meant to imply that he is agitated and his mental state is not what it normally is.
Among the actors who were considered or interviewed for the role of Alfred Hitchcock during the long preproduction were Oliver Platt, Richard Griffiths, Alfred Molina, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Murray and Johnny Depp.
The character of Ed Gein was included in the original screenplay. In subsequent drafts, the role of Gein was either eliminated completely or reduced in importance.
Andrew Garfield's rehearsal schedule and Broadway run in "Death of a Salesman" made him unavailable for the role of Anthony Perkins.
Among actors considered/auditioned to play Anthony Perkins were Ben Barnes, "Jack Huston,", Jackson Rathbone, Tom Felton, Ryan Merriman and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
During the lengthy development process, actresses considered or seen for the roles of Janet Leigh and Vera Miles included Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evan Rachel Wood, Abbie Cornish, January Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Kate Mara, Brit Marling, Ashley Greene, Emilie de Ravin, Camilla Belle, Natalie Dormer, Dianna Agron, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Sarah Gadon. In the end, Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel were cast.
Tony Goldwyn, Tony Shalhoub, Steve Guttenberg, Brad Garrett, Mark Strong and Rob Riggle were among the many actors seen/considered to play Lew Wasserman.
Coincidentally, in this film Helen Mirren portrays the wife of a famous film director when, in reality, she's married to a famous film director, namely, Taylor Hackford.
Scarlett Johansson portrays Janet Leigh in this film. Johansson and Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis share the same birthday.
Anthony Hopkins and Danny Huston have both played England's King Richard I, AKA Richard the Lionhearted. Huston played the part in Robin Hood (2010), while Hopkins played him in his film debut, The Lion in Winter (1968).
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