Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Flawed Men and the Women Who Loved Them

I saw two films in December at the Landmark Embarcadero which portrayed deeply flawed men who achieved greatness in their respective fields.

Hyde Park on Hudson starring Bill Murray & Laura Linney; directed by Roger Michell; (2012) - Official Website
Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins & Helen Mirren; directed by Sacha Gervasi; (2012) - Official Website

Hyde Park on Hudson tells the story of Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his relationship with Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney).  Suckley was FDR's sixth cousin and mistress.  What was it with FDR and his cousins?  Eleanor Roosevelt was his fifth cousin, once removed.  Suckley was FDR's companion and lover for over a decade.  If the film is to be believed, their relationship was on open secret known to the press, the White House staffers, Eleanor Roosevelt and others.

Much of the film takes place in June 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom visited FDR's country estate in Hyde Park, NY.  FDR, of course, is park of Hyde Park Roosevelts whereas Teddie Roosevelt and Eleanor are descended from the Oyster Point Roosevelts.  King George VI is the monarch portrayed by Colin Firth in The King's Speech.

King George's visit was an attempt to shore up American support for the coming war with Nazi Germany.  The war wouldn't officially start until September 1939 but the imminence of the war was apparent to all observers.  Hyde Park on Hudson portrays FDR as cavalier about the issue.  FDR seems to be sizing up King George as if to determine if the King is worthy of his support.  The King's willingness to be photographed eating a hot dog is the pivotal moment in Anglo-American relations if Hyde Park on Hudson is accurate.

FDR is often considered one of the greatest American presidents but Murray portrays him as henpecked and in need of feminine comfort in order to discharge his responsibilities.  FDR's private secretary, Marguerite LeHand (Elizabeth Marvel), acts as gatekeeper, procurer and sometime mistress.  Eleanor Roosevelt does not turn a blind eye towards her husband's dalliances.  She actually forms friendships with LeHand & Suckley.  It's implied that her sexuality at this point in their marriage is exclusively sapphic.  She views LeHand & Suckley's ministrations as beneficial to her marriage and country.  Suckley is caught unaware of the full extent on LeHand's services to the president.

There are times when I laughed at the incredulity of some of the situations.  Just before King George's bite heard around the world, FDR insists Suckley join the First Couple & the Royal Couple at the head picnic table as act of contrition.  You see, the evening before Suckley had caught FDR cheating on her with LeHand.  Technically, he was cheating on his wife with LeHand but I guess he was cheating on Suckley, once removed.

I forgot to mention the most powerful woman in FDR's life - his 83 year old mother, Sara.  In the film, FDR spends considerable time juggling the demands of his wife, cousin, secretary and mother while probing the British sovereign's haughtiness with paintings, alcohol and food.  It all seems ridiculous if you think about it for long but the film is amusing.  Murray doesn't quite do an impression of FDR.  He loses himself in the role which is more than he usually does.  Murray's character always seem to have certain similarity but in Hyde Park he completely subsumes himself in the persona of FDR.

The supporting actresses keep the film moving nicely.  I've been a fan of Laura Linney's I saw her as Dede in Tale of the City (it's already been 20 years since that miniseries aired).  Marvel's LeHand is the juiciest character in the film.  Suckley is a shy and withdrawn whereas as LeHand is self-assured; more so than one would expect from a private secretary...unless she was intimate with her boss.  Olivia Williams as Eleanor, Elizabeth Wilson as Sara Roosevelt & Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth are memorable.  Colman plays Elizabeth as bitchy & uptight.  Fortunately for Western civilization, her husband ate that hot dog over her objections or we would all be speaking German now.

If you don't take Hyde Park on Hudson too seriously (i.e. recognize it as a comedy), it's an entertaining film.


The scenes in Hitchcock are more believable because Alfred Hitchcock was such a larger than life character.  Documenting the making of PsychoHitchcock show how personally invested Hitchcock was in the film; both emotionally and financially.  The film is based on Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.  Psycho was based on Robert Bloch's Psycho with Norman Bates partially inspired by Ed Gein (aka The Plainfield Ghoul), a serial killer who tangential behaviors are numerous and ghoulish.

In Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense has hallucinations where he speaks with Gein during the production of Psycho.  Hitchcock really kicks into gear when we get see Anthony Hopkins do his Hitchcock imitation.  More closely matching Hitchcock's distinctive speech patterns than Murray in Hyde Park, Hopkins does seem to be doing more impersonation than interpretation.  With such an iconic personality, I don't know if Hopkins could have chosen a different route...although Murray.  However, these are two different films.  Whereas Hyde Park seems as though it would be better suited for serious drama, it strives for comedy.  Hitchcock with its flamboyant characters would be better suited to comedy but strives for drama.

The heart of Hitchcock is the relationship between Hitchcock & his wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren).  We see their power struggles within the marriage and their coping mechanisms.  Reville, Hitchcock's most trusted film advisor, scripted and edited all his films.  She chafed at having her own identity and considerable talents overlooked in favor of her husband, whom she help immensely.  Hitchcock had some peculiar interactions with his leading ladies.  Not necessarily sexual but sexualized, Hitchcock fell in love with his leading ladies and attempted to control them while Reville looked on, reining in his more bizarre behaviors but allowing him to fetishize his actresses to the creative benefit of his films (and detriment of their marriage).

Hitchcock is self-conscious of his weight and jealous of the men who pay attention to his wife.  Reville resents the attention her husband lavishes on his female actresses and suffers from low self-esteem in comparison to the ever younger and beautiful women being cast in his films.

Coming off the success of North by Northwest, Hitch is anxious to try something new and quickly champions Psycho despite the source material's macabre and outrĂ© elements.  Unwilling to find financing, Hitchcock mortgages his house.  From there we see him increasingly under pressure from the stress of the film production and the suspicion Reville is having an affair.  Along the way, Scarlett Johansson shows up as Janet Leigh.  I didn't think she looked or sounded much like Leigh but Johansson was sexy and magnetic like I remember Janet Leigh.  James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, has a smaller role in Hitchcock but captures Perkins/Bates much more least, accurate with my expectation.  Hitch bullies and teases Perkins as he knows about his closeted sexuality.  Toni Collette as Hitchcock's assistant and Jessica Biel as Vera Miles have smaller but memorable roles.

Like the best Hitchcock films, Hitchcock has a cheeky sense of dark humor which serves it well.  I  enjoyed Hitchcock quite a lot.  It's not a great film but it is a thoroughly delightful one.


Landmark Theaters have been running a "no cell phone" PSA before its screenings for a few month.  The spot feature Hitchcock admonishing the audience to not use cell phones.  The footage in the ad comes from Hitchcock.

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