Reactionary Causes

Sexy Without Trying

Sexy no longer means the same thing

Janet Leigh in Psycho
Photo: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

It was announced late yesterday that Scarlett Johansson will be playing Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho directed by Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil). Fine. Whatever.

I'm sure we'll see a recreation of the iconic shower scene and I hope, at the very least, there will be a scene dedicated to the conversation between Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano with Stefano urging Hitchcock to show the flushing toilet. Yeah, that would be a highlight for me.

Along with Johansson, James D'Arcy has been added to the cast as Anthony Perkins and the two join Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren who will play Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville respectively. The story is said to center on the relationship between Hitch and Alma as he sets about making what has become one of the most iconic horror movies of all time. 20th Century Fox is set to release the feature in 2013 from a script written by John McLaughlin based on Stephen Rebello's 1998 non-fiction book of the same name.

Variety reports the film is drawing comparisons to My Week With Marilyn, which also showed the making of a film while focusing on the relationship between Marilyn Monroe and Colin Clark. Hopefully this story will be a bit more compelling than that film ended up being.

Scarlett Johansson D&GAs for my headline, it's due to the casting of Johansson and the difference in today's actresses compared to year's gone by. Sure, "sexy without trying" is a bit misleading, because there is certainly a lot of "try" in both the screenshot above and below, but you wouldn't know it to look at Leigh's performance. Today's actresses have this pouty, mouth agape look to them. They're softened up by too much makeup and the word "sexy" doesn't rarely seems to play a role in the conversation any more.

Watching Leigh in Psycho you are immediately struck by her sheer beauty in that opening scene, wearing a white bra and slip as she cuddles up to John Gavin as Sam Loomis. You'd be forgiven if their discussion slipped your memory. Not too long after that the woman in white becomes the woman in black as she prepares for her road trip, $40,000 in hand and an unexpected future ahead of her.

It's hard to imagine many of today's porcelain doll, scantily clad actresses in such a role, it's one of the reasons I think Noomi Rapace struck such a chord with viewers when they first saw her as Lisbeth Salander. Rooney Mara also served the character well in David Fincher's remake, winning the role over Johansson whom Fincher referred to later saying, "Scarlett Johansson was great. It was a great audition, I'm telling you. But the thing with Scarlett is, you can't wait for her to take her clothes off."

It's no surprise people can't wait for Scarlett to take her clothes off. She's a beautiful woman with a great body. I'm not denying that or attempting to pretend she's not attractive, but "sexy" has become a whole different beast when it comes to movies nowadays and I'm not quite sure many of today's actresses could pull off being sexy the same way Leigh did in Psycho or the same way any of Hitchcock's leading ladies did in any of his films from Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief or Kim Novak in Vertigo. If we expand outside of Hitchcock, I look at Anne Baxter in All About Eve and think her sex appeal trounces any of today's actresses and she pulls it off inside an Oscar nominated performance.

If I was to really cast one of today's actresses as Janet Leigh -- an actress I felt could take on that level of sex appeal and performance and do it effortlessly -- I'd probably look to someone like Elizabeth Olsen (probably too young), Jessica Chastain or maybe Rachel McAdams. Michelle Williams is obviously in the conversation as is Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron, the latter of which is only four years older than Leigh was when she starred in Psycho.

I know it sounds like I'm complaining about the casting of Johansson, but really I'm just using it as an opportunity to point out what I see as a glaring difference in today's actresses from those 50 years ago. That said, no, I don't see Johansson as Janet Leigh, but maybe that's just me.

Janet Leigh in Psycho
Photo: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
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  • Adriano

    Well, I think Scarlett will be a perfect "icy Hitchcock blonde".

    And to me, she has never been sexier than in Lost in Translation, where she stays fully clothed all the time. It's all in her voice, her lips, her half-smiles.

    I was understanding your point of view - that you weren't specifically criticizing Scarlett's casting - until you started naming other actresses for the role. That, for me, showed that yeah, you were just criticizing her casting.

    But that's just my opinion.

    • Brad Brevet

      I assume you say that because you disagree with my alternates?

      I think, however, your Lost in Translation comments speaks volumes and makes for a good talking point. She is no longer the same actress we saw in that film. No longer understated and real.

      • Central Ohio

        I don't think she's the same actress since Matchpoint. Maybe she's not understated and real in that film but she is irresistable and seductive. Maybe those aren't the right ingredients to play Janet Leigh but can't you say that she has the chops and the looks to pull it off?

      • Adriano

        Brad, actually I think your alternates are very well-chosen.

  • SilentJoe13

    You're not the only one. I don't see Janet Leigh in Scarlett. Then again, I did'nt think Michelle Williams would look anything like Marilyn Monroe. Then when the film actually came out, she looked as close as one could be to Marilyn in her face and the way she acted. She really embodied Marilyn Monroe so there has to be a reason why Scarlett was cast as Janet. May she acted just like Janet Leigh and now makeup just has to be make her look like Janet Leigh.

  • VChile

    It's that bemused, street wise quality Leigh had that was sexy to me; like she'd be fun to have around and was game for just about anything. She had it in Manchurian Candidate too. I could see Scarlett as Kim Novak more readily. (I also think Timothy Spall would have been perfect as Hitch.)

  • jbob

    So I guess the Alfred Hitchcock isn't going to be, um, a bit large in this film? Unless Anthony Hopkins will have a fat suit, though I doubt it.

    I always thought Daniel Benzali, from Murder One would make a great Hitchcock if he could do the accent.

  • immature

    Maybe actresses were sexier back then because sexiness wasn't the only consideration but part of a total package. Anne Baxter is a good example of this--I never thought of her as sexy before, but thinking about her now, I can see you're exactly right. Sexy without all the overt effort.

  • Winchester

    I don't see Scarlett as Leigh personally, but then apart from her voice I never found Leigh sexy in Psycho either so...........

    • Cagney

      I totally agree. I have only watched Pycho maybe 3 or 4 times in my life, but it has never occured to me to think of Janet Leigh as sexy, even the opening scene where i do remember her being half naked, it was never sexy to me. For my money, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest (even more than Kim Novak) is the sexiest of Hitchcock's leading ladies. The scene where she seduces Cary Grant still gives me a boner.