Suspense. Intrigue. Shock. Irony. Dark humor. Romance.

These themes are often the stuff of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock's films, most of which are now regarded as classics of cinema.

These themes are also the stuff of "Hitchcock," a semi-biographical film about Hitchcock (an uncanny Anthony Hopkins), his wife Alma Reville (a fine Helen Mirren) and the producing, filming and 1960 premiere of "Psycho."

Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958) is now regarded by movie critics and movie-goers as the greatest movie of all-time, eclipsing director Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane."

Hitchcock was looking for a follow up to his hit "North by Northwest" (1959). Paramount Pictures, to which Hitchcock owed one more film under his contract, refused to finance "Psycho."

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the subject material of "Psycho," that of a murder, the way in which the screenplay presented the story, and the then graphic scenes Hitchcock planned to film, caused censors at first to deny Hitchcock a certificate for the film.

Hitchcock and his wife refinanced their Beverly Hills mansion to raise the $800,000 budget for the film, which Paramount then reluctantly agreed to distribute.

"Psycho" opened in only two movie theaters in the United States. Hitchcock devised a clever marketing campaign, similar to those of so-called exploitation films, whereby movie theater owners were warned of the "shock-value" content and urged to hire Pinkerton guards and have nurses on duty to deal with possible movie-goers' negative reactions.

"Hitchcock" is a story about the making of "Psycho" and, moreover, a love story about Hitchcock and his wife.

While "Hitchcock" may not delight casual movie-goers, it is an absolute delight for the movie buff and Hitchcock film fans: The process of discovering a book, with nice supporting work by Toni Collette as Peggy, Hitch's long-suffering secretary; the transforming of novel to movie screenplay -- with hands-on contributions by Alma at the typewriter; the casting process, with satisfying turns by Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, the star of "Psycho"; a very believable turn by Jennifer Biel as Vera Miles, a supporting actress in "Psycho"; and James D'Arcy as a spot-on Tony Perkins, portraying Norman Bates, the disturbed mommy-complex son and murderer at the terror heart of "Psycho."

The psychology of a Hitchcock film and the psychology of Alfred Hitchcock himself is explored, but not in a didactic, heavy-handed way.

"Hitchcock" is directed by Sacha Gervasi (screenplay, "The Terminal"; director, "Anvil: The Story of Anvil" documentary) from a screenplay by John J. McLaughlin based on the book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho'" by Stephen Rebello.

"Hitchcock" handles Alfred Hitchcock with kid gloves -- much as the way the great master handled his own films.

Look for possible Oscar nominations for Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock and Helen Mirren as Alma Reville.

If you've seen the Bates' family home on the back lot at Universal Studios, Hollywood, are a Hitchcock film fan, or a movie buff, "Hitchcock" is a must-see.

"Hitchcock," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material; Genre Biography, Drama; Run Time: 1 hr., 38 min.; Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The Paramount Studios' gate shown in "Hitchcock" is the actual entranceway to the studio along Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

Box Office, Dec. 28: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," No. 1 three weeks in a row, $31.9 million, $221.7 million, keeping "Django Unchained" opening at No. 2, $30.1, weekend; $63.4 million, since Dec. 25 opening, keeping "Les Miserables," opening at No. 2, $27.2 million, weekend, $66.7 million, since Dec. 25 opening; and keeping "Parental Guidance" opening at No. 4, $14.5 million, $29.3 million, since Dec. 25 opening;

5 :"Jack Reacher, "$14 million, $44.6 million, two weeks; 6."This is 40," $12.5 million, $36.4 million, two weeks; "Lincoln," $7.3 million, $131.8 million, eight weeks; 8. "The Guilt Trip," $6.7 million, $21.1 million, two weeks; 9. "Monsters, Inc. 3D," $6.4 million, $18.5 million, two weeks; 10. "Rise of the Guardians," $4.9 million, $90.2 million, six weeks;

Unreel, Jan. 4:

"Texas Chainsaw 3D," R: A woman who travels to Texas to collect an inheritance encounters a chainsaw-wielding killer. Alexandra Daddario and Tania Raymonde star in the horror film.

"A Dark Truth," R: A former CIA operative turned political talk show host is hired by a corporate whistle-blower to expose a cover up of a South American village massacre in the action thriller. Andy Garcia stars.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes