Psycho (1960)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stefano

If Alfred Hitchcock is legendary, then Psycho is his marquee, legendary American film. The British director made a number of films in America that can easily be considered masterpieces, and film buff nearly unanimously, and rightfully so, drool over the man’s work, but Psycho is the film that most people would readily associate with Hitchcock. It is one of those films that even if you have not seen it, you feel like you have because of its high profile. I can remember seeing it one night when I was much younger and it made quite the impression on me. So much so that years later it made my first attempt at a Top 100 Films list. But last year I did not place it on that list because it had been so many years since my last viewing. Now after seeing it a second time, I can honestly say that it is back in contention.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a real estate secretary in Phoenix, Arizona where a client has just made a $40,000 cash purchase. In love with Sam (John Gavin), she takes the opportunity, after being delegated the task of depositing the cash, to run off to where Sam is from and never look back. But after checking in to the Bates Motel, she encounters the sheltered yet amiable manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Missing, Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) and Sam work with a PI (Martin Balsam) to find out what happened to Marion.

I love watching the old trailers for Hitch’s films, mostly because Hitchcock is actually in them, something you would never see these days. Not being alive in the time period, I am curious how big a profile Hitchcock had because it makes it seem like he was not only very popular, but also noticeable enough to lead his trailers. I cannot imagine Chris Nolan doing that today, or any other directer other than maybe Spielberg or Scorsese. I do not have faith that moviegoers would be able to identify who they were. But what I like about the Hitchcock trailers is that I can only imagine them shooting the thing, probably in the middle of shooting the film. This would indicate to me that Hitchcock has the confidence and ability to know just exactly how his film is going to turn out. He knows what will work and why it will work. His touch, which I have noticed throughout the month with these Hitchcocktober viewings, is one that is more surehanded, and brilliantly constructed than perhaps any other director’s works.

Psycho pulls this off with some of the biggest, most iconic, and memorable scenes ever put to film, period. Everyone by know is familiar with the shower scene, and for those that have not seen it, should. Not only is it truly riveting and frightening, but for the films lead actress and star, Janet Leigh, to be dispatched with so early in the film is a shocking attention getter. Where does the film go now? Anywhere it wants to go. And what makes this, and so many other scenes in the film, work as well as it does it three things. 1. The camera work is stellar throughout, and this comes down from the vision of Hitchcock and the ability to show us, the audience, just the right thing at the right time, which brings me to the second. 2. The editing is amazing, particularly in the control shown in the shower scene, which features frenetic editing that meshes so well with the films score, which is three. 3. The score, composed by long time Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann, is about as iconic as they come. Never before have I seen a film as fueled by its score as this. It works in perfect psychosis (I cannot really use the word harmony in a review of Psycho, can I?) with the film. If the shower scene is iconic, the score is its equal in that regard.

It is amazing how much, and how easily the film has inspired me to discuss. Heck, I feel like I haven’t even talked that much about the film yet! And I know I haven’t mentioned Anthony Perkins yet, who is perfect in the role of Norman Bates. He plays it seemingly perfect with a very innocent and sheltered Mama’s Boy characterization of the demented hotel manager. If I had one thing negative to talk about it would be that the film’s pace seemed inconsistent throughout, especially when compared to the other Hitchcock classics. But I can even spin that as a positive because the film is in fact titled Psycho. Hitchcock shows that the “psycho” is not only in the form of the killer, but Marion shows signs as well, running off after stealing $40,000. You can see it on her face while she is driving through the storm. Her eyes tell you she is crazy as well. And even the other characters make some decisions which call into question their mental stability. There is a bit of crazy in all of us, just not maybe as much as the killer in this case.

There are always complaints about the ending of the film too, but I found it to be good. It might not compare to the rest of the film and the speech by the doctor is a bit tiresome, but the rest of the film is far good enough to overcome a lackluster ending and make it another Hitchcock classic. And one last thing I do want to make sure I mention is a particular shot which has stuck with me since my initial viewing of the film all the way to this one and will stay with me probably forever. One of my single favorite moments in this film, or any film for that matter, is when Det. Arbogast is falling down the stairs in the house. The surrealness of the shot is unmatched by anything I have seen and I think it suits the film perfectly.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent write-up! Psycho is one of those films I begin to doubt myself on, thinking perhaps, it isn't quite as good as I thought, but then I revisit it – and it is. So brilliant. And like you, the ending really doesn't bother me at all. Everything else is so strong, any weakness there doesn't matter.

    Love that you discussed the trailer – Hitchcock's appearance in it and others should call to our attention the fact that someone is creating these films, that they are, in fact, fictional, but somehow there's not that negative impact. The films are, instead, heightened, somehow, our experience of them, knowing that there's this master behind them, maybe, enjoying them with us.


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