#32) Psycho (1960) [Original 2017 Post]

psycho-1960-movie-poster

#32) Psycho (1960)

OR “Motherboy ‘60”

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Written by Joseph Stefano. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch.

Class of 1992

Perhaps the longest trailer in film history. And it doesn’t give anything away!

This is my original “Psycho” write-up, but wouldn’t you rather read the revised, expanded version instead?

The Plot: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) doesn’t have enough money to marry her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin). When her boss (Vaughn Taylor) asks her to make a $40,000 deposit in the bank, Marion takes the money and runs (well, drives). She ends up staying the night at the Bates Motel, keeping company with the manager Norman (Anthony Perkins), who tells her about his domineering mother. When Marion disappears, her sister Lila (Vera Miles) investigates.

Why It Matters: The NFR hails the film’s enduring shock value, and praises Perkins and Leigh as well as Bernard Herrmann’s score. An essay by film journalist Charles Taylor praises the film’s ability to still be suspenseful despite the fact that everyone knows the film’s major spoilers.

But Does It Really?: “Psycho” is my vote for the best Hitchcock film. After a career of big budget, elegant looking films like “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest”, Hitch proved he could get down and dirty with a low-budget gritty film that supplies plenty of edge-of-your seat thrills. “Psycho” is like a good roller coaster; the first time is exhilarating, and every time after that is just as much fun, even if you know where the twists are. Why this film had to wait until the NFR’s fourth go-round to make the cut is beyond me.

Everybody Gets One: Oh, Anthony Perkins. He’s very, very good in this film. So much so that he was typecast for the rest of his life, despite being capable of so much more (I personally love him in “Evening Primrose”). Perkins eventually gave in and reprised the role of Norman later in life (see Legacy below). Amazingly, practically everyone else in this film has at least one more NFR entry on their resume.

Wow, That’s Dated: You mean besides the chronic sexism? It’s quick but, in traditional Hitchcock fashion, it’s definitely there.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Psycho” received four Oscar nominations, and won none of them. Hitchcock lost his fifth and final bid for Best Director, Janet Leigh missed out on her only acting nomination, and the film’s art direction and cinematography lost to, respectively, “The Apartment” and “Sons and Lovers” (the latter being a good alternate title for this film). For those of you paying attention, that’s no nominations for Anthony Perkins, Bernard Herrmann or Joseph Stefano, and no Best Picture nod.

Other notes

  • This movie got the green light when Audrey Hepburn bowed out of Hitch’s proposed courtroom drama “No Bail for the Judge” due to pregnancy. So congratulations, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, you are indirectly responsible for one of the greatest American films ever!
  • This is my first Saul Bass credits sequence on the Registry. I can’t think of an opening credit scene that has so much impact with so little actually happening. They’ll be more to come from Mr. Bass.
  • Oh yeah, I always forget how uninteresting Sam/John Gavin is. It’s the one thing the remake (barely) has over the original.
  • Why the cowboy hat, Hitch?
  • That’s Hitch’s daughter Patricia as Mr. Lowery’s other secretary. Her acting career was pretty much limited to her father’s films and episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”.
  • Geez, Tom Cassidy is almost as gross towards Marion as Norman is.
  • Speaking of, Frank Albertson (the actor playing Tom Cassidy) is Sam Wainwright from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Hee-haw!
  • Ladies and gentlemen, California Charlie.
  • I feel like Norman gives Marion plenty of red flags during their dinner. Taxidermy as a hobby, his obvious mother issues; Marion, you in danger girl.
  • When all is said and done, that shower scene is still effectively chilling.
  • My favorite shot in the film is right after the shower scene, when the camera pans back into Marion’s room, as if it too isn’t quite sure what to do next.
  • After watching Norman’s step-by-step process, I now feel fully qualified to clean up a murder in a motel room.
  • Why such an intense close-up on Martin Balsam when he enters the film?
  • I do love that the first big scene involving Norman’s backstory features two characters in their bathrobes.
  • Shout-out to Simon Oakland as the psychiatrist at the end. It’s a little long (even Roger Ebert thought it could’ve been edited), but Oakland is clearly relishing the chance to go full Poirot in his one scene.
  • That’s future “Mary Tyler Moore” star Ted Knight as the policeman outside of Norman’s cell. And here I thought it all started for him at a 5000-watt radio station in Fresno, California.
  • So based on the film’s timeline, the first scene is on December 11th, Marion checks into the Bates Motel on the 12th, Arbogast investigates on the 19th, and Lila and Sam check in on the 20th. The holidays must have been tough for the Crane family after that.

Legacy

  • Oh, where to begin? Let’s start with Perkins and Universal’s attempt to franchise “Psycho” in the ‘80s.
  • Don’t worry; Gus Van Sant did a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot remake in 1998. I have seen it, and it hurts my soul.
  • A 1987 “Bates Motel” pilot that never made it to series, and a 2013 “Bates Motel” reboot/prequel series that recently wrapped up with the events of the film.
  • This is one of the rare films to inspire another film about its creation. 2012’s “Hitchcock” proves that even the making of a film classic can be bogged down by obvious Biopic 101 trappings.
  • Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” owes a thing or two to “Psycho”.
  • 24 Hour Psycho”, which answers the question; What if “Psycho” had been directed by Andy Warhol?
  • “That kid gets no tip.”

Further Viewing: A look at how meticulously Hitch promoted the film, right down to his strict “No Late Seating” policy.

 

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