psycho | alfred hitchcock | joseph stefano | anthony perkins | janet leigh | vera miles | based on | novel | robert bloch | norman bates | proto-slasher | mystery | thriller | united states | john gavin | martin balsam | john mcintire | simon oakland | frank albertson
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Joseph Stefano
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles
This film I have fond memories of. My mother showed it to me when I was growing up and despite my not liking black and white films then, I enjoyed this one quite a bit. I thought the twist was absolutely amazing and the cultural significance of this film is immense. I’ve seen his movie many times throughout the years, with the last few times in the theater. I even took Jaime, as she had never seen this version as well. The official synopsis is a Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
We kick off this one with a couple in a motel room. The woman is Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her lover is Sam Loomis (John Gavin). They meet up here because they aren’t married. Sam loves her, but he is divorced and has a lot of debts. Marion loves him and wants to marry. She is getting frustrated with their relationship. She just wants to be with him. This is an interesting dynamic for the time period.
That is when something pops up that could help their situation. Her boss brings in a client that is trying to buy a house for his daughter and comes in with $40,000 in cash. Marion is asked to take it to the bank. She inquires if she can go home afterwards due to a headache. What she really does is heads home, packs and tries to flee. Her boss sees her in the car though or at least he thinks he does.
What I really like about the next sequence is that Marion is hearing the voices of everyone back in Phoenix. She is thinking about what is probably happening, even though she has until Monday to get away, as these events happened on a Friday. I like this, because this is exactly what I do about a lot of situations in my life. I will play them in my head for all possible scenarios, your normal overthinker. It does seem these are the exact conversations that are being had as well.
Marion has a run-in with a highway patrol officer and this causes her to trade in her car and buy a used one. She then plays out what happens there in head as well. She doesn’t make things easier as she comes off very suspicious. She is vague in her answers and she does things that are highly unusual.
It starts to rain so she pulls off to a motel. It turns out to be the Bates Motel and she meets with the proprietor, Norman (Anthony Perkins). They get along pretty well and it is clear that he is attracted to her. There is an issue that arises with his mother and him not giving her dinner. This all leads to the infamous shower scene.
Something that I didn’t notice in my previous viewings of this film is that Marion changes her mind about what she is trying to do after she speaks with Norman. This makes what happens to her effect me even more, because she is going to try to do the right thing despite what she did. I also want to comment on the impact of what happens to her as well. Most of us already know the twist here, heck I believe there are a lot of people who know this scene without even seeing this film. This is iconic, because it changes cinema and influences great films like Scream.
When Marion goes missing, her sister Lila (Vera Miles) seeks out Sam and so does Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam), a private detective who is searching out the stolen money. This all leads everyone back to the Bates Motel and to learn the truth about Norman and his mother.
The issues with Norman are also interesting. It isn’t the textbook definition of split personalities, as they can talk to each other. The final images we see in the fruit cellar end up influencing films going forward like Dressed to Kill.
Acting in this film is also quite amazing. Perkins is perfect as Norman. The novel has him overweight and kind of greasy looking. This film makes it unnerving that he has the boy next door looks and he seems quite harmless. Knowing what he is capable of though makes it that much scarier. Miles and Gavin are solid as the two who are trying to figure out what happened to Marion. Leigh is amazing and what happens to her is iconic for cinema to come. The rest of the cast round out the film very well for what was needed also.
Runtime on the film is 109 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like it. We move through the plot points at a good clip. I even thought it was interesting that I knew the outcome of the mystery, but this time around I was focusing more on things that I didn’t notice in previous viewings of the film. The only thing that I didn’t like is the psychologist who is explaining Norman and his psyche. I don’t mind it to an extent, but I think it goes too far. It is interesting getting in giallo films, as they took this concept along with villains across genres. The final image of Norman is great as is the actual reveal as well.
As for the effects, there aren’t a lot of them. A lot of this goes to the time period and what they could show. The shower scene is amazing though. We never actually see the knife penetrating due to the great editing, but we feel like we see it. The blood is good in that the water is washing some of it away and the splatters look realistic. The final image of the film has a cool effect that I had never noticed until these later viewings. The film is also shot amazing. I come to expect that from an Alfred Hitchcock film though.
Something that really helps make this film feel eerie is the Bernard Herrmann’s score. I actually listen to this one when I’m writing, because the music sets the perfect mood. There are some scenes that aren’t even scary as to what we are seeing, but the music gives it such an unnerving feeling that it gets my anxiety going. The music cues during the shower scene are also iconic.
Now with that said, this film is a classic. It is important film for many genres. It helped to spark the slasher films that could come a couple decades later. There is the issue of man being the monster and mental illness. It is shocking what it does with a popular actress like Leigh and quite iconic as well. The rest of the acting is great as is the story overall. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but what is used are great as is how the film is directed. The score also definitely helps this film and is also quite amazing. If you’ve never seen this classic, I recommend giving it a viewing. Even if you know what the reveal is, it is fun to try to pick out things to reinforce it. This film is very near perfect.
My Rating: 10 out of 10