“Cue Up the String Section for Hitchcock’s Psycho”

The A&E (Arts and Entertainment) network has recently added a new series, “Bates Motel,” based on a reimagining, if you will, of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” After watching the first four episodes, I decided to go back and view the original movie again. It has been over fifty years since the layered, tension filled, psychological thriller “Psycho” premiered in New York City on June 16, 1960. Most people by now, especially cinephiles, are familiar with the twist that comes at the end of the first horror movie ever directed by Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds), which also became the highest grossing film of his career, and was the last movie he ever made in black and white. What if, however, a person, perhaps a young teenager, who is just starting to discover the vast world of cinema beyond the latest summer blockbuster, didn’t have prior knowledge of what the movie entailed? What would they make of the film during the first part of its 109 minute runtime? The plot, the way it is constructed by screenwriter Joseph Stefano, (The Outer Limits) based on the novel by Robert Bloch (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour), could lead one to believe, during the first half of the movie, that they are watching a crime drama. As an aside, Bloch based his novel on Ed Gein, who murdered two women and stole bodies from cemeteries in and around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin.

Psycho Pic 1

Janet Leigh (Touch of Evil) portrays Marion Crane, a woman who is in love with John Gavin’s character of Sam Loomis. The film opens with the two in a seedy hotel room. Sam is in love with Marion, but due to his divorce from his first wife, as well as covering a deceased father’s debts, he doesn’t have the necessary finances to make Marion his wife. Marion wants their relationship to be a legitimate one, as suggested by the dialogue the characters engage in, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear cut path to achieving that end. As luck, or in this case misfortune, has it, the Phoenix, Arizona real estate office where Marion works as a secretary is visited that day by the character of Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson) who has decided to buy his daughter a house as his wedding gift to her. He is dropping off the amount of $40,000 cash, much to the displeasure of Marion’s boss, George Lowery (Vaughn Taylor). Lowery instructs Marion to take the money to the bank and deposit it. The temptation, however, proves to be too great for the love struck Marion. She decides to pack some things and head off to find Sam, so they can start a new life together. She banks on the fact that it being Friday, it will be Monday before anyone knows what she has done, and she will be long gone by then.

Psycho Pic 2

During her journey, fate throws roadblocks at Marion, as a warning to her to turn around and go back. It is, after all, the weekend, plenty of time to return home and deposit the money at the start of business on Monday morning. First she is spotted at a traffic light by, of all people, her boss, who, after recognizing her, gives her a quick smile before looking at her again with a puzzled expression. She had after all asked if she could go home after she dropped the money off at the bank because she wasn’t feeling well due to a headache. That particular scene is the catalyst which invokes feelings of paranoia in Marion, but still she pushes onward to meet her lover. The following morning, she is awakened by a highway patrol officer (Mort Mills) after he discovers her sleeping in her car. He inspects her driver’s license and looks at her license plate number, but does not detain her; however, he subsequently follows her. She trades in her car for a different one at a used car lot run by John Anderson’s character of California Charlie, who remarks to the impatient Marion, “It’s the first time the customer ever high-pressured the salesman.” Upon receiving her new car, she is in such a hurry to flee the scene, especially since the highway patrol officer has made his way onto the lot, that she nearly takes off without her luggage that was in the car she was initially driving.

Next, Mother Nature provides a downpour, which makes it difficult for her to see the road, and because of that, Marion winds up off the main highway. She comes across the Bates Motel; where she will meet Norman Bates. Anthony Perkins (Fear Strikes Out), in his career defining role, embodies the character of the demented, enthusiast of taxidermy. In Bloch’s novel, Norman is an unattractive man, who is overweight, short and bald, which is a radical departure from Perkins’ charismatic looks. Hitchcock came up with the idea to switch the physical traits around, so that the role could be portrayed by a young, in shape and attractive actor.

Pyscho Pic 3

Psycho Pic 4

The closing minutes of Marion’s life consist of dining with Norman, her last meal is a sandwich he prepared for her. He converses with her on subjects such as his stuffed birds and his mother, before she heads off to cabin number one, where she will take her final shower, and meet her end by mother’s knife-wielding hand. The ultra famous shower scene took a full week to film, and utilized seventy different camera angles, in order to capture the iconic forty-five seconds that the viewer sees. The blood used in the scene was actually Bosco chocolate Syrup. While filming the shower scene, Janet Leigh was completely unfazed, but after viewing the film in its entirety, she never showered again, opting to take baths the rest of her life.

Psycho Pic 5

At this point, the central focus switches from the film being a crime drama, to focusing on Norman and what he will do, now that his mother has murdered Crane. His first act is to erase any and all trace that a crime has been committed. Norman goes about cleaning the room and placing Marion’s body in the car that she had arrived in and disposed of both by submerging the car in a nearby swamp. He even goes so far as to bite his finger nails as he waits for the last visible part of the car to sink all the way down into its murky tomb. That, however, is not the end of Norman having to deal with Miss Crane and her short-lived stay at the motel.

Arriving on the scene after the life taking event unfolds is Detective Milton Arbogast, portrayed by famed television and movie actor, the always competent, Martin Balsam. He has been hired by Tom Cassidy to retrieve the missing money. But, he is not the only one looking for Marion. Her sister, Lila, portrayed by Vera Miles, (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) comes looking for her, and meets up with Sam, to see if she’s with him, and quickly learning that she isn’t, the two set off to solve the mystery of her disappearance. What will Norman do with all of these inquiring individuals? Will his mother systematically murder each one of them, and drown their bodies in the swamp? Will the law catch up to mother and son, resulting in both their incarcerations? Is the truth about what happened to Marion Crane ever learned? Given the film’s age and widespread notoriety, most of you probably already know the answers to those questions; but in consideration of any young new film aficionados who may be reading this blog, I will refrain from answering them here.

Psycho Pic 6

Trivia buffs take note: Hitchcock paid $9,000 to acquire the rights to Robert Bloch’s novel. Afterwards, he purchased as many copies of the book as he could as a way to try and guard the ending of the movie from getting out to the public. In addition, on the first day of filming, Hitchcock made everyone involved with the movie promise that they would not discuss plot points with people who were not working on the film. He also kept the ending of the script secret from the cast until it came time to film the scene. The AFI (The American Film Institute) in 2007, ranked “Psycho” number fourteen on their list of the one hundred greatest movies of all time; the film also came in at number one on their list of AFI 100 Years…100 Thrills, and the character of Norman Bates took second place on the list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, losing out to Hannibal Lecter.

Made for an estimated budget that was a little bit more than $800,000 dollars, “Psycho,” as of 2004 had grossed approximately $50,000,000 dollars worldwide. If the spot on performances, or Hitchcock’s impeccable direction, don’t grab you, than perhaps composer Bernard Hermann’s memorable score will. Originally Hitchcock wanted the shower scene to be devoid of sound, but after hearing what Herrmann came up with for it, changed his mind. The score also was honored with a high rank by The American Film Institute, coming in at number four on their list of 100 Years of Film Scores. In 1992, the film was selected, and rightfully so, for preservation in The National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. For those of you out there who cherish movies, this is definitely one that should have a place in your permanent collection.

Psycho Pic 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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22 Responses to “Cue Up the String Section for Hitchcock’s Psycho”

  1. I’ve seen ‘Psycho’ many times, and think it’s a fantastic film, but late last year I was able to see it for the first time on the big screen (well, an old-time movie house with a bigger screen than my TV!), and the presentation and surroundings actually improved upon my enjoyment of it. Afterwards, I too wondered what the people in the audience, who had never seen it before, thought about the film and its ending. Unfortunately, all five of them left before I could ask them!

    And I absolutely love the above photo of the motel and the house looming in the distance…cool and creepy at the same time.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I would love to see not only “Psycho,” on the big screen, but numerous other Hitchcock films; he truly is one of my all time favorite directors. The sort of place you described in your comment sounds like a place where I would love to watch movies. I would be interested in finding a handful of people out there who haven’t seen the movie, and haven’t been exposed to many films, in general, in order to ask them about how they felt regarding the ending. Thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I greatly appreciate it.

      • No problem! Thanks for visiting my blog, too…I’ll be digging through yours and looking at some of your older posts over the next few days. I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a few Hitchcock films at theaters over the last few decades…and that old-time theater where I saw ‘Psycho’ is indeed a neat little place to see a film. I just wish it was located closer to where I live, so I could frequent it more often…like, daily!

  2. Pingback: Oblivion, the Lammy Awards and a little Filth | filmhipster

  3. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    I love the “no-one but NO-ONE shall…” at the end 🙂

    Great piece. Well written.

  4. Great review of a great film

  5. It almost seems to not be a horror movie and that’s what makes the plot twist so poignant. You get truly wrapped up in Marion’s escape that the events at the Bates motel almost blind side you. There is some wonderful information you gathered and relayed about the film in this post. The main theme in Hermann’s score was fantastic also – if you listen to it without watching the film, it gets you uneasy and anxious with its fast-paced, staccato violins.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      I completely agree with you; it almost doesn’t have the look and feel of a horror movie. Thank you for reading my blog and for your compliment regarding the information I put in it. I have been a fan of the music of Bernard Hermann since the first moment I ever heard anything scored by him. I agree with your comment regarding the music that, if listened to without the accompaniment of the film, it can make one feel harried.

  6. Wonderful review. I love how you focused on all the signs to return the money. Too bad she didn’t but it made for a terrific movie. 🙂

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Thank you for reading my blog and for your compliment; I appreciate it. Agreed, had she paid just a bit more attention to the signs, she could have saved herself, especially if she had turned around and headed back home once she was awakened in her car by the police officer.

  7. Great selection for a review. I need to check out that Bates Motel show that sounds interesting. Have you ever seen the shot by shot remake Gus Van Sant filmed in 1998? Strange how it jut couldn’t recapture the magic.

  8. robbinsrealm says:

    Thank you for reading my blog and for your comment regarding my review. I have watched all of the episodes of “Bates Motel,” with the exception of the newest one, and I am enjoying it. I was glad to read that it has been renewed for a second season because I would like to see what direction they are going to take the show in. I am interested in finding out if the writers will keep Norman on the same trajectory that leads him to the events learned about at the end of “Psycho,” or if they will give it their own twist. I have never seen the remake that was directed by Gus Van Sant. I have heard mixed reviews of it.

  9. Rob Zappulla says:

    I was very disappointed with “Bates Motel,” mostly because of show runner Carlton Cuse’s decision to make it a modern prequel. Most of the fear generated from “Psycho” really came from its grainy, black-and-white filming and the old fashioned music. When they start throwing around cell phones and rap music, I just felt as though it lost some of the magic that the original movie had.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      For starters, thank you for reading my blog and commenting. I greatly appreciate it. In terms of the modernization of the Norman Bates character through the television show “Bates Motel,” I have spoken to other people who have expressed the same sentiments that you have. Since Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, I have done my best to separate his original classic from the modern day series. I would like to see what direction they are going to take the show in. I am interested in finding out if the writers will wind up having Norman turn into the same character that led to the events learned about at the end of Psycho, or if they can come up with a twist that viewers won’t be expecting.

  10. This is a great classic movie and one of my favourites. I was thinking of doing a Hitchcock series soon as I am really fond of his movies and he is one also a favourite director of mine. Nice review. 😊

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Yes, it is a powerful film that definitely has stayed with me over the years. I have seen it a number of times, and never once thought, okay, I’ve seen this film enough.

      • I guess it’s one of those movies that are timeless and one you cms never get bored of. I find old movies like this brings out a better mood in me too if I feel a little mundane shall we say.

        I’m curious..do you happen to have a favourite Hitchcock movie, they are all equally superb in their own way but any that is very memorable to you?

      • robbinsrealm says:

        He is definitely one of my favorite directors. If I had to pick one film of his, it would be Vertigo; there is a magic to it, that keeps drawing me back to wanting to watch it.

      • Hitchcock certainly had great vision of what he wanted to create within a crime thriller and all his movies have been wonderful in mastering that. Vertigo is such a great movie and James Stewart was great in it. And the twist to the plot is a great unveiling.

        One of my favourites is Dial M for Murder tied with Rear Window.

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