If you haven’t seen it:
You haven’t seen Psycho? Really? You should see it as soon as possible before someone spoils the ending for you. Even if you haven’t seen it and you don’t know the end, I imagine you know about the scene in the … oh, I don’t know whether to mention it or not…perhaps not.
Let’s just say that it stars Janet Leigh as a young woman who steals money from her employer, and flees in her car, starting off an unpleasant and unpredictable chain of events.
One of the things that made Psycho such a successful thriller, was that it took its audience completely by surprise. Many of the techniques used have often been copied by modern film makers, so the surprises might not shock viewers the way they used to, but it still worth seeing before someone tells you about the…oops, nearly!
If you have seen it:
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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) impulsively flees her workplace with a large sum of stolen money. She hopes this will enable her married lover to divorce his wife and marry her. When she stops at the Bates Motel though, and chats with the proprietor Norman, she resolves to return the money. However, Norman’s domineering mother intervenes, and murders Marion by stabbing her as she takes a shower.
Norman cleans up the mess and disposes of the body in a nearby swamp. However, people start to turn up at the Motel looking for Marion. Mother kills a private investigator, and tries to kill Marion’s sister too, before she is stopped. We learn that in fact, Norman’s mother died ten years earlier, and the killer is in fact the deranged Norman, wearing his mother’s clothes and a wig.
After Norman is arrested, a forensic psychiatrist explains that Norman’s dead mother is living in Norman’s psyche as an alternate personality. Norman had killed his mother in a jealous rage when she had taken a lover. Consumed with guilt, he “erased the crime” by bringing his mother back to life in his own mind.
“Psycho” – a poem by Paul Perro
In a big old house on top of a hill
Lives Norman Bates, he is mentally ill.
He likes to dress up as his mommy dear,
For reasons that are not completely clear.
He slaughters the guests at the Bates Motel,
He kills suspicious detectives as well.
He wears a dress; no, he’s not gay or bi,
It’s just his modus operandi.
Trivia Trish Says:
- Psycho was Alfred Hitchcock’s last feature film in black and white. The main reason he shot the movie in black and white was to keep the cost down, but also he thought it might be too gory in color.
- Hitchcock produced this film when plans to make a film starring Audrey Hepburn, called “No Bail for the Judge,” fell through.
- Hitchcock was reportedly not impressed with the performance of John Gavin (Sam Loomis) in the film and referred to the actor as “the stiff”.
- In the opening scene, Marion Crane is wearing a white bra because Hitchcock wanted to show her as being “angelic”, and she has a white purse. After she has stolen the money, we see her in a black bra, and her purse is black.
- For the shot looking up into the shower head through the streams of water, a six-foot-diameter shower head was created specially so that the water would flow past the camera lens.
- Psycho was the first American film ever to show a toilet flushing on screen.
- The house was built by cannibalizing sets from other movies, including a tower from the house in Harvey. The house still stands today, and is one of the highlights of the Universal Studios tour.
- Cinemas that showed Psycho had a cardboard cut-out of Alfred Hitchcock in the lobby, pointing to his wristwatch, with the following caption: “The manager of this theatre has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theatre any persons after the picture starts. Any spurious attempts to enter by side doors, fire escapes or ventilating shafts will be met by force. The entire objective of this extraordinary policy, of course, is to help you enjoy Psycho more. Alfred Hitchcock”
- “Mother” in the shower scene is not played by Anthony Perkins. Perkins said “Hitchcock was very worried that the dual role and nature of Norman Bates would be exposed if I were to appear in that scene. I think it was the recognizability of my silhouette, which is rather slim and broad in the shoulder. That worried him.”
- The stabbing scene in the shower is reported to have taken seven days to shoot using 70 different camera angles but only lasts 45 seconds in the movie. The sound that the knife makes penetrating the flesh is actually the sound of a knife stabbing a casaba melon. The blood was chocolate syrup.
- Controversy arose years later when Saul Bass made claims that he had actually directed the shower scene. However, those who worked on the film have refuted this claim.
- After Psycho’s release Alfred Hitchcock received an angry letter from the father of a girl who refused to have a bath after seeing Les Diaboliques and now refused to shower after seeing Psycho. Hitchcock sent a note back simply saying, “Send her to the dry cleaners.”
- During preproduction, to mislead the press and the audiences, Alfred Hitchcock started a rumour that he was considering Helen Hayes for the part of Mother. Several actresses subsequently wrote to him requesting auditions. During filming, Alfred Hitchcock had a canvas chair with “Mrs. Bates” written on the back prominently placed on the set
- Robert Bloch’s novel, upon which the film is based, was inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, the serial killer who was also the inspiration for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
- In the original novel, Norman Bates is short, fat, older, and not as likable. It was Alfred Hitchcock who decided to have him be young, handsome, and sympathetic. Norman is also clearly the main character in the novel. The story opens with him and Mother fighting, rather than following Marion from the start.
Steve Sunday Says:
I’m not entirely sure I believe in these “alternate personalities”. It sounds to me like the sort of thing a defendant might fake in order to get away with murder, and a psychiatrist might go along with in order to write a paper about it, and a film maker might think that it sounds like a good idea for a thriller. I should make it clear at this point though that my opinion is completely amateur, and, if I am honest with myself, probably wrong. Doesn’t it all seem a bit convenient though, and how do we really know what is going on in people’s heads? I have similar suspicions about stage hypnotism which are probably wrong as well.
Just in case anyone is tempted to start agreeing with me, I should mention at this point that until fairly recently I was also sceptical about the existence of badgers. I had never seen a live one, even though they are supposed to be very common in my home country, and that seemed suspicious. I had a well thought-out theory that I used to trot out regularly to anyone who would listen, that badgers were in fact a hoax, and the world was divided into those who were in on the joke and those who were not – much like with Santa Claus. I had to reconsider my position however when an irritated work colleague, sick of my ridiculous ramblings, drove me to an animal rescue centre, and handed me a couple of adorable baby badgers. I suppose it is possible that they were surgically enhanced (and strategically painted) kittens, but I have to admit the more likely explanation is that I was wrong about the badger conspiracy. I am probably also wrong about alternate personalities and hypnosis.
Anyway, you don’t need to believe in alternate personalities to enjoy Psycho, in the same way that you don’t have to believe in elves to enjoy The Lord of the Rings (although funnily enough, I do believe in elves!). Psycho is a great film, and I love it.
Main Cast and Crew:
Anthony Perkins … Norman Bates
Vera Miles … Lila Crane
John Gavin … Sam Loomis
Janet Leigh … Marion Crane
Martin Balsam … Det. Milton Arbogast
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
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