Psycho (1960)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Joseph Stephano from a novel by Robert Bloch
Shamley Productions
Repeat viewing/My DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Norman Bates: I think I must have one of those faces you can’t help believing.

I would give anything to have seen this, uncontaminated, on opening night.  I knew the ending before I ever saw the film and had seen it several times before this viewing.  Then again, familiarity only leaves room to appreciate the excellencies of all its elements.

As the film begins, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is enjoying the “last” of her lunch-time liaisons with Sam (John Gavin), a divorced lover who cannot afford to marry her.  She announces she can’t take any more hiding.  When she returns to her work as a secretary in a real estate agency, opportunity falls into her lap in the form of $40,000 cash with which a client is paying for a property.  He is such an old lech that she feels little guilt in misappropriating the money, which she has been tasked to deposit in the bank.  She heads for Sam’s place in California.

On a dark and stormy night, she is forced to stop at an isolated motel en route to her destination.  There she befriends the awkward young manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

When Marion fails to report to work on Monday, her sister (Vera Miles) and a private investigator (Martin Balsam) begin to search for her and the missing $40,000.  With Patricia Hitchcock as an irritating co-worker.

This far from my favorite Hitchcock.  The ending is anti-climactic and the climax is gimmicky, especially when you are expecting it.  But the elements are all so brilliant!  The famous shower scene is breathtaking, especially when the camera descends on Leigh’s frozen eye as it ends.  The score has never been topped.  Perkins was unfortunately so convincing that he was mostly condemned to reprising this role for the rest of his career. Highly recommended.

Psycho was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actress (Leigh); Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White.


11 thoughts on “Psycho (1960)

  1. I’ve seen the whole thing four or five times in my life. But I’ve watched it from the beginning to the scene where Anthony Perkins cleans up the murder scene a bunch more times. I call it “The Adventures of Marion Crane.”

    It’s great movie, but it loses so much after you see it the first time. It’s far from my favorite Hitchcock. My two favorites are Suspicion and The Birds, but over the last few years, I find myself ever more fascinated by Dial M for Murder and I keep watching it every six months or so.

    I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by “The Adventures of Marion Crane.” I think maybe it’s because that opening is just so tense and suspenseful and … well, choreographed might be a good word. The last half is more of a loose collection of great moments built around John Gavin and Martin Balsam and Vera Miles playing detective.

    Perkins is awesome, I can’t deny that, but the real star of Psycho is Janet Leigh.

    • Agree completely that the second half of the film pales in comparison to the first. “Mother” has always bothered me. We get the big build up but she really only looks like a Halloween fright mask rather than somebody’s dead mother. Undoubtedly it works better if you don’t know what’s coming.

  2. This talk about Anthony Perkins prompts me to make you sure that you have Pretty Poison on your list for later in the 1960s, 1968 I think. Tuesday Weld is also in it. Its not so well known as Psycho, so you’re not as likely to know all about it. I love it! I’ve only seen it once but I remember it very well and I think of it whenever Perkins or Weld is mentioned because it’s such a great movie for both of them.

    • I’ve been looking forward to seeing Pretty Poison for years! As much for Tuesday Weld as for Perkins. She made plenty of bad movies but was never bad in them. Have you seen Play It As It Lays? It’s another good Perkins-Weld outing.

      • I saw Play It As It Lays on a double bill with Pretty Poison at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. 1990s, I think. Great double bill. Almost too much to handle in one night.

  3. It is a great film, of course, but it’s not nearly my favorite Hitchcock, either. In fact, I think it finishes some distance behind Peeping Tom in terms of genre thrillers. Everything Psycho does, Peeping Tom does as well, and PT goes further, harder, and nastier.

  4. Had it not been for that terrible ending this would have been up there with the best of Hitchcock. Still there is so much to love in this movie. As you say, that score has never been topped.

  5. I recently revisited PSYCHO. If nothing else, it increased the chances of Jack Warner taking a risk on WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? And B Horror films got a whole lot more sophisticated.

    Consider reading: “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello.
    Good insights into Hitchcock’s process. I forget if Rebello comments on the ending. Was it forced on him?

    • Paving the way for hundreds of slasher movies yet to come … I think I might actually own Rebello’s book. Would be a good thing if I would finally a) locate it and b) read it!

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