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Psycho (1960) - Illustrated Reference
Psycho was directed by Sir Alfred Hitchcock. It premiered on the 16th of June 1960. Starring Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam and Janet Leigh. Screenplay by Joseph Stefano. Based on the novel by Robert Bloch. Music by Bernard Herrmann. 109mins.
Marion Crane, seizing the opportunity to start a new life with her lover Sam Loomis, steals $40,000 from her employer’s client. Packing her bags she leaves Phoenix, Arizona to join Sam in Fairvale, California. On the journey there during a wet and stormy night she decides to get off the highway and spend the night at a motel.
After the success of North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was planning to make a film with Audrey Hepburn titled No Bail for the Judge but that was scrapped after Hepburn became pregnant.
He settled on a novel by Robert Bloch (1917-1994) which was inspired by real life psycho Ed Gein (1906-1984). Paramount studios didn’t want Hitchcock to make Psycho saying it was “too repulsive”. So Hitch shot the film at Universal using his own company Shamley Productions and most of the crew from his TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Marion Crane: Do you have any vacancies?
Norman Bates: Oh, we have 12 vacancies. 12 cabins, 12 vacancies.
Janet Leigh (1927-2004) / Marion Crane. Marion works at a real estate office, her boss Mr. Lowery gives her $40,000 to take to the bank for one of his wealthy clients. She decides to take the money and escape to California where her lover resides. Unfortunately she stops at the Bates Motel on her way there.
Born in California, Janet Leigh was married to Tony Curtis from 1951 to 1962 they had two daughters Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis. She received an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Psycho. Leigh won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her role as Marion Crane.
Norman Bates: Uh, m-m-mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today.
Anthony Perkins (1932-1992) / Norman Bates. After the death of his father young Norman suffers emotional abuse from his mother Norma, she tells him that all women are whores and that sexual intercourse is a sin. Mad with jealousy after seeing his mother with her lover he poisons them both.
The crime causes his mind to snap and he develops a multiple personality disorder. He preserves his mother’s corpse and takes on her persona even talking in her voice. “Mother” will make sure no one takes her boy away from her.
Born in New York City, Perkins had appeared in 11 movies before taking on the iconic role of Norman Bates, among them The Tin Star (1957), Green Mansions (1959) and On the Beach (1959). He would reprise the role of Norman Bates in two sequels and a prequel.
Sheriff Al Chambers: Your detective told you he couldn't come right back because he was goin' to question Norman Bates' mother. Right?
Lila Crane: Yes.
Sheriff Al Chambers: Norman Bates' mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cemetery for the past ten years!
Vera Miles (1929-) / Lila Crane, Marion’s sister. She and Sam go searching for Marion after she went missing, a private detective calls to tell them Marion may have spent the night at the Bates Motel. They go to investigate, Lila discovers the corpse of Norman’s mother in the cellar. Whereupon she is attacked by Norman as “mother”, he is subdued by Sam.
Born in Oklahoma, Vera Miles had also appeared in Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956) as the wife of a musician (Henry Fonda) falsely accused of a crime. Miles would play Lila Crane again in the sequel Psycho II (1983), now known as Lila Loomis after marrying Sam.
John Gavin (1931-) / Sam Loomis. Marion Crane’s lover, he and Lila search the Bates motel after they are told she was last seen there.
Born in Los Angeles, Gavin had also played Julius Caesar in Spartacus in 1960. He was considered for the role of James Bond after George Lazenby left the Secret Service, but Sean Connery returned for one more film.
Martin Balsam (1919-1996) / Milton Arbogast, a private detective hired by Marion Crane’s boss Mr. Lowery after she goes missing with $40,000 he gave her to bank. He traces Marion to the Bates Motel where he has a fatal encounter with “mother”.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Balsam has also appeared in 12 Angry Men (1959), Cape Fear (1962), Seven Days in May (1964), The Carpetbaggers (1964) and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for A Thousand Clowns (1965).
Simon Oakland (1915-1983) / Dr. Richmond a forensic psychiatrist who explains Norman Bates psychosis to Lila and Sam.
Born in New York City, Simon Oakland appeared in West Side Story (1961) as Lt. Schrank. Other films include The Sand Pebbles (1966) and Bullitt (1968).
Norman Bates: It's not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?
In the novel Norman Bates is middle-aged, short and fat.
Lana Turner and Angie Dickinson were considered for the part of the doomed Marion Crane. 20 years later Dickinson starred in Brian de Palma’s homage to Psycho, Dressed to Kill (1980). Like Hitchcock’s classic the female lead is shockingly killed about halfway through. She is slashed to death with a razor blade in an elevator.
The film’s most famous and shocking sequence took seven days to shoot, using 77 camera angles, the shower murder takes up just 45 seconds of screen time. Chocolate syrup was used for blood. Doubly shocking at the time in that no one expected Janet Leigh to get killed off 45 minutes into the film and while having a shower too.
Hitchcock at first wanted the shower murder to have no music at all but composer Bernard Herrmann asked Hitch to watch the scene with some music he composed, Hitch changed his mind. The shrieking violins would become one of the movie’s most memorable features.
One of the greatest composers in film history, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) composed the music for movies ranging from Citizen Kane (1941) to Taxi Driver (1976), receiving Oscar nominations for both and winning for The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941). Herrmann scored seven movies for Hitchcock including Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959).
One of my favourite shots in the film appears at the very end, a subliminal shot of Norma's skull superimposed over Norman’s smiling face. Only lasts a second but it’s chilling. The shot is followed by Marion’s car being pulled out of the swamp.
Psycho is said to be the first American film to show a toilet flushing.
Hitchcock’s cameo is near the start of the film, he can be spotted wearing a cowboy hat outside Marion’s office.
As a joke Hitchcock hid “mother’s corpse” in Janet Leigh’s dressing room closet, he would judge by her reaction if it was effective for the film.
The incredible trailer to Psycho lasts a whopping 7 minutes and features Hitchcock himself taking the viewer on a tour of the Bates house and motel. The trailer finishes with Hitch in a motel bathroom pulling aside the shower curtain followed by a quick shot of a woman (Vera Miles) screaming.
Movie theatres showing Psycho had large posters of Hitchcock pointing at his watch placed outside with the words – “No one ... BUT NO ONE ... will be admitted to the theatre after the start of each performance of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.”
Hitch filmed Psycho in black and white because it was going to get a little gory plus he wanted to film it as cheaply as possible. It was filmed in 30 days and cost just $800,000 to produce. It went on to gross $32m making it Hitchcock’s most successful film.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards – Best Director, Best Actress, Art Direction and Cinematography. Billy Wilder’s The Apartment was the big winner that year. Hitchcock was also nominated by the Director’s Guild of America.
Psycho was one of the films selected in 1992 for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Two sequels, a prequel and remake appeared decades later - Psycho II (1983), Psycho III (1986 directed by Anthony Perkins), Psycho IV-The Beginning (1990 TV) and Psycho (1998) a pointless shot-for-shot remake of the original in colour directed by Gus Van Sant, starring Anne Heche as Marion Crane and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates.
Psycho is Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece, hugely influential, much copied and imitated. Now half a century old the film hasn’t lost its power to shock and thrill.
The Blu-ray release is beautifully remastered and contains a commentary by Stephen Rebello author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho.”
Norma Bates: They're probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I'm not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching... they'll see. They'll see and they'll know, and they'll say, "Why, she wouldn't even harm a fly..."
The Critics Wrote –
"As hair raising as anything I've seen on the screen... And I warn you if you've got a queasy stomach stay away... The picture is as magnetising as a snake poised to pounce... It makes Frankenstein seem as dull as noughts and crosses." (Margaret Hinxman, Daily Herald)
"A journey into hell that robs us, at calculated intervals of our guides... For the first time in movie history the heroine.. has actually been murdered... and the hero has been demolished: Hitchcock has removed the last line of defense between us and the knife." (Kenneth Tynan, Observer, 1968)
"The "Psycho" diagnosis, commercially, is this: an unusual, good entertainment... Hitchcock uses the old plea that nobody give out the ending "It's the only one we have." This will be abided by here, but it must be said that the central force throughout the feature is a mother who is a homicidal maniac. This is unusual because she happens to be physically defunct, has been for some years. But she lives on in the person of her son." (Variety)
"One of the messiest, most nauseating murders ever filmed. At close range, the camera watches every twitch, gurgle, convulsion and haemorrhage in the process by which a living human becomes a corpse...a spectacle of stomach-churning horror.” (Time)
"One of the most vile and disgusting films ever made. Now look here, Maestro Hitchcock, just what is the game? ... A sad waste of talent." (Rene MacColl, Daily Express)
“To my relief, this is the felicitous, the mischievous, old-style Old Master Hitchcock. Though you, of course, may say I am loco about Psycho.” (Dilys Powell, Sunday Times)