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Film Appreciation... Psycho (1960)



Direction: Alfred Hitchcock (aa)
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano
(based on the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch)
Cinematography: John Russell (aa)
Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Joseph Hurley and Robert Clatworthy (aa)
Set Decoration: George Milo, (aa)
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Title Design: Saul Bass

Principal Characters...

Norman Bates: Anthony Perkins
Marion Crane: Janet Leigh (aa), (Golden Globe)
Lila Crane: Vera Miles
Sam Loomis: John Gavin
Milton Arbogast: Martin Balsam
George Lowery: Vaughn Taylor
Caroline: Patricia Hitchcock (Hitchcocks' wife)

NOTE: Do NOT read this review if you have not seen the movie!!!

"Psycho" is probably the most successful horror film of all time ("Silence of the Lambs" not-withstanding). The film cost $800,000 to make and continues to generate healthy revenues.

"Psycho" features some of the most amazing cinematography ever captured on film. The camera is used to deceive the audience, directing the audiences attention where Hitchcock wants it to be. Building the suspense slowly and inexorably towards the films conclusion.

The film is a virtual catalogue of cinematic techniques, a case study in audience manipulation. A filmmakers film It has an ability to appeal to mass emotions. It was designed for the audience in much the same way that Shakespeare's plays were. Hitchcock is an entertainer and the film is entertaining.

Hitchcock manipulates his audience "playing the viewer like an organ". Establishing sympathy and audience identification at the outset with heroine (Janet Leigh). He builds this sympathy for the first 45 minutes. He does this by pointing out that she is young, attractive, and in love but she has problems, problems money can solve. Thus when a lecherous client of her firm hands over a cash payment that is composed of unreported income, she can't resist stealing $40,000 from this disgusting, dishonest dirty old man.

Questions mount: will she be caught? Will she get away with it? Will she come to her senses, return the money and try to salvage what is left of her life? We cringe as she blunders. We pity her for her naivety when she repeatedly draws attention to herself, eventually catching the attention of the police.

We are relieved when she eventually stops at the Bates motel and has the sort of intimate conversation that you can only have with a stranger. And, when she repents and decides to return the money we heave a sigh of relief. When she returns to her room and decides to shower we are made to feel as if the dirt of her crime is being washed away.

Imagine our shock when she is brutally murdered in a 45 second shower sequence (7 days and 70 different camera set ups). Hitchcock used a combination of quick cuts and sound effects (mellon, or cabbage) to make the attack seem so brutal. This places the audience in an awful position, our heroine is dead and the film is only half over. Every convention of story telling is shot. We know we are in a nightmare world where anything can happen.

With Janet Leigh gone we must transfer our loyalties to Anthony Perkins, the pleasant modest charming young man who has been terrorized/traumatized by the bloody shower stall. Film auteur Francois Truffau insists that we give our sympathy to Perkins because of the way he cleans up the bathroom and protects his mother. Yes, incredible as it seems when Perkins mops up the bathroom and begins to take care of his mother we begin to root for him. No Lady McBeth ever did a better job of washing her hands. This is another Hitchcock trick. There is no reason to suspect that his mother doesn't exist. We are certain we have seen her murder Arbogast, the detective. He fools us in this scene when we see the knife brandishing mother come rushing from the bedroom, and the scene where he carries her into the cellar by using a high angle shot which is ingeniously engineered so that we never ask why we are never allowed to see her face. It never occurs to us that Norman's "mummy" is a mummy, and that she has been "preserved" by her taxidermist son, the matricididal maniac. When Norman is revealed as the murderer, our world is shattered again.

Psycho is one of the most strongly constructed films ever made. Goes against the audience's expectations. It is a demagogic work by a master craftsman who knows what he is doing and why. He did this to have fun with the camera - to demonstrate the power of the screen and like Shakespeare to please the audience.

Memorable Lines...
"She's as harmless as one of those stuffed birds."
"We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?"
"I stepped into a private trap back there and I have to go pull myself back out of it."
"You mind looking at the picture before committing yourself?"
"Old habits die hard."
"If it doesn't jell, it isn't aspic, and this doesn't gel."

1999 Debbie Twyman. All rights reserved. TERMS OF USE