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Psycho

Psycho(1960)

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teaser Psycho (1960)

SYNOPSIS

Marion Crane lives a discontented life in Phoenix, working at a dull job for a real estate company and carrying on an illicit affair with Sam Loomis, who lives in California. Deciding to take a bold step for her future, Marion steals $40,000 from her office and heads west to start a new life with Sam. Exhausted and driven off the main highway by a fierce storm, Marion checks into a deserted motel displaying a vacancy sign. She is befriended by the shy, nervous manager, Norman Bates, who lives in the old house next door with his domineering, invalid mother. After sharing a light supper and conversation with Norman, Marion decides to take the money back. [Spoiler alert] But while taking a shower, she is brutally stabbed to death by a knife-wielding figure. Norman discovers Marion's dead body and, to cover what he believes is his mother's crime, puts the corpse in her car and sinks it in a swamp. The next day, however, there are others to contend with: Marion's erstwhile boyfriend Sam, her sister Lila, and Arbogast, an investigator hired by Lila to find her. And then there's Mother who....isn't quite herself these days.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Joseph Hurley
Original Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast).
BW-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

Why PSYCHO is Essential

Psycho is more than familiar to us today; it is one of those pop culture artifacts that has seeped far into the general consciousness and vernacular. Who hasn't, at some point, jokingly made a stabbing motion accompanied by a vocal imitation of those shrieking violins, or regarded with trepidation a rundown motel off the beaten path? It may be difficult, then, to recall just how shocking, even revolutionary, it seemed in 1960. Here was a very popular and respected director of suspenseful entertainments turning away from big budget Technicolor productions to make what looked and felt like a low budget exploitation film with suggestions of illicit sex, nudity, transvestism, and insanity; some conservative reviewers even accused it of being pornographic. Perhaps most audacious of all, Hitchcock killed off his star less than halfway through the story in a moment of horrific violence so artfully done that audiences swore they saw more than was actually shown; some even believed the film had switched from black-and-white to color revealing the victim's red blood gushing from deep knife wounds. Psycho was the most talked about movie of its day, and nearly fifty years later, film lovers still discuss it. Despite one critic's dismissal of it as a "miserable peep show," it was a huge box office success at the time of its release despite generally mixed reviews, and has attained the status of true classic.

What's remarkable about Psycho, however, is that no matter how many times we've seen it and are fully aware of all the twists and shocks Hitchcock urged us not to reveal during its initial run, the film still has the power to jolt us. It also continues to make viewers laugh (it works as a black comedy and a horror flick) and at the same time move and fascinate us. It works so well because Hitchcock is an expert at manipulating an audience's identification and point of view like no other filmmaker before him. He makes us voyeurs to a tawdry sexual liaison, then complicit in a theft, and eventually co-conspirators in a tense escape. Just when our identification with and sympathy for the "main" character is at its highest, he tears the very screen apart, removing this central figure in a single, shocking scene. It abruptly ends the plot we thought we were following, and transfers our point of view to that of a psychotic killer.

Hitchcock put it best when he said that viewers of Psycho are "aroused by pure film." Beyond the story, beyond the characters, beyond the themes critics have read into it and the influence it has had on succeeding generations of filmmakers, what carries us along is cinematic technique at its most inventive. It is so skillful and wickedly playful that we return to it again and again, delighting in its brilliant execution. Just ask director Gus Van Sant, who made an experimental near shot-for-shot remake/homage in 1998.

One last essential ingredient in Psycho's success must be mentioned when discussing the picture and that is Bernard Herrmann's unforgettable score. Hitchcock himself admitted that at least a third of the movie's impact depended on the music. Like the film as a whole, the score has been imitated, parodied, referenced innumerable times, and absorbed into the cultural subconscious. The music for Psycho is a prime example of one of the most successful and masterly collaborations between director and composer in film history.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Psycho (1960)

The commercial success of Psycho resulted almost immediately in a flood of low-budget shockers, many of which deliberately recalled the title of this classic with names such as Homicidal (1961), Maniac (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), Hysteria (1965), Berserk! (1967), Deranged (1974, also based on the real-life Ed Gein case), Spasmo (1974) and Schizo (1976).

Joan Crawford, star of both Strait-Jacket and Berserk!, also made another horror film that recalled elements of Psycho. In I Saw What You Did (1965), the top-billed Crawford is killed after only a limited amount of screen time. There is also a shower murder scene with a slight twist on the original.

Psycho is responsible, in some ways, for inspiring dozens of "slasher movies," which became particularly popular in the 1980s. Many of them also had some sort of sexual angle (although far less subtle), much more blatant gore, and rarely the artistry or mastery of the medium displayed in the original.

The real-life case of Ed Gein has inspired several other films, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and all its sequels and remakes and The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

In the horror comedy Ed and His Dead Mother (1993), Steve Buscemi plays a nerdy young man who revives his dead mother, to whom he was strongly attached, only to have her embark on a series of gruesome acts.

References and homages to Psycho, including lines from the film, character traits and plot points, and most often, homages to and parodies of the shower scene, have turned up in TV shows and movies too numerous to mention. Among the most famous and most obvious are the films of Hitchcock fan Brian De Palma, who opens both Carrie (1976) and Dressed to Kill (1980) with disturbing shower scenes. In the latter picture, De Palma stages the murder of the nominal star less than halfway through the movie in an elevator, recalling Janet Leigh's death in the confined space of the tub. In De Palma's Raising Cain (1992), John Lithgow watches a car sink slowly into a lake, a direct reference to the similar scene with Norman Bates disposing of Marion Crane's car.

Bernard Herrmann's influential score has been imitated for both horror and comic effects in numerous movies, including Robert Altman's Images (1972), Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Creepshow 2 (1987), Monsters, Inc. (2001), and Jackass: The Movie (2002). The shrieking violins theme of the shower scene, the most famous and most imitated cue in movie music history, has become part of common vernacular. Most people, in fact, can recall themselves or someone they know vocalizing it at some point. Characters in movies such as Donnie Darko (2001) and the television sitcom Friends have also referenced the famous shower theme vocally.

When Janet Leigh, as a character named "Norma," first appears in the horror film Halloween H20 (1998), a few bars of Herrmann's musical motif is heard on the soundtrack.

In his Hitchcock spoof High Anxiety (1977), Mel Brooks is attacked in the shower by a motel employee wielding a newspaper. The ink running off the wet paper flows down the drain like the black-and-white "blood" in the original.

Perhaps no television show has referenced Psycho more times than The Simpsons, which has featured the music, the Bates house, and Norman's name, among other connections, often in the show's popular annual Halloween episodes.

In the early Rainer Werner Fassbinder film Love Is Colder Than Death (1969), a character expresses her desire to get some sunglasses like the ones the cop wears in Psycho.

When he hosted the popular comedy show Saturday Night Live in the 1970s, Anthony Perkins spoofed his role in Psycho in a skit called "The Norman Bates School of Motel Management," in which he portrayed the character asking a series of multiple choice questions about ordinary decisions a motel manager must make in the course of a day to meet customers' needs. The correct answer option to each situation was "Hack her to pieces with a kitchen knife." Other allusions to Psycho abounded throughout the episode.

Psycho spawned two sequels, one in 1983, in which Vera Miles reprised her role as Lila Loomis, and another in 1986 directed by Anthony Perkins, who played Norman again in both movies. A prequel was made for television, Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990), featuring Perkins one last time (the actor died two years later) and co-starring Henry Thomas as the young Norman and Olivia Hussey as his mother.

Gus Van Sant made a shot-for-shot tribute remake in color in 1998 with Vince Vaughn as Norman, Anne Heche as Marion, Julianne Moore as Lila, and Viggo Mortensen as Sam.

A made-for-TV film, Bates Motel (1987), featured Bud Cort as a former asylum roommate of Norman's who inherits the motel and tries to reopen it, only to face strange occurrences.

Janet Leigh previously played a young woman menaced in a remote, seedy hotel in Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1958). In that movie, Dennis Weaver played a nervous, twitchy motel manager.

Janet Leigh had a long and fruitful career in cinema that included 80 movies and television shows between 1947 and 2005, among them such notable and popular films as Little Women (1949), My Sister Eileen (1955), Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), An American Dream (1966), and The Fog (1980). Her identification with this role and the fame it brought her was so overwhelming that when her obituary appeared in the New York Times on October 5, 2004, the headline read: "Janet Leigh, 77, Shower Taker of Psycho."

Leigh remarked that once the picture went into widespread television distribution, she began receiving piles of crank mail, some of them threatening her with the gruesome death of the shower scene. The letters were always turned over to the FBI. "I didn't get scared by the shower scene, but these cranks could haunt me the rest of my life," she said.

A Hitchcock attraction was installed at Universal Studios theme park in Florida, featuring the Bates house and an interactive shower scene. The Universal Studios tour in California drives past the original set of the Bates house.

Janet Leigh wrote about her experiences in making this film in the 1995 book Psycho: Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller (Harmony), co-authored with Christopher Nickens. Several book-length studies of the film have been published, and Robert Bloch's original novel remains in print and continues to sell.

Some film analysts have noticed a similarity between the close-up of Arbogast's murder to that of the bloodied woman with the lorgnette in the Odessa Steps sequence of Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin (1925).

In addition to Psycho and others mentioned above, many bands and musicians have taken their names or songs from the true life facts of Ed Gein's life.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock can be spotted in his expected gag cameo in Psycho outside Marion's office, wearing an oversized Stetson.

Hitchcock said he put the date and time at the beginning of the film to suggest that Marion has to sneak off on her lunch hour to carry on an illicit affair with her lover, Sam, and also to allow the viewer to be a Peeping Tom.

Psycho was Alfred Hitchcock's last Academy Award nomination for Best Director. He was nominated four times previouslyfor Rebecca (1940), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), and Rear Window (1954)but never won. In 1968, he was given the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, presented to producers, not directors, for their consistent high quality of motion picture production.

Bernard Herrmann is considered one of the most important and innovative film composers in cinema history. His first musical score was for Orson Welles's landmark debut film Citizen Kane (1941). He went on to do a number of important pictures before his friend and fellow composer Lyn Murray (who scored Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, 1955) suggested him to the director. His first score for Hitchcock was The Trouble with Harry (1955), followed by The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958), and North by Northwest (1959). After Psycho he worked with Hitchcock again on The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), as well as several episodes of the Hitchcock TV series. In later years he contributed to other thrillers, such as Sisters (1973) and Obsession (1976), both directed by Hitchcock devotee Brian De Palma. His last memorable score, completed before his death in 1975, was for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).

Bernard Herrmann received no awards or nominations for composing one of the most famous and influential scores in film history. Hitchcock, however, acknowledged the importance of his score by giving Herrmann the second most prominent billing in the credits, right before his own directing credit.

Psycho was the first movie adapted from a novel by Robert Bloch (1917-1994), and despite its great success, he only received $9,000 from selling the film rights to his novel. However, the movie helped his career tremendously, and he wrote for a number of films and television shows over the next three decades, most of them in the horror/thriller/suspense genre, such as The Night Walker (1964) starring Barbara Stanwyck, and Strait-Jacket (1964) with Joan Crawford.

Although Hitchcock disliked John Gavin as an actor, he was cast in two episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on television, but they were not directed by Hitchcock. Gavin left acting in the early 80s after he was appointed Ambassador to Mexico by President Ronald Reagan. He served in the post until 1986. Since then he has been engaged in various business ventures.

Hitchcock's daughter Pat made her third and final appearance for her father in Psycho as a co-worker of Marion Crane's in the beginning of the film. Pat had previously played supporting roles in Stage Fright (1950) and Strangers on a Train (1951). She also appeared in several episodes of the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents between the mid 50s and 1960.

Observers have pointed out that, relevant to Norman's hobby of stuffing dead birds, Marion Crane's last name is that of a bird.

The painting that Norman removes from the wall to spy on Marion undressing is a replica depicting the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders; it is about a virtuous young woman who is spied on by two old men while she bathes. The elders then try to blackmail her into having sex with them.

The policeman attending to Norman in the final scene of Psycho was played by Ted Knight, who would become famous in the 1970s as bumbling anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Many reviewers reacted negatively to Hitchcock's insistence that they see Psycho with audiences instead of in advance special screenings. This decision may have angered some of them and contributed to accusations of Psycho as being "cruel," "sadistic," and even "pornographic."

According to Hitchcock, when Psycho was shown in Thailand, they did not dub it or use subtitles. "They shut off the sound and a man stands somewhere near the screen and interprets all the roles, using different voices," he told Francois Truffaut.

"Even though I knew what was going to come, I screamed. And even though I knew I was sitting there in that screening quite alive and well, it was a very emotional thing to see your own demise." Janet Leigh on viewing the film for the first time.

"My main satisfaction is that the film had an effect on the audiences, and I consider that very important. I don't care about the subject matter; I don't care about the acting; but I do care about the pieces of film and the photography and the soundtrack and all of the technical ingredients that made the audience scream. I feel it's tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion. ... It wasn't a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film. ... That's why I take pride in the fact that Psycho, more than any of my other pictures, is a film that belongs to filmmakers, to you and me." Alfred Hitchcock to French director Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock (Simon & Schuster, 1983).

Memorable Quotes from PSYCHO

TOM CASSIDY (Frank Albertson): Well I ain't about to kiss off forty thousand dollars! I'll get it back, and if any of it's missin' I'll replace it with her fine, soft flesh!

NORMAN (Anthony Perkins): Oh, we have 12 vacancies. 12 cabins, 12 vacancies.

NORMAN: You-you eat like a bird.
MARION (Janet Leigh): (looking around at the stuffed birds in the room) And you'd know, of course.
NORMAN: No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression "eats like a bird" it-it's really a fals-fals-fals-falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But I-I don't really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things. You knowtaxidermy.

NORMAN: She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?

NORMAN: Uh-uh, Mother-m-mother, uh, what is the phrase? She isn't quite herself today.

NORMAN: You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.

NORMAN: A boy's best friend is his mother.

NORMAN: Mother! Oh God, mother! Blood! Blood!

DR. RICHMOND (Simon Oakland): I got the whole story, but not from Norman. I got it from his mother. Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half-existed to begin with. And now, the other half has taken over. Probably for all time.
LILA (Vera Miles): Did he kill my sister?
DR. RICHMOND: Yes...and no.

NORMAN/MOTHER: 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."

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Psycho (1960)

On November 17, 1957, police in Plainfield, Wisconsin, investigating the robbery of a local hardware store and the disappearance of its owner, Bernice Worden, arrived at the dilapidated farmhouse of 51-year-old Ed Gein, the last person seen at the store. They found Worden's bodyand much more: furniture made of human body parts, female genitalia in a shoebox, a human head, a suit made entirely of skin. Gein admitted to one other murder, although he was believed responsible for the deaths of a number of women missing from the area over the previous decade. What really attracted the media's attention throughout the country, however, was Gein's practice of exhuming the bodies of women from graveyards and using their body parts in bizarre fetishistic rituals. Gein admitted to only two murders, but he also dug up the bodies of middle-aged women from the graveyard who reminded him of his abusive mother; her death in 1945 had left him alone and grief-stricken. He had sealed off her rooms exactly as they were when she was alive and preserved them untouched as a shrine.

By the time of the gruesome discoveries at Ed Gein's farm, Robert Bloch had already established himself as a popular and prolific writer of crime stories and science fiction for more than a decade. Intrigued by the case without delving into the details or researching the case, he began writing a novel focusing on the possibility of a quiet, unassuming small-town man who turns out to be a fiend. He said he was surprised years later to discover just how closely the character he created, Norman Bates, resembled Gein in his acts and motivation.

Bloch's novel, Psycho, was published in 1959. It started with the introduction of the chubby, middle-aged alcoholic Norman Bates, a taxidermy hobbyist and manager of a dilapidated motel. Then it relates the story of Mary Crane, who stops at the motel on her way to meet her lover, Sam Loomis, after she has embezzled $40,000 from her company. Hitchcock's adaptation follows the novel very closely in most of the details, and some of the movie's most famous dialogue came directly from the book.

The book was brought to Alfred Hitchcock's attention by his production assistant Peggy Robertson. He bid on the rights anonymously, assuming Bloch and the publisher would ask for more if they knew it was Hitchcock, and got them for $9,000.

"I think the thing that appealed to me [about the book] and made me decide to do the picture was the suddenness of the murder in the shower, coming, as it were, out of the blue," Hitchcock later commented to director Francois Truffaut in their famous set of published interviews.

Hitchcock wanted to make a radical departure from the big budget widescreen color thrillers he had recently turned out, such as Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959), and Bloch's novel was the ideal subject matter. He wanted to make a movie using the crew from his television series, including cinematographer John L. Russell, assistant director Hilton Green, and costumers Helen Colvig and Rita Riggs. Hitchcock reasoned that if the final film was denied a theatrical release, he could always edit it and distribute it on television.

Hitchcock decided to finance Psycho himself under his production company Shamley and bring in Paramount as the distributor. Some film historians claim, however, that he was forced to finance it himself after Universal balked at producing the film.

James P. Cavanagh, who wrote for the TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, was hired to adapt the novel, but Hitchcock was dissatisfied with his work. Joseph Stefano, who had penned two films (Fast and Sexy [1958], The Black Orchid [1958]) and a handful of TV episodes to his credit, was then hired to work on the script, and retained the screen credit for it.

Hitchcock and Stefano changed key aspects of the story. The location was moved from the Midwest to California and Phoenix, Arizona. Norman was changed from an overweight, middle-aged man to a handsome but neurotic young man. Norman's introduction was also saved until well into the story, and the first part of the script focused only on Bloch's subplot about Mary Crane's theft of $40,000. "Mary" ultimately became "Marion."

Two scenes were added that did not appear in the book - the ones involving the highway patrol officer and the car salesman.

Stefano originally wrote longer scenes, such as one in which dialogue establishes a growing bond between Marion's boyfriend and her sister Lila. Hitchcock eliminated most of that, cutting the scene down to about 20 seconds of expositional dialogue in order to keep the story moving.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Psycho (1960)

Except for some shots filmed on backroads in Southern California (the scenes of Marion fleeing Phoenix), Psycho was produced on the backlot at Universal Studios. According to various sources, Paramount either had no space available or refused to give Hitchcock any. At any rate, he was happy to work at Universal, where his Psycho crew regularly worked on his TV series.

Because he was working with a low budget, Hitchcock did not want to use top marquee names with the exception of Janet Leigh. But he hired her because he knew audiences would be shocked to see a star of her stature killed off early in the movie. (There is a slight giveaway in the credits, however, where instead of first billing, her name appears last as "And Janet Leigh as Marion Crane.") She was paid $25,000 for the role.

Despite the perception that Hitchcock used only one real star in the cast, the rest of the players were hardly unknowns. Anthony Perkins was a fast-rising young actor with a number of important pictures to his credit prior to Psycho including Friendly Persuasion [1956] for which he received an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He was paid $40,000 for his work, almost twice what Janet Leigh received and coincidentally the sum that Marion Crane steals in the story.

Vera Miles was cast as Marion's sister Lila, in part because of a slight resemblance to Leigh. But Miles had already made a Hitchcock film, gaining good notices as Henry Fonda's tormented wife in The Wrong Man (1956). She was supposed to have played the female lead in Vertigo (1958), but just before shooting began, she discovered she was pregnant. Hitchcock then cast Kim Novak in the part but remained furious with Miles. She was not happy making Psycho and felt that Hitchcock was punishing her by giving her an unflattering wardrobe that made her look matronly, never mind that it was designed by the famous Hollywood designer Edith Head. For her work, Miles received $1,700 per week.

John Gavin was also not an unknown actor prior to Psycho, having just appeared in the successful, big budget soap opera Imitation of Life (1959), opposite Lana Turner. Hitchcock did not care for Gavin and wanted one of his first choices for the role - either Stuart Whitman, Tom Tryon, Brian Keith, Cliff Robertson, or Rod Taylor but Universal (to whom Gavin was under contract) forced the young actor on him. All through the production, Hitchcock referred to Gavin as "the stiff" and became frustrated over having to do so many takes of the opening scene; Gavin eventually performed it to his satisfaction.

Several well-known character actors were brought in for supporting parts, including John McIntire, the former March of Time newsreel announcer who had appeared in many films and television shows beginning in the late 1940s.

McIntire's wife, actress Jeanette Nolan, was one of the uncredited actors who provided the voice of Mrs. Bates. Hitchcock also used a man, Paul Jasmin, and Virginia Gregg, who voiced the character in the sequels as well.

To mislead moviegoers and newspaper reporters about Mrs. Bates's true identity, Hitchcock leaked stories that he was considering such stars as Helen Hayes and Judith Anderson for the part.

In addition to the trusted TV crew members, Hitchcock also hired Saul Bass, who had worked on Hitchcock's previous two feature films [Vertigo, North by Northwest, 1959], to design the titles and act as "pictorial consultant." He also hired Bernard Herrmann, who had written the scores for five previous Hitchcock films, including memorable ones for Vertigo and North by Northwest.

Principal photography began in November 1959. The first scene to be shot was the one in which Marion, asleep in her car, is awakened by a highway patrolman.

Hitchcock and Russell regularly used two cameras to get most of the shots in Psycho, rather than resetting to get different angles, a common practice in television but rare for feature films.

The camera used to shoot Norman's point of view as he watched Marion undress through the peephole required a circular mask on the lens.

Although Hitchcock rarely allowed improvisation on his sets, Anthony Perkins and Martin Balsam, as private eye Arbogast, were encouraged to interact spontaneously during their scene on the porch.

The shower scene in Psycho required 78 shot set-ups and took seven days to film. The set was built so that any of the walls could be removed, allowing the camera to get in close from every angle. Although other scenes were shot with more than one camera, this one used only one cameraman.

The shower scene was originally written to see only the knife-wielding hand of the murderer. Hitchcock suggested to Saul Bass, who was storyboarding the sequence, a number of angles that would capture screenwriter Joseph Stefano's description of "an impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film."

Janet Leigh wore thin moleskin to cover the most intimate parts of her body in the shower. Hitchcock kept a closed set during the shooting of the murder. Even so, Leigh later noted, "Security was a constant source of trouble. Even though I wore the moleskin, I was still pretty much 'on display,' so to speak. I didn't want strangers lurking around, hoping to get a peek in case of any accidental mishap."

Marli Renfro was paid $400 as Leigh's body double for some shots (according to some reports, she was only used for the scene of Marion's body being wrapped in the shower curtain). Although Leigh said for many years that there was never anyone actually naked in the shower, she admitted late in her life that Renfro did some shots nude. She also mentioned in her autobiography that she was nude in some scenes as the flesh-colored moleskin was washed away from her breasts. "What to do? ...To spoil the so-far successful shot and be modest? Or get it over with and be immodest. I opted for immodesty."

Reportedly, a fast-motion reverse shot was used to give the impression that the knife actually enters Marion's abdomen.

To achieve the effect of the water coming out of the shower head and streaming down past the camera on all sides, Hitchcock had a huge shower head made to order and shot with his camera very close to it.

Hitchcock has said that one reason he shot Psycho in black-and-white was because he thought the bloody murder might be too much for audiences. He used chocolate syrup as the blood swirling down the drain. Nevertheless, some audience members swore the scene was in color and that they saw red blood.

Perkins was not on the set during the filming of the shower scene. Instead he was in New York rehearsing a play he would open after Psycho was completed.

Perkins was very excited about the role and, according to a friend, was convinced the part would be an important career move for him. He was right, yet despite fine work in dozens of other pictures, he would always be indelibly linked to Norman Bates in the minds of moviegoers. He was so involved in his role, he kept coming up with new bits of business for Norman; it was Perkins's idea to have the character nibbling on candy all the way through the movie.

According to some reports, Hitchcock jokingly terrorized Janet Leigh by having the model of Mrs. Bates corpse placed in her dressing room.

The look of the tall vertical mansion on the hill contrasted with the low, long motel was a deliberate composition choice. Yet Hitchcock said it wasn't his intention to create a mysterious atmosphere with the big Gothic house but to recreate the kind of older architecture that existed in the Northern California setting of the story.

According to Hitchcock, Saul Bass only contributed one storyboard, covering the scene of Arbogast going up stairs to find Mrs. Bates. Because he was out with a fever, Hitchcock told his cameraman and assistant to shoot the scene the way Bass had laid it out. However, upon seeing it, he realized the intercut close-ups of the detective's hands and feet on the railing and stairs made it appear sinister, as if Arbogast were the murderer stalking his prey. So he reshot it.

For the high angle above the stairs in the Arbogast murder scene and the shot of Norman carrying "Mother" to the fruit cellar, the camera was placed in a cage hung from rails on the ceiling.

The shot of Arbogast falling backward down the stairs was a process shot of the actor (Martin Balsam) sitting stationary and waving his arms, as if losing his balance, in front of a screen projecting a previously filmed dolly shot moving down the stairs.

Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho was written for strings only, a departure for film music; strings had been mostly associated with romantic stories, not horror, which depended more on such musical devices as crashing symbols, screeching clarinets, ominous horns, and throbbing timpani. Herrmann called his score "black-and-white music."

A veteran of numerous pictures, including Citizen Kane (1941) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Herrmann had a particular understanding of Hitchcock's needs: "One has to create a landscape for each film, whether it be the rainy night of Psycho or a picture such as Vertigo....Hitchcock deals rarely with character portrayal, or has little or no interest in people's emotions....His interest in music is only in relation to how the suspense can be heightened."

Herrmann achieved the shrieking sound of the shower scene by having a group of violinists saw the same note over and over. He called the motif "a return to pure ice water."

Hitchcock originally wanted the shower scene to play with no music. In post production, while the director was out of town, Herrmann composed the famous theme and showed it to Hitchcock with the music upon his return. Hitchcock had to admit his original notion was an "improper suggestion."

Herrmann wrote the main title theme for Psycho before Saul Bass created the opening credit sequence. Bass animated it to the music, creating the stabbing, wrenching look in which the credits are ripped in half.

Herrmann related how the shots of Marion driving away after taking the money looked very ordinary. Hitchcock thought of having the soundtrack convey anxious voices in her head to add to the action and tension. Herrmann noted, however, that it still didn't work until he suggested bringing back the main title music. All in all, Hitchcock was delighted with Herrmann's very significant contribution to the film, giving the composer an unusual amount of credit (for Hitchcock) and stating openly that "33 percent of the effect of Psycho was due to the music."

Shooting wrapped February 1, 1960, nine days over schedule. A rough cut was finished by April, at which point Hitchcock was convinced his "experiment" had failed. He was ready to cut Psycho down to a TV episode, but handed it to Herrmann to score. After he saw the completed film with the music, he was very pleased.

During post-production, Hitchcock had several wrangles with the censors over scenes they considered objectionable, including the opening scene (with Leigh in bed in her bra after obviously having had an afternoon tryst with Gavin), the suggested nudity and brutality of the shower sequence, and both the visual and aural depiction of a toilet. He managed to mostly get his own way, however, although he later said the opening scene should have featured Leigh's bare breasts.

A shot of Marion removing her black bra before her shower was removed by the U.S. censors while the scene remained intact in the U.K.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Psycho (1960)

In these days of blood-splattered slasher films, it's easy to forget thatAlfred Hitchcock's precedent-setting Psycho seemed downright exploitiveback in 1960. Having long been considered the master of suspense,Hitchcock, in a move that was perverse even by his standards, seemingly veered into schlock-meister William Castle's territory. He even went so far as to announce innewspaper ads that no one would be seated in the theater after Psycho'sopening credits, a Castle move if ever there was one.

The film seemed every bit as sensationalistic as its marketing campaign. Instead ofTechnicolor, Hitchcock shot it in flat black & white. Instead of sweepingshots of characters barreling across open landscapes, the majority of thestory takes place in the front seat of a car and in a handful of crampedrooms. And, instead of allowing the audience to root for the main characteras she struggles to escape a tense situation, she's brutally murderedhalf-way through the story. This was hardly the expected follow-up toNorth by Northwest (1959), and many people were appalled. The fact thatPsycho was the first studio film to actually show a toilet in abathroom seemed oddly appropriate.

Janet Leigh plays MarionCrane, a real estate office secretary who steals $40,000 from her boss'loud-mouthed client (Frank Albertson.) In a desperate attempt to start her lifeover again, Marion buys a car and heads out of town with the remaining cash.The audience assumes that she'll eventually hook up with her adulterouslover (John Gavin), but Hitchcock has other plans. When she stops at abarren roadside motel, Marion makes the acquaintance of its proprietor, alonely young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins.) Norman, shall wesay, suffers from a rather strange mother fixation. And he owns a largekitchen knife. If you don't know what happens next, you might also get akick out of the surprise burning of Atlanta in Gone With theWind (1939).

From the start, Hitchcock seemed intent on creating a stark, disturbing portrait of a psychopath and his victims. Paramount was stunned when he said he wanted to adapt the lurid Robert Bloch novel, Psycho, which was based on the exploits of EdGein, the cannibalistic serial killer. Realizing that the studio expectedthe film to fail miserably at the box office, Hitchcock offered to financeit with his own money, in return for 60% of the profits. Relieved,Paramount jumped at the chance to simply distribute the finished product.Even Hitch's long-time associate producer, Joan Harrison, refused a cut ofthe projected profits, opting instead for a straight salary.

That, it turned out, was a big mistake. Hitchcock shot everything on ashoestring budget, using the fast-working crew from his TV show, AlfredHitchcock Presents. Even the sets were relatively cheap, with thesinister Bates mansion costing a mere $15,000 to build (the steeple wasactually salvaged from a house used in the whimsical Jimmy Stewart vehicle,Harvey, 1950.) Hitchcock's unwavering belief in America's growing tastefor crime stores and gruesome murders paid high dividends. Psycho was a certifiable smash,and he ended up making millions of dollars from his gamble.

The shower scene is what everyone immediately thinks of when you mentionPsycho, and with good reason: it's one of the more devastatingsequences in movie history. Over the years, there's been some debateconcerning who was responsible for its dazzling series of shock cuts, whichrequired 78 separate camera set-ups. The truth is, Hitchcock enlisted hisgifted title designer, Saul Bass, to storyboard the murder as it takes placein Bloch's book. He then used the storyboards as a guideline while filming,but the finished product wasn't a literal translation of Bass' concept.Hitchcock was also on the set the entire time the scene was being shot, soBass' later insistence that he "directed" it was only half-true at best.Let's call this one a draw and simply enjoy a staggering cinematicachievement, one that hasn't lost an ounce of power over the past 40years.

Then, of course, there's the music. Bernard Herrmann's score forPsycho is a foreboding pulse that, during the murder, suddenlytransforms itself into the aural equivalent of a slashing knife. It's animmediately identifiable shriek of horror and despair. Though he didn'teven receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts, Herrmann's groundbreakingachievement should not be underestimated. He once explained that he usedonly strings in his arrangement, "to complement the black & whitephotography of the film with a black & white score." It's also thought thathe couldn't afford an entire orchestra due to budget restrictions, butHerrmann, ever the egotist, seldom mentioned that.

Upon editing the raw footage, Hitchcock was convinced that he had a bomb onhis hands. "Hitchcock," Herrmann said, "felt it didn't come off. He wantedto cut it down to an hour television show and get rid of it. I had an ideaof what I could do with the film, so I said, "Why don't you go away for yourChristmas holidays, and when you come back we'll record the score and seewhat you think."...Well," he said, "do what you like, but only one thing Iask of you: please write nothing for the murder in the shower. That must bewithout music." It's nice to know that even geniuses sometimes get itwrong.

Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano, Robert Bloch (novel)
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Film Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Joseph Hurley
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Chambers).
BW-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Paul Tatara

back to top
teaser Psycho (1960)

In these days of blood-splattered slasher films, it's easy to forget thatAlfred Hitchcock's precedent-setting Psycho seemed downright exploitiveback in 1960. Having long been considered the master of suspense,Hitchcock, in a move that was perverse even by his standards, seemingly veered into schlock-meister William Castle's territory. He even went so far as to announce innewspaper ads that no one would be seated in the theater after Psycho'sopening credits, a Castle move if ever there was one.

The film seemed every bit as sensationalistic as its marketing campaign. Instead ofTechnicolor, Hitchcock shot it in flat black & white. Instead of sweepingshots of characters barreling across open landscapes, the majority of thestory takes place in the front seat of a car and in a handful of crampedrooms. And, instead of allowing the audience to root for the main characteras she struggles to escape a tense situation, she's brutally murderedhalf-way through the story. This was hardly the expected follow-up toNorth by Northwest (1959), and many people were appalled. The fact thatPsycho was the first studio film to actually show a toilet in abathroom seemed oddly appropriate.

Janet Leigh plays MarionCrane, a real estate office secretary who steals $40,000 from her boss'loud-mouthed client (Frank Albertson.) In a desperate attempt to start her lifeover again, Marion buys a car and heads out of town with the remaining cash.The audience assumes that she'll eventually hook up with her adulterouslover (John Gavin), but Hitchcock has other plans. When she stops at abarren roadside motel, Marion makes the acquaintance of its proprietor, alonely young man named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins.) Norman, shall wesay, suffers from a rather strange mother fixation. And he owns a largekitchen knife. If you don't know what happens next, you might also get akick out of the surprise burning of Atlanta in Gone With theWind (1939).

From the start, Hitchcock seemed intent on creating a stark, disturbing portrait of a psychopath and his victims. Paramount was stunned when he said he wanted to adapt the lurid Robert Bloch novel, Psycho, which was based on the exploits of EdGein, the cannibalistic serial killer. Realizing that the studio expectedthe film to fail miserably at the box office, Hitchcock offered to financeit with his own money, in return for 60% of the profits. Relieved,Paramount jumped at the chance to simply distribute the finished product.Even Hitch's long-time associate producer, Joan Harrison, refused a cut ofthe projected profits, opting instead for a straight salary.

That, it turned out, was a big mistake. Hitchcock shot everything on ashoestring budget, using the fast-working crew from his TV show, AlfredHitchcock Presents. Even the sets were relatively cheap, with thesinister Bates mansion costing a mere $15,000 to build (the steeple wasactually salvaged from a house used in the whimsical Jimmy Stewart vehicle,Harvey, 1950.) Hitchcock's unwavering belief in America's growing tastefor crime stores and gruesome murders paid high dividends. Psycho was a certifiable smash,and he ended up making millions of dollars from his gamble.

The shower scene is what everyone immediately thinks of when you mentionPsycho, and with good reason: it's one of the more devastatingsequences in movie history. Over the years, there's been some debateconcerning who was responsible for its dazzling series of shock cuts, whichrequired 78 separate camera set-ups. The truth is, Hitchcock enlisted hisgifted title designer, Saul Bass, to storyboard the murder as it takes placein Bloch's book. He then used the storyboards as a guideline while filming,but the finished product wasn't a literal translation of Bass' concept.Hitchcock was also on the set the entire time the scene was being shot, soBass' later insistence that he "directed" it was only half-true at best.Let's call this one a draw and simply enjoy a staggering cinematicachievement, one that hasn't lost an ounce of power over the past 40years.

Then, of course, there's the music. Bernard Herrmann's score forPsycho is a foreboding pulse that, during the murder, suddenlytransforms itself into the aural equivalent of a slashing knife. It's animmediately identifiable shriek of horror and despair. Though he didn'teven receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts, Herrmann's groundbreakingachievement should not be underestimated. He once explained that he usedonly strings in his arrangement, "to complement the black & whitephotography of the film with a black & white score." It's also thought thathe couldn't afford an entire orchestra due to budget restrictions, butHerrmann, ever the egotist, seldom mentioned that.

Upon editing the raw footage, Hitchcock was convinced that he had a bomb onhis hands. "Hitchcock," Herrmann said, "felt it didn't come off. He wantedto cut it down to an hour television show and get rid of it. I had an ideaof what I could do with the film, so I said, "Why don't you go away for yourChristmas holidays, and when you come back we'll record the score and seewhat you think."...Well," he said, "do what you like, but only one thing Iask of you: please write nothing for the murder in the shower. That must bewithout music." It's nice to know that even geniuses sometimes get itwrong.

Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Joseph Stefano, Robert Bloch (novel)
Cinematography: John L. Russell
Film Editing: George Tomasini
Art Direction: Robert Clatworthy, Joseph Hurley
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Chambers).
BW-109m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Paul Tatara

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teaser Psycho (1960)

AWARDS AND HONORS

Psycho premiered in New York on June 16, 1960. Although critical reception was decidedly mixed and often downright hostile, the movie was a box office sensation. Produced for only about $800,000, it earned more than ten times that on its initial release ($14 million by many accounts) and by 2004 had reportedly made at least $50 million worldwide. It was the highest grossing film for Paramount - which initially wanted nothing to do with it - and the second-highest box office champion for 1960 behind Ben-Hur.

The film was marketed with a highly successful campaign prohibiting anyone from entering the theater once the picture started and an audience plea not to reveal the ending to anyone who hadn't seen it.

Psycho received Academy Award nominations for Best Director, Supporting Actress (Janet Leigh), Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Cinematography.

It also received:
- Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress Award to Janet Leigh.
- Directors Guild of America nomination for Hitchcock.
- Writers Guild of America nomination for Best Written American Drama to Joseph Stefano.
- Winner of Edgar Allan Poe (mystery writers) Award for Best Motion Picture to Joseph Stefano and Robert Bloch.

In 1992, Psycho was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board to be preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

The Critics' Corner: PSYCHO

"More miserable than the most miserable peep show I have ever seen."
Jympson Harmon, Evening Standard (London), 1960

"Psycho is sicko."
Picturegoer (UK), 1960

"Producer-director Hitchcock is up to his clavicle in whimsicality and apparently had the time of his life in putting together Psycho. He's gotten in gore, in the form of a couple of graphically-depicted knife murders, a story that's far out in Freudian motivations, and now and then injects little amusing plot items that suggest the whole thing is not to be taken seriously. ... Perkins gives a remarkably effective in-a-dream kind of performance as the possessed young man."
Variety, 1960

"That's the way it is with Mr. Hitchcock's picture-slow buildups to sudden shocks that are old-fashioned melodramatics, however effective and sure, until a couple of people have been gruesomely punctured and the mystery of the haunted house has been revealed. Then it may be a matter of question whether Mr. Hitchcock's points of psychology, the sort highly favored by Krafft-Ebing, are as reliable as his melodramatic stunts. Frankly, we feel his explanations are a bit of leg-pulling by a man who has been known to resort to such tactics in his former films."
Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 17, 1960

"[Hitchcock] has very shrewdly interwoven crime, sex and suspense, blended the real and the unreal in fascinating proportions and punctuated his film with several quick, grisly and unnerving surprises."
Paine Knickerbocker,San Francisco Chronicle, August 11, 1960

"Psycho continues to work as a frightening, insinuating thriller. That's largely because of Hitchcock's artistry in two areas that are not as obvious: The setup of the Marion Crane story, and the relationship between Marion and Norman. Both of these elements work because Hitchcock devotes his full attention and skill to treating them as if they will be developed for the entire picture."
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, December 6, 1998

"This film is really a meditation on the tyranny of past over present. It's an indictment of the viewer's capacity for voyeurism and his own potential for depravity. It's also a statement on the American dream turned nightmare, and there's a running concern for the truth that physical vision is always only partial and that our perceptions tend to play us false.... Psycho is also...a ruthless exposition of American Puritanism and exaggerated Mom-ism. ... In method and content, in the sheer economy of its style and its brave, uncompromising moralism, it's one of the great works of modern American art."
Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (Anchor, 1991)

"No introduction needed, surely, for Hitchcock's best film, a stunningly realised...slice of Grand Guignol...The cod-Freudian explanation offered at the conclusion is just so much nonsense, but the real text concerning schizophrenia lies in the tellingly complex visuals. A masterpiece by any standard."
- Geoff Andrew, TimeOut Film Guide

"Curious thriller devised by Hitchcock as a tease...despite effective moments of fright, it has a childish plot and script, and its interest is that of a tremendously successful confidence trick, made for very little money by a TV crew."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"Probably the most visual, most cinematic picture he has ever made."
- Peter Bogdanovich

"I think the film is a reflection of a most unpleasant mind, a mean, sly, sadistic little mind."
- Dwight MacDonald

"Certainly Psycho is Hitchcock's most visually involving film and his most successful in terms of audience participation."
- Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films

"No film conveys - to those not afraid to expose themselves fully to it - a greater sense of desolation, yet it does so from an exceptionally mature and secure emotional viewpoint. And an essential part of this viewpoint is the detached sardonic humor. It enables the film to contemplate the ultimate horrors without hysteria."
- Robin Wood

"..How is it possible to still watch Psycho long after its secrets have been spilled? The answer is that beneath the shocker is a profoundly despairing film, a work as redolent of contemporary desolation and isolation as Eliot's Preludes...Beginning in a desert and ending in a swamp, Psycho is a film in which the aridity of sex, work, family, and routine strands its two main characters in the quagmire of their private traps."
- Charles Taylor, The A List

"Psycho lures its audience into a vortex of horror from which only the final shot grants issue...This is not only Hitchcock's greatest film: it is the most intelligent and disturbing horror film ever made."
- Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema

by Rob Nixon

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