I think Psycho might be the most famous if not most ingenious Hitchcock movie. That is not to say it is everyone’s favorite, but I think even non-classic-movie fans know Psycho. I will not dive too deeply into the plot, since I think everyone knows it: A young woman steals $40,000 and on her way to her boyfriend she spends the night at the Bates Motel. There Norman Bates and his mother become involved in her murder and the remainder of the film follows the boyfriend and sister as they attempt to discover what happened.
There are so many aspects of this film worth noting. It was filmed using low-budget television techniques but has some impressive tracking and crane shots. At the end when the sister finds Norman’s mother, she hits a lightbulb sending it swinging and flashing light against the corpse’s face. Hitchcock hoped this would give the impression there were eyes in that head.
The story, based on a novel by Robert Bloch, kills off its famous leading lady before the film is halfway through, tripping up what audience members thought they knew about the picture. The soundtrack by Bernard Hermann, a Hitchcock regular, is the most memorable of scores linked to the director, with the screeching strings from the shower scene being copied in TV and film up to the present day.
The dialogue is wonderfully suggestive and thoroughly laced with Hitchcockian humor. In the shop where boyfriend Sam (John Gavin) works, a woman is inquiring about pest poison and whether it is painless. She says she thinks death should always be painless, this just after Janet Leigh‘s body has been dumped. The writing points to clues about Norman Bates and his mother; Sam says being alone out there would drive him crazy. “That’s a rather extreme reaction don’t you think,” Norman says.
The performance by Janet Leigh is great. As she drives from Phoenix with the stolen money, we hear her internal dialogue as she imagines what the people she knows will say about her disappearance. When she imagines the businessman from whom she stole the money saying he will kill her, the worried expression on her face transforms into a sinister smile. Anthony Perkins gives the best performance, however. This wonderful casting against type by Hitchcock put this handsome young actor in the shoes of a subtly creepy psychopath. The slight shifts in his expression and vocalizations paint the portrait of a man attempting to act normal but hiding a horrible secret.
The MacGuffin: The stolen money.
Where’s Hitch? Wearing a cowboy hat, Hitchcock can be seen through Janet Leigh’s window as she returns to the office.
Source: Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan
I will be posting reviews of Hitchcock movies every hour ending at 8 p.m. today, but other members of the Classic Movie Blog Association, which is hosting the blogathon, have plenty to offer also. Links to their articles is up at the CMBA site. Check them out!