Feature: A Movie Through Its Posters — Psycho

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Psycho is one of those movies that is known worldwide and still revered as a great piece of horror history. In no way is that more evident than by the sheer extent of foreign movie posters for the flick.

Hitchcock was the “master of suspense” but his movies did not really fall into the horror category before Psycho. The movie was controversial and met with a lot of pushback from the Hayes Office but Hitchcock managed to make compromises –giving up one scandalous aspect to allow another to stay in. The movie nevertheless is well known for Janet Leigh‘s undergarment outfits at separate instances in the film’s start. This part of the film certainly did not escape notice to those individuals who create movie posters worldwide. Six of the posters above feature the scantily clad Leigh, which probably proved a selling point for the flick.

Also prominent in the posters is the horror-stricken face of Anthony Perkins upon discovering a body in his hotel’s bathroom. The lead-up scene also was a source of controversy with the short takes assembled to give the impression we are seeing nudity. Including Perkins on the posters in this manner certainly would have lulled the audience into believing his character’s innocence, fueling one of the movie’s twists.

My favorite of these posters is the German one. It is simple and striking with its bold teal color and large Perkins facade. I love that shot of Perkins, and I think this poster uses it to its greatest effect. Which do you like best?

Murder on the Orient Express

Ring a Ding Ding

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

I love Agatha Christie mysteries. They are so convoluted and complex and rely on that oft-used plot ending during which the detective explains to us what happened –because there was no way we pieced it together ourselves. Murder on the Orient Express was finally made into a movie in 1974 with Christie being unwilling to allow a film version while the Production Code threatened to wipe out many essential plot elements.

Murder on the Orient Express enthralls us with a large, all-star cast, which is an approach repeated with Christie’s Death on the Nile that starred Bette Davis and Mia Farrow, to name a few. An almost unrecognizable Albert Finney plays our Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot who happens to board a train, the Orient Express, where a murder will take place with far too many suspects to deduce a simple solution.

Our victim is one Mr. Ratchett (Richard Widmark) who approaches Detective Poirot seeking protection hours before his death. The man, who is mysterious about his line of work, has been receiving threatening notes. He is killed in his bed in the cabin beside Poirot’s; although, no struggle is heard.

What Poirot soon deduces is that Ratchett was the man behind the kidnapping and killing of the daughter of a famous aviatrix. The abduction did not just result in one fatality, however. A maid was falsely accused of involvement in the crime and commited suicide. The distressed mother died in childbirth, during which the infant also passed. The father killed himself from grief.

On board the train car where the murder occurred are many seemingly unconnected passengers including: a meek missionary Greta (Ingrid Bergman); the obnoxiously talkative Mrs. Hubbard (Lauren Bacall); an elderly Russian Princess Draganoff (Wendy Hiller) and her companion Hildegarde (Rachel Roberts); Ratchett’s secretary McQueen (Anthony Perkins); Countess Andrenyi (Jaqueline Bisset) and her husband (Michael York); Colonel Arbuthnott (Sean Connery); the mysteriously sad Mary Debenham (Vanessa Redgrave); a Chicago car salesman Fiscarelli (Denis Quilley); conductor Pierre Michel (Jean-Pierre Cassel); Ratchett’s bodyguard Hardman (Colin Blakely); and Ratchett’s valet Beddoes (John Gielgud).

All passengers are ultimately discovered to have motive for the crime as their individual identities are revealed. In the end, however, Poirot will tell authorities that the mafia was involved in killing Ratchett and that the culprit departed the train during its lengthy stop awaiting the clearance of a snow drift, but that’s no spoiler.

The story of Murder on the Orient Express does a great job of supplying us with tidbits of information and a variety of clues, but not all of the evidence is actually related to the crime, making it impossible for us to form our own conclusion. The advantage movies have over books –and one not always employed in these types of mysteries– is that the flick can show us via flashback what actually happened rather than relying on us to make sense of a rambling written or spoken explanation. Murder on the Orient Express takes advantage of this to great dramatic end.

The flick is not without its laughs as Finney brings a good deal of humor to the silly detective who sleeps with hair nets on his oily black locks and stylized mustache. Bacall also stands out as the loud and flamboyant actress, and Bergman is surprising in such a plain, timid part. Hiller as the Russian Princess is frankly quite terrifying with her powdery white skin and her rolling, biting accent. Her manly maid played by Roberts is also intimidating.

Hitchcock Blogathon #7: Psycho

Wowza!

Pyscho (1960)

      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!

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