These days, the feeling of spring in the air is far more promising and real. Grass turns green, flowers are starting to bloom and the days are warmer at last. And on this day, while moviegoers celebrate the release this weekend of Avengers: Infinity War, there is still a somber note to it all. Today is the day that the world lost a great man and director, Alfred Hitchcock. So it is only fitting that this, the last post of the Cinema Sunday series on Hitchcock, is on one of his greatest and truly terrifying thrillers. Come along and be prepared for what awaits within, because it Psycho is today’s film du jour.
A lot has been said about Mr. Hitchcock over the course of the month. His genius as a director, his passion for his works. How above and beyond he was willing to go in order to see a project through to the end. But none of that is exemplified more then with Psycho. The man sunk everything he had into making the picture a reality. No outside help from Paramount in way of funding at all. In spite of all the drama and trouble that went on behind the scenes, in the end this movie re-cemented Alfred Hitchcock in the minds and on the screens of the movie-going public.
An element of the success of Psycho was in the performances of the cast. Particularly Anthony Perkins in the infamous role of Norman Bates. Bates is the quintessential movie villain. Unassuming at first, possibly neurotic (due to an overbearing ‘mother’). Underneath it all is the mind and mentality of a killer and a deranged, broken man. This has culminated in one of the greatest on-screen personas in movie history. So much so that it has carried over into multiple sequels and even television.
Then there is the leading lady of it all. Janet Leigh as Marion Crane. The woman who starts it and in some ways who ends it all. Her stealing of $40,000 from her employer and fleeing is the jumping off point. Her murder at the Bates Motel is what leads to Vera Miles (Lila Crane) and John Gavin (Sam Loomis) to seek her out after the murder of Martin Balsam (P.I. Milton Aborgast). A big star under the Paramount name, Hitchcock was able to bring her in after she read the novel, with her working for only $25,000, which was a quarter of her usual fee.
As previously mentioned, there was no direct financial backing from Paramount on this movie. Hitchcock had to fund everything himself and use the camera crew from his TV show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and filmed over at the TV show’s sets at rival company Revue Studios/Universal. What’s more, he managed to do it all without the mighty backing of Paramount money, keeping the budget under a million dollars by shooting in black and white. Lead stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins both worked for less than their usual salaries. And with both of them being big box office draws, this helped to ensure the movie’s allure to audiences.
Of course it wouldn’t be a discussion of Psycho without mentioning the famous shower murder scene. A scene that has echoed throughout cinematic history for its varied angles, use of close-ups (to avoid indecency under Production Code Administration guidelines). There is also the score, composed by Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann. Beautiful and terrifying as the scene itself, the discordant violins add to the fright-inducing element of the shots as the knife hand ends Marion’s life.
As with any great story about Hollywood, there is much that goes into the process, both in pre-production and post-production. To that end, please enjoy this documentary from 1997 on the creation of this masterpiece.
Initial reviews were of a mixed bunch. Some persons, such as New York Times critic Bosley Crowther who stated:
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 points of psychology, the sort of highly favored by Krafft-Ebing, are as reliable as his melodramatic stunts.
It was ultimately the audiences who swayed the pendulum of opinion. Lines for viewings would stretch around the block at movie theaters. Such was its fame that it was re-issued in 1969, and was nominated for 5 Academy Awards (though it didn’t take any home). Janet Leigh took home the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
The weekend is abounding with things to do. There is the glory of spring, a new superhero movie, and the promise of summer close at hand. For movie lovers and cinephiles, there is always something new to watch. Perhaps make today a day to pull out a copy of Psycho and view it. For today is the day when from this Earth, a titan of terror and thrills was taken. Alfred Hitchcock may be gone, but his legacy lives on in the numerous smashes he brought to life on screens everywhere.