1960

Psycho
This post is part of the Blind Spots 2012 series. For back­ground on the series, read the ori­ginal post

Psycho (Director: Alfred Hitchcock): One of the first things I noticed about this classic horror film is how Hitchcock works hard to por­tray “victim” Marion Crane (a gor­geous Janet Leigh) as any­thing but inno­cent. Her first scene is with her lover in a hotel for a lunch­time tryst. When she returns to the real estate office where she works, we know that his money prob­lems are what’s pre­venting them from being mar­ried. And then when a boorish client flirts drunk­enly and leaves $40,000 in cash with her, it’s not a huge stretch for us to see her as the kind of woman who might take this chance to escape her everyday life.

She impuls­ively decides to leave town with the money and go to Sam, her boy­friend, who lives a few hours’ drive away. In the middle of a down­pour, she pulls off to spend the night at the Bates Motel, leading to one of the most famous shower scenes in cine­matic his­tory. I noticed a few things in the film which might be obvious to anyone who has seen it, but as a new­comer to Psycho, I’m hoping you’ll indulge me.

Marion’s sur­name is Crane, which made creepy sense during her con­ver­sa­tion with the motel’s pro­pri­etor Norman Bates. He tells her his hobby is taxi­dermy and that he likes to stuff birds rather than beasts because they’re “passive.”

Hitchcock seems to imply that Marion is killed as a pun­ish­ment for her tran­gres­sion. Even though she has decided to return the money, the first cut away from Marion’s life­less body is to the money, hidden inside a news­paper. Even the rest of the viol­ence that fol­lows from Marion’s murder seems to lead back to her single impulsive act.

The obses­sion by Marion’s employer, sister and boy­friend to keep the police out of things makes it that much harder to actu­ally figure out what has happened. Arbogast, the private invest­ig­ator hired by her boss to recover the money seems to have his own motives that are not as purely “civic” as the police department’s would be. This under­stand­able desire to cover up or hide crimes leads only to bad things for everyone.

Even though I was always aware of the film’s big “reveal,” Psycho still man­ages to hold up as an effective thriller, but I must con­fess that after Marion’s depar­ture, it’s a far less inter­esting film for me. Her motiv­a­tions, and her inter­ac­tions with Norman Bates, are more sub­stan­tial than any­thing and anyone that fol­lows her demise. Her sister and boy­friend are two-dimensional, and exist simply to solve the crime. I espe­cially found the last few minutes, with Simon Oakland’s psy­cho­lo­gist char­acter explaining everything, dis­ap­pointing, though I under­stand that spoon-feeding the audi­ence would make sure nobody missed the point.

Finally, I was never sure where exactly the shower scene occurred in the film. I always thought it was quite close to the begin­ning, and that Norman Bates was the real focus of the film. I was pleas­antly sur­prised that Marion Crane’s char­acter sur­vives until just about the middle, though as I men­tioned, the rest wasn’t quite as enjoyable.

Psycho def­in­itely estab­lished the style of many horror films in the dec­ades to come, and tech­nic­ally, as far as editing and camera work goes, it’s bril­liant. However, even though I have only seen per­haps half a dozen Hitchcock films, it doesn’t seem to me to hold up as well as, say, Rear Window or Vertigo.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }