“She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”
If $40,000 would ensure you could get away, make a fresh start with the person you love, and leave the past behind, would you seize an opportunity to get your hands on the cash? All of it, all at once. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) thought so and Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho, is the tale of how much $40,000 really costs her.
Starring Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Vera Miles as Marion’s sister, Lila, John Gavin as Sam Loomis, Marion’s lover, and Martin Balsam as Det. Arbogast, the 1960 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch is directed by the master, Alfred Hitchcock.
So much as been said and written about Hitchcock’s Psycho in the 50+ years since its release that it’s hard to find an appropriate angle, one worthy of deeming it necessary to add my voice to the mix. Barring any unique view or insight should you fail to find a nugget or either within this post, consider this then a love note to Psycho, to Janet Leigh and to Hitchcock, and the enduring enjoyment the film has given me, and countless others, over the years.
Like most film lovers, I studied Psycho and the works of Hitchcock in college, pretending at the tender age of 19 to understand and analyze the camera techniques, the motifs, the character development. However, at the end of the year, three film studies classes later, only one thing remained clear. Hitchcock had put his career on the line to make a film that was truly, unarguably groundbreaking.
For Hitchcock, a director known for taut thrillers and suspense films, making Psycho (which is loosely based on the murderer Ed Gein) meant risking his financial security, reputation, and ultimately his career. In 2012, Fox Searchlight released Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. The film portrays Hitchcock as a director in a funk following the massive success of North by Northwest and it explores the extraordinary efforts involved in bringing Psycho to the screen. Well worth the watch for any Hitchcock fan.
It may be difficult for modern viewers to put themselves into the shoes of the characters who are bound to the conventions and cultural constraints of 1960. At the time, Psycho, its subject matter and treatment, was thought to be repugnant, repulsive, and too explicit for translation to the screen. Dealing with themes like Oedipal transference, transvestism, voyeurism, and adultery, Psycho seemed impossible both commercially and culturally in 1959-60. Even 50 years later, Psycho maintains its position as one of only a handful of films that still wields power to shock new audiences.
Everything in the way Psycho is crafted, from the fragmented and frantic title credits designed by Saul Bass (you can watch the title sequence to Psycho below) set against a brilliant score by brilliant Bernard Herrmann, to Leigh’s conflicted and lustful portrayal of Marion, to Perkin’s performance of the fractured Norman Bates, exudes a masterful creative premeditation and the exacting nature of Hitchcock.
Stylish, moody, thrilling, terrifying, thought-provoking, risky and risque, Psycho is an essential, inexorable part of the horror film lexicon. There are few films I watch at least once a year. Psycho is a staple, a true must-see.
1.) Yes. Psycho is a study on human behavior, in the choices we make and the cost we ultimately pay to live the way we do.
2.) Yes. Even though the film is 50+ years old, Psycho is the stuff upon which horror films are built. It caused a generation of women to fear stepping into the shower.
3.) Yes. There are plenty of tense moments that will invoke primal human feelings of anxiety and fear.
Title Sequence by master Saul Bass:
Wiki facts: Psycho
Is Psycho rotten or fresh?
Watch or buy Psycho on Amazon
Inflation calculator: How much would $40K in 1960 be worth today?
Related: Dustin Putman reviews Psycho