Movie Review: PSYCHO (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

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Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins
Review by Steven Painter


After embezzling $40,000 from her employer, Phoenix office-worker Marion Crane flees the monotony of her mundane existence with dreams of starting a new life in California with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. As night begins to fall, an exhausted Marion decides to spend the night at a remote motel owned by Norman Bates, a peculiar, reserved young man under the control of his ailing but domineering mother.


Have you ever walked into a movie theater, sat down and watched the entire movie from start to finish? Of course you have. Did you know that you have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for this way of watching movies? In 1960 a little movie named Psycho was released. It changed the way movie making, censorship and movie watching was done in America. Quite frankly it might be as close to the perfect movie as anything else ever made.

Murder was not a subject that was taboo to Hitchcock by 1960. A murder or killing seems to occur in every one of his movies. Killing was routine on-screen before the 1960s, although the actual shooting of the gun or stab of the knife was rarely seen. But with Psycho Hitchcock did the unthinkable, he killed off a big star and he showed it in the bathroom no less.

This idea of killing off a star like Janet Leigh and showing it caused trepidation in Hollywood. No one would fund Psycho. In order to cut costs the movie was shot in black and white, the famous shower murder blood is actually chocolate sauce, and production was done by Hitchcock’s television crew. If Hollywood studios were mad at Hitchcock, the censors were enraged. They threatened to not approve the film. That did not stop Hitchcock from going ahead with production however. Thanks to the success of Psycho and Some Like It Hot, which was released a year earlier, the production code in Hollywood became less strict.

The movie’s stars were the well-known Leigh and a little known television actor named Anthony Perkins, who would forever be typecast after his portrayal of Norman Bates. Leigh plays Marion Crane, a common secretary who lives in Phoenix. Hitchcock has once again introduced a theme of birds into one of his movies. Crane happens to love Californian Sam Loomis, but she cannot marry him because he is in debt, paying alimony to his ex-wife.

As it happens, Crane’s boss receives $40,000 from a client. The boss is tied up with the client, so Crane volunteers to deposit the money in the bank and then head home as she complains of a headache. Instead, she decides to run off to California with the money so she can get married. As movie watchers we want Crane to make it to California, even though we know stealing the money was the wrong thing to do.

Hitchcock throws in some good suspense on Crane’s road trip to California. A cop asks her why she is stopped on the road at one point. She said she was tired and had to pull over for the night. She then decides to trade in her car, as her boss who saw her as she was leaving town, might call her in to question when he finds out the money is missing. Once again, this time at the car dealership, a police officer poses a threat to Crane’s safety. Throughout the whole thing the audience is concerned with the money and Crane coming out alright.

Then we switch gears. While on the road it becomes dark and stormy. Crane can’t keep driving so she decides to pull over at the Bates Motel. Here she checks in and is greeted by the quirky Norman Bates. Bates seems like a nice fellow, who really is just doing this hotel clerk job because of his sick mother. For some reason Bates enjoys talking about his mother, but as an audience all we care about is Crane making it to California safely.

Unfortunately, she does not. During the night, Crane decides to take a shower. While in the shower she is attacked by the crazed Mrs. Bates in the famous murder scene, with Bernard Herrmann’s violins accompanying. This event was so unbelievable at the time; Hitchcock wanted to make sure that the audience witnessed it, so he told movie theater owners not to let anyone in after the movie had started. Before this people would walk into a movie theater at any time and watch the movie, then stick around and watch the movie again up to the point when they walked in. Then they would leave. But Psycho would not work if people saw the movie like that, so Hitchcock created a trend in movie going that has continued to the present day.

Back to the story, our friend Norman now has to clean up after his mother has made an awful mess in the bathroom. As an audience our affection has changed from Crane to Norman Bates because he seems like a nice kid. Hitchcock ensures that audience sympathy is with Bates when Norman tries to submerge Crane’s car in a swamp. At first the car does not want go down. Like Norman, the audience sits on the edge of their seats, until finally the thing begins to sink.

By this time the $40,000 has been reported missing. Detective Arbogast has been called out to examine it. He follows Crane’s sister from Tucson to California where Loomis is. Everyone knows Crane was going to find Loomis. The only problem is she has not arrived. Arbogast checks around and finds out that she was staying at the Bates Motel. After some inquiry, including going into the Bates House, Arobogast finds himself in the swamp. He has become another victim of Mrs. Bates’ knife.

When Arobogast doesn’t show up Loomis and Crane’s sister, played by Vera Miles, decide to see what happened to him. They find out. The old Mrs. Bates has actually been deceased for quite some time. Her son has kept her body relatively well preserved and for some reasons that will be explained by psychologists, he enjoys dressing up like her and killing people. He attempts to kill Crane’s sister, but Loomis stops him.

The movie ends with a psychiatrist giving an explanation of what we just saw happen on the screen. This is all very important stuff that the psychiatrist says, but what stands out about the ending is when we see Norman Bates again. He is sitting in a room alone, looking at a fly. We hear his mother’s voice speaking. Then Hitchcock superimposes a skull over the smiling Bates face, leaving the audience with one more frightening image before the story ends.

Quite simply, this is a must see movie for anyone that is living. But if you are a moviemaker, horror fan or want to be introduced to Alfred Hitchcock, then Psycho is the perfect movie for you.


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