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August 29, 2010

363. Psycho
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
USA, 1960
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Umpteenth viewing


Having embezzled from her employer, secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) goes on the run. She stumbles upon a secluded motel, where she meets the owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). And his mother…

Essential Scene:

I’m stubbornly rejecting cliché by not picking the Shower Scene. Plenty has been written about that, and frankly I have nothing to add. Instead I wish to state my admiration for the title sequence. If the opening credits are supposed to declare a film’s intentions and set the mood, what better example than Psycho? (Maybe Vertigo, but I digress.)

Titles by Saul Bass

Black and grey stripes race across the screen, depositing white fragments which gradually form words. Just as quickly as the letters were made whole, they fracture again and become unreadable. This is accompanied by the iconic string score, which is urgent, piercing, dissonant and haunting. The music of Bernard Herrmann and the animated graphics of Saul Bass suggest perfectly the upcoming story of paranoia, instability and violence.


Psycho isn’t exactly my favourite Alfred Hitchcock film. One thing I love about Hitchcock is his sense of humour, for which there is no room in this disturbing tale. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the film — although I could do without Larry the Explainer’s patronizing psychiatric analysis — in fact it achieves precisely what it sets out to.


Reviewed by Rachel
Umpteenth viewing

Essential Scene:

I’m also not picking the shower scene here. We all know it’s superbly done and that it’s a reason to see the film, but I’m going to give you another reason!

Norman invites Marion back to his parlour for something to eat. Even though she has entered the room with a friendly – albeit shy – young man, the room itself is immediately unsettling. It is dimly lit, and stuffed birds on the walls cast large, imposing shadows. When Norman tells Marion he isn’t hungry, we join her in the odd vulnerability of being the only person eating, conscious of being watched.

Norman: You eat like a bird.

Their conversation changes from Norman’s love of taxidermy to his life. He inquires about Marion’s life but she is suitably guarded for someone who will have a lot of trouble when she returns home. Sensing Marion’s circumstances, Norman shares:

You know what I think? I think that.. We’re all in our private traps. Clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch.. And claw but.. Only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.

It is soon revealed that Norman’s mentally ill mother is the reason he is in his trap. Marion ventures to give Norman some advice regarding his unhappy life, suggesting that he puts his mother in “some place”. Norman’s mood quickly changes. He leans forward and is in full close up, closer to the viewer than to Marion. He doesn‘t raise his voice, but the tone has changed.

You mean an institution? A madhouse? They always call a madhouse “some place”, don’t they? Put her in “some place”.

Norman soon reverts to the polite young man we met just a few minutes before, but this sudden mood change is enough to make you feel ill at ease with him and the surroundings.


I’ve always preferred the first half of Psycho for some reason. Possibly because the shower scene is so famous that, following the buildup to it, you’re lost for the rest of the film. But Anthony Perkins is so damn good that he always kept me watching to the end. Psycho was a childhood favourite of mine (Yes, I was a rather strange child…) but I have only begun to appreciate Perkin’s subtle performance now I’m watching it with an adult’s perspective.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Lawrence permalink
    August 21, 2010 3:18 pm

    Yes, the pop psychology ending mars a nearly perfect film, though Bates’s madly grinning face in the final shot redeems it. It’s a strange irony that the film made Anthony Perkins’s career and simultaneously pretty much destroyed it.

  2. @veraclaythorne permalink
    August 29, 2010 5:53 pm

    I love both perspectives. I have to agree about the parlor scene; it’s both creepy and illuminating, and yet you feel so much sympathy for both characters. I actually used it on the fly when one of my 6th grade classes had a canceled trip and I suddenly had to create a lesson. I put on this very scene, providing no context, and asked my students to each name three things they think they know about the people in the scene. I got some amazing responses, and that can only be attributed to the actors.

    The exposition at the end I’ve learned to deal with; I agree that the second half isn’t as compelling, but I think part of that has to do with characters we’re not as involved with . We know what’s happened to Marion (mostly), and then we have to wait for the other shoe to drop…and really, we don’t want poor Norman getting into trouble…

    I’m sure it’s mostly for me that I wanted to see Perkins onscreen in every frame. It’s such an incredible performance, and so much of his ability in this is taken for granted.

    I first saw Psycho when I was 8, and it’s been a love affair ever since. It gets better with every rewatch and with every passing year.

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