Psycho at 50

12 01 2010

My friend Lance Woods (Hi, Lance!) points out that Newsweek recently posted the article “The Mother of All Horror Movies,” which looks at one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movies, “Psycho.” It’s been 50 years since the movie made its debut, and it still enthralls viewers. I haven’t actually seen it since college, but I remember so much of it, most of all the shocking left turn the movie takes when it turns out to be not so much about Janet Leigh as Anthony Perkins.

The writer, Malcolm Jones, makes a case for “Psycho” as one of Hitchcock’s most human movies, citing the dinner scene in which the two characters talk about the traps people find themselves in. They’re talking about different kinds of traps, of course; she’s embezzled $40,000 from her bosses and now has regrets, and he, well, he’s got this mother…

Jones also talks a bit about the way “Psycho” is a great movie – until the last five minutes, when the psychiatrist shows up to explain everything that just happened. It’s funny that Hitchcock felt this was necessary, because the trailer is a model of restraint. Here, watch for yourself…

Hitch hints at awful things, but does so in a funny, voyeuristic way, something like the great cartoonists Edward Gorey, Charles Addams or Gahan Wilson. He takes you on a tour of the Bates Motel, talking about where people were killed without bothering to explain much – and that only makes the viewer want to know more. At the end, the quick cut to Janet Leigh in the shower, screaming, jolts you from the humor of Hitchcock, the TV host, back to the cold “reality” of the film itself. He’s demonstrating how easy it is to see even a ghastly subject in a humorous light – as long as it’s at a distance. Get too close, and it’s shocking.

One more thought before I finish up for tonight. “Psycho” and “The Birds” gave Hitchcock a reputation for horror – but really, how many other movies did he make that could be called horror films? Yes, there was murder in many of the movies, but most of them were suspense films, full of spies. I’ll have to revisit this thought next fall, when I blog about “Psycho” for real – but I believe Norman Bates is unique in Hitchcock’s films: Not a villain, motivated by belief in evil or greed or jealousy, but a killer.

I was fortunate enough to receive the double-disc DVD of “Psycho” for Christmas, thanks to my daughter. It’s full of extras that look absolutely captivating. Can’t wait.

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2 responses

13 01 2010
Lance

My pleasure, Adam. Glad you found it worth the time.

Here’s another tidbit, although it’s not a Hitchcock movie per se: immediately after I read your “Psycho” entry, I turned on the TV and found myself at the start of a 2005 Dario Argento movie on the Chiller channel… it’s called “Do You Like Hitchcock?”

My life does that a lot. I’m pretty sure Hitch has something to do with it.

20 12 2010
Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” « Hitchcock and Me

[…] It was Lew Wasserman, head of MCA and Hitchcock’s agent, who had the general idea that Hitchcock’s personality was big enough, his humor droll enough, that he could play a role in this new show. He would serve as a master of ceremonies, introducing each week’s half hour program with sly commentary, delivered in his deadpan drawl, and punctuating the story with a final quip. Hitchcock’s commentary was written through the series entire run by James Allardice, who would also write speeches for Hitchcock, as well as the amazing trailer for “Psycho.” […]

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