Friday 17 March 2017

Psycho (1960)

I cannot say I have been terribly impressed with last batch of movies I have been through. They generally have not struck a chord with me, even if some of them have been famous and admittedly influential. Maybe that is why I felt so relieved and energized watching Psycho.

“Psycho” is not the best Hitchcock movie I ever saw. It may not even be top tier. But even an average Hitchcock movie is a great watch and “Psycho” is a movie with a lot to offer.

At first it may seem disappointing that “Psycho” is in black and white. Come to think of it all the movies in 1960 so far have been in black and white and I am longing to some glorious Technicolor, but “Psycho” must have that noir’ish black and white cinematography. It simply would not work in color. This is something I only get to realize much later in the movie when the story takes some dramatic and unexpected turns. Yet the disappointment quickly fades as I am snuggled into the familiar comfort (or discomfort if you will) of a Hitchcock production. The score, a Hitchcock hallmark by now, is eerie and haunting, maybe one of his best scores, and the framing of each scene expertly made. Best of all we get some spectacular acting right from the get-go.

“Psycho” is about a woman, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who is involved in an affair with a man who is in debt and still tied to a woman he is trying to divorce. The relationship as it is is too distressing for her, but if only they had a lot of money…

That money suddenly appears when a client of her boss deposits 40.000 $ with her. She makes a quick decision and runs off with the money. Marion however is a terrible thief. She has guilt painted all over her and it seems to be only a matter of time before she is caught. Her attempt at shaking a curious policeman by changing car is simply pathetic and useless and as she stops for the night at a motel she starts having second thoughts. Especially after talking with the young and sympathetic owner of the motel (Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates) who seems to be even more trapped than she is.

This is where the movie changes completely. This movie is not about Marion Crane and the 40.000 $, but about a psychopathic killer lurking at the motel. Marion is stabbed to death in the legendary shower scene and disappears out of the movie. A private detective appears, looking for the woman and the money, but he is also killed.

If you did not know the story already this would be one of the greatest plot twists in movie history. The entire premise of the movie is turned upside down and we are plunged into something a lot darker than a romance and a theft. Problem is we know this plot twist already. “Psycho” is one of the most iconic movies ever made, the shower scene is more famous than anything I can think of and we know Norman Bates is a psychopath. I feel robbed really. I wanted that surprise, the spectacular twist that people back then in 1960 would line up in long queues for and promise not to tell anybody about (another legend of the movie), but I can only guess how they most have felt. It is like watching “Sixth Sense” knowing that Bruce Willis character is already dead. Ufff…

Sure, I did enjoy it, how can you not. Anthony Perkins is absolutely perfect, both as a nice and shy young man, as a terrified and angry man and as a psychotic villain. Even knowing what he will eventually be doing it is difficult not to be sympathetic towards him. He may be one of the most interesting bad boys in movie history.

A second reason for liking it despite the surprise having been spoilt is the expert composition. “Phycho” is a case where cinematography, score and editing complements each other perfectly. The view from the motel towards that ominous house with the all-strings score is genius and so is the famous shower scene.

The one thing I did not like was the psychologist appearing in the end. I do not understand why we need a 7-minute lecture on Bates’ sickness at this point. It is pretty obvious what has happened by then and these things usually work better unexplained. On top of that the actor doing the lecture is absolutely awful. It is lecture as a show, posing for the camera and it looks ridiculously stupid. Cut this part and I would make “Psycho” a top tier Hitchcock.

At the end of the day it is difficult not to be impressed by this movie. I liked it a lot and probably more than I normally would thanks to the mediocre fare I have been offered lately, but objectively the parts of this movie that are famous deserve their fame. This is a movie you must see… from the beginning.



  1. I agree, this is still impressive all these years later. I knew the first twist, but had managed to forget the second one at the end, so I enjoyed that!
    Yes, the explanation for Bates' behaviour feels unnecessary these days, though I do wonder if a 60s audience would have wanted one; these types of films are much more common now.

    1. Then you were more fortunate than me. I wish those twists had not been spoilt for me.
      About the explanation at the end I was considering that as well and it may be the audience needed an explanation, but this was so not the way to give it, on every account.

  2. The shower scene and the death of what we assume will be the main character is an incredibly shock, but it's also such a genius move. When that happens, we're left with one person with whom to sympathize: Norman. He's the person we root for now, and so when we get to the ending, it's a massive jolt.

    I don't know about you, but the first time I saw this, I rooted for Norman the whole second half of the film. When he tries to sink Marian's car in the pond and it stops halfway, I'm suddenly scared for him. When you compare that with the film's ending, it's a piece of brilliance.

    1. The crazy thing is that so did I even though I knew he was a psychotic killer. I do not think I ever saw a more likable villain.

  3. I'm glad someone else agrees on the ending. It's pretty strange that the entire plot is literally explained in such a bland way at the end; it really hurts the momentum and lessens the rewatchability.

    I still love Psycho though. Anthony Perkins and Hitchcock are just a dynamite combination, and it's so visually interesting.

    1. Yes, really weird move, but maybe what saved him from the fate of Michael Powell (on Peeping Tom). Still, if I ignore that ending this is a great movie by any standard.